Girls with drive: Taxi drivers talk about their uniqueness and share their cab confessions
Whenever a new passenger slides into the back of Lo Demanche’s taxi, she can pretty much guess what they’re going to say.
“No matter what, I always hear, ‘I’ve never had a girl driver before!’ or ‘A hot girl driver!’ or ‘Whoa, an American!’” Demanche says. She is an independent contractor for Crown Transportation, paying $300 a week to lease her champagne-colored cab.
Fellow female taxi driver Rebecca McCune concurs. She drives a Checker cab, painted pink for breast cancer awareness. She’s proud to point out that it’s the only pink taxi in Kansas City.
“Most people that hop in, especially later at night, they look at me and say, ‘You’re the first female cab driver I’ve ever had.’ And they’ll say, ‘And you speak English?’ They’re like, ‘This is the best ride home ever! I feel like I’m hanging out with a sister.’”
There are about 700 livery drivers in Kansas City according to Gary Majors, the head of the city’s Regulated Industries division, which regulates limo and cab drivers. About 100 of those 700 drivers are women, but Majors says the majority of the female badge-holders — 70 percent — drive limousines, not cabs.
On its face, a woman driving a taxi shouldn’t be such a curiosity. After all, there are female bus drivers, female cops, female jet fighter pilots. But there’s a certain kind of danger associated with this job in particular. Maybe it’s the proximity that a cabbie has to her passengers, or the very idea of a lone woman picking up strangers.
Demanche has a name for her business: Lady Cab. She has a few rules she sticks to, especially for female passengers, like always watching to make sure they get all the way through the door of their destination before driving away. These are things male cabbies don’t always think about.
“A lot of chicks would really prefer to be driven by a woman,” Demanche says. “Especially when they’re wasted, you know? So my demographic is obviously chicks.”
There’s another question Demanche says she gets all the time from her passengers: “What does your boyfriend think of you doing this?” Her favorite answer: “I always say my boyfriend’s a cop.”
Demanche’s long, raspberry-red hair is easy to spot behind the wheel. She’s been driving her cab since October 2010. Prior to that, she was a bartender. Making the switch from getting patrons tipsy at the bar to driving them safely home afterwards was a no-brainer.
“First of all, I’m a control freak,” Demanche says. “I don’t like being driven by other people, unless I really trust them. So it just made sense. I hated my job at the bar, my own car was dying, barely started, and I didn’t have any money to get a new one.”
Cindy Ward, a friend who’d already been driving a taxi for several years, gave Demanche the extra push to join KC’s cadre of female drivers. That same friend prompted McCune to get her cabbie badge as well.
McCune also came to taxi driving from bartending. In addition to being a cab driver, she’s also a mother and a student. She’s hoping that her cab money will pave the way to her real dream of opening her own restaurant.
It was time to leave bartending, McCune realized, after one too many close calls driving home late at night. She called her manager at the bar the next morning and quit. Not incidentally, a lot of cab business comes from customers recently busted for DUIs.
The application process was easy: McCune submitted her good driving record and a bill of health from her doctor. She paid a fee for the cab-driving badge at Regulated Industries and verified during their interview that she speaks English and knows her way around a couple sample addresses in the city. McCune was good to go.
“I didn’t have GPS for the first six months that I was driving,” McCune says. “But being born and raised here, I don’t even use it now.”
Demanche’s first few months on the job were considerably tougher, because bad luck hit her hard on day three.
“I was T-boned by a woman who ran two stoplights at 14th and Broadway,” Demanche says. “She was pregnant, with two kids in a minivan. I had three passengers in the back. Totaled my cab. It was horrible. I almost didn’t start again. I had never been in a wreck before, ever. Compound that with it being my third day on the job, it was really just horrifying. I was all banged up.”
Demanche’s passengers, luckily, weren’t hurt, and because the crash wasn’t her fault, the insurance provision in her lease covered the damage.
That turned Demanche into an aggressively defensive driver. She won’t text while she’s driving or talk on her cell phone unless it’s on speaker. “You’re constantly waiting for someone to hit you,” she says.
Thankfully, McCune has no accidents notched on her seatbelt. However, she did have a traumatic encounter with a threatening passenger.
“About two years ago, this gentleman gets in my cab,” she says. “I’d driven him before. He was a young, gay man who went on and on about how much money he had. This night, he was so messed up he couldn’t tell me his address, so I asked him for his driver’s license. He starts cussing me out, like, ‘You’re a fucking whore, cunt, bitch, slut,’ every name in the book.”
McCune told the man to get back out of the cab, and when he didn’t move, she started dialing 911 on her cell phone. The man reached for her phone from the backseat and scratched her face in his clumsiness. When he finally lurched out of the car, McCune locked the doors, called the police and waited. The drunk guy, meanwhile, banged violently on the window of her pink taxi until the police arrived.
“I thought he was going to shatter the glass,” McCune says.
The drunk guy ended up getting a municipal court date. McCune later learned his punishment worked out to six months probation. McCune, meanwhile, had been pregnant with twins that night and miscarried a week later.
“I don’t pick up people who can’t tell me where they live anymore,” McCune says. “Ever.”
McCune and Demanche are tougher than most female cab drivers, because despite the bad experiences, they’re still driving.
“Although we have about 30 female cabbies,” Majors says, “we don’t get too many that actually renew their taxi badges.”
It’s not all drama, of course. On a recent night, cruising past the bars on Martini Corner in her Lady Cab, Demanche tells the reporter in the passenger seat, “It’s fun. It’s interesting. I’ve never been the type who could sit behind a desk. I’ve never been the type that worked at one place at a time. I can listen to my own music. I get to talk to some interesting — if not cray-cray — people. It speaks to me in some ways.”
Demanche steers toward Westport, where the foot traffic is reliable even on a weeknight. She noses into a cabstand at Pennsylvania and Westport Road to wait for a fare.
Her craziest passenger? “She was going to the Westin,” Demanche says. “I mirror people, same as when I was a bartender. Someone comes in and they’re chatty? I’m chatty. They’re quiet? I’m quiet.”
This girl seemed talkative, Demanche remembers. She asked if she was in town for business. Yeah, I’m a call girl, the girl says. You can totally ask me anything. Demanche asked how she got started.
“She was like, ‘Well, I have a degree’ — of course, this could be total bullshit — but she goes, ‘I just really, really like sex, and I really like money.’ So she does in and out calls. I drove her a couple more times.”
Demanche’s story is interrupted as a girl on the sidewalk bends at the waist to squint through the window. Demanche waves her inside.
“30th and Broadway,” the girl says, ducking in. Once seated, she notices her driver and bobs her head approvingly. “Girls that rock the cab out? That’s awesome.”
Demanche nods back, glancing at the rearview mirror. “We gotta stick together.”
TAKE ME HOME
If you think you’d prefer getting a ride from a female cabbie, call Lo Demanche at 816.695.2525 or Rebecca McCune at 816.517.9393