NEW YORK (TheStreet) - You meet all kinds of strange characters in life but this is a story I had to tell.
Last week, I flew to Orlando to attend a governance conference at Disney World. My cabbie at the airport was overweight, with a scruffy beard, and didn't bother to help me throw my bags in the trunk when I got it. However, he was immediately polite and engaged me in conversation. And he was a little aggressive. Before we'd even got out of the airport grounds, he was asking me when I was going back to the airport and if he could come and pick me up for the fare.
His name was Dave. I have only his first name and his mobile number, which he scratched out on a piece of paper before he dropped me off at my hotel. He was clearly worried that I wouldn't meet him the next day, so I also gave him mycell phonenumber.
As we kept talking on the ride to my hotel from the Orlando airport, I could hardly believe Dave's story. He'd been driving a taxi for only four months, with a few vacations included in that time. He didn't make much.
On good days, when he worked 18 hours straight, he could pull in about $100 net. He always had to make about $160 every day just to cover his costs for gas, credit card fees, airport fees, and taxi commission fees. On the day he picked me up, he had only one other ride in the morning that was a $30 fare. I was going to bring him about $70 going to Disney. He said he would probably knock off for the night afterwards.
He'd been laid off two years before he started driving a cab. He had had a senior marketing job for a high-end kitchen cabinet-making company. "See all these houses and condos," he said, as he waved his arm across the suburban sprawl landscape of Orlando. "All these havemy cabinets."
When Lehman Brothers collapsed and sent the stock markets diving in 2008, the Florida housing boom was over, ending the demand for high-end kitchen cabinets. He was among the first of the company's 173 employees to get a pink slip. The company now employs four people, including the founder. "How's Orlando doing?" I asked him, trying to politely change the subject from his own personal tale of woe. "Terrible," he said. "Our unemployment is 16%, higher than the state average of 12%. More and more foreclosed homes get dumped all the time on the market. It will take at least six years for real estate to start coming back here. I pick up guys all the time who I know are in trouble. I know they lost their jobs.General Electric(GE_)just laid off a bunch of people in town. I'll pick them up and their cards will all bounce trying to pay for a $16 fare. I could call the cops on them but why do that for $16?
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