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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Harris, September 5, 2002. Interview R-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

24-7 culture makes the taxi business more dangerous

The culture has changed, Harris believes, and spurred changes in the taxi business. People want to travel by cab twenty-four hours a day now, some involved in the drug trade, and others just taking advantage of stores that never close. Driving a cab has become dangerous, Harris says, but he relies on his common sense, rather than a plastic separator, to keep him safe. He had to rely on his instincts, however, the one time a passenger pulled a gun on him.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Harris, September 5, 2002. Interview R-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOHN HARRIS:
That ended with the, we're living in the drug culture. That's when it ended. We're living in the drug culture.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you're thinking—
JOHN HARRIS:
This is where everything changed. People live, that's why I told you earlier that our business now is as good at two o'clock in the morning as it is at two o'clock in the afternoon because the night, when night comes everybody's moving, doing something. It's all, most of it's drug related.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Is that right?
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you're—
JOHN HARRIS:
But by the same token, now you have, and this isn't just, it's not limited to us. Used to be, I told you everything used to close up at eleven o'clock. Now nothing closes at eleven. In fact drugstores stay open twenty-four hours. Grocery stores stay open twenty-four hours. There has to be a reason for these people staying open. There has to be a, because people are moving. I'm not just saying that everybody that's moving is involved in drugs. I'm not saying that at all. But it's a sign of the times.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Has driving become more dangerous?
JOHN HARRIS:
Very dangerous. Very dangerous.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
At what point did you put up plastic—I'm assuming you've got it in your cab.
JOHN HARRIS:
I don't have it in mine.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You don't.
JOHN HARRIS:
No. I don't because—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You're like the hockey player that won't wear a helmet.
JOHN HARRIS:
Right. Right. I'm from, I've been driving a cab for so long, I trust everybody and that's bad. I've been told. If I pull up to a situation and I don't like the situation, I just pull off. You never know what you're, how you're going, you may misread it. But so far I just haven't. Call it luck, dumb luck, whatever. If I see a situation that I'm not comfortable, that I don't think I can be comfortable with, I just pull off. Even I may pull up to you and you might be all right, but if I don't like what I see or what I perceive as being dangerous to me, I said I'll just pull off. I said you catch the next guy. You may be a good guy. You may be legitimate, just want to go from point A to point B. I said but I don't like the way, I don't like what I read.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you haven't been held up.
JOHN HARRIS:
Once. [interruption] Cut it off. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
KIERAN TAYLOR:
We'll probably wrap this up in a few minutes, but so you were held up once.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, I was held up once, picked a guy up on Tate Street. He was a hippie. This was during, must've been during the hippie time, I guess '70s, and I was giving him advice, and he was sitting here and driver's side, driver's side here on the left. He was sitting on the right side in the back. He pulled his gun, and I just looked around. I said, "Oh my gosh." I said, "I've never been held up before. I've never had anybody pull a gun on me." But I've always said if he puts it here, I probably have to give it up. But he was sitting here, and I said that's enough space for me. So I slowed down. He said, "Don't stop." I had slowed down enough. I just hit my brakes real hard, and by the same token I was out of there. So I was on the ground. The car had stopped momentarily, and then by this time it had started back up again because it was rolling downhill. I'm sitting on the outside looking at him, and he's like, he's trying to decide what do I need. What do I do? So the car rolled down to the intersection of Chapman Street, hit a stop sign, jumped the curb and went down into a little clump of woods. So when the car stopped, he got out and ran that way. Well, I'm standing up there like this. So I went down there, and I called the cops. They brought the dogs out, but they didn't find him. So about two weeks later they came by and asked me if I would come down and look. What happened, a guy had broken into a house and he had ( ) the roof of the house, and he went into the lady's kitchen and that's how he got in the house. But they caught him. When they found out where he lived, they went to his apartment, and they found a pouch, a money pouch where he had robbed one of our cabs prior to that, found this cab driver's pouch in his house. So they wanted him to identify. They asked me. They took me downtown showed me a guy and I couldn't, I really couldn't.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Too hard to tell.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, he was white, long hair and thin built, but I couldn't honestly say that was him or wasn't him. So I just told him, I just told him I couldn't just say that that was him because I couldn't honestly remember what he looked like because I just picked him up and just was, I was just talking. I was giving him advice on, that's one of my—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You're a brave man.
JOHN HARRIS:
I drive cab, driving a cab for me has been an outlook for giving people advice because lots of time people ask for advice, and my father was good at it. So I was good at it too.