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Cabbie, Take Me to the Digital Age

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Landing at JFK this week, I hopped into a spanking clean taxi, courtesy of that nice Mr. Bloomberg, and announced the location of my resting place to a charming driver, Joe, who's from Brooklyn by way of Bombay.

As the Long Island Expressway sped -- OK, crawled -- by, I watched NBC on Joe's seat-back monitor, half-listened in on his mobile phone arguments with his mother and girlfriend, caught up with six hours' worth of e-mail, appreciated the EZPass that spared me the agony of the usual purgatorial stop before the hell of the Midtown tunnel, and gratefully used my credit card to pay my fare via the cab's touchscreen terminal.

All that technology seemed a long way from the days I drove taxis back home in England. And yet, I couldn't help thinking how much my own time behind the wheel had actually helped me prepare for advertising in this brave new digital age.

Here's a few of the basic truths I learned behind the wheel that seem just as relevant as we sit poised over our laptops, Web sites and PDAs:

1. Start the meter when you start your engine: It's your time and your gas. Good customers know and respect that.

2. The best customers know where they're going: It's easy to be taken on a lengthy ride around in circles -- and with a customer who doesn't want to pay for your time.

3. Don't forget, they hail you for The Knowledge: When the dad is in the seat beside you refereeing the kids in the back -- neither of whom has ever been where you're going -- it's your responsibility to be objective and decisive. Tell them you can get them to granny's in time if you stop at the Apple store or Pinkberry, not both.

4. The fastest way isn't always the superhighway: There's a lot of people going that same way. Sometimes it's smarter to combine a couple of tried-and-trusted routes, too. Getting this mix right can lead to a much more enjoyable ride, and you might even reach your destination earlier.

5. If they ask, "How much to get to heaven?" tell them, "A lot": Nobody likes a quote of a pound to turn into a bill for two pounds -- but it cost two pounds because they went to both the Apple store and Pinkberry.

6. Some are going all the way to their destination, others are going to jump out at the next block: "Take us to the next level" is a phrase usually uttered by people who don't know where that is and often decide they don't like it when they get there. If someone's never been in the same ZIP code as a good idea, they're unlikely to ask you to drive them there.

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