Laclede Cab Fired Me for Black Lives Matter- My Response

In 2005 I was looking for a job. I’d just moved back to St. Louis after another stint in Brooklyn. The first job I had was working as a courier. I’d drive my souped-up Chevy around St. Louis delivering documents and blasting my radio all day. The money wasn’t good though.

In my cab in 2005 chillin in College Hill by the Water Tower

A friend of mine had been driving a cab for a long time for Allen Cab. Allen is now out of business;  but back in the day was known as the “hood cab company”. He suggested I drive a cab. My friend Kelly Von Plonski from Subterranean Books also suggested cab driving may be good for me because I like to talk to people.  I decided to talk to my grandfather who had been a cabbie in St. Louis in the 1950’s. Grandpa told me driving a cab was hard; but I should give it a try.

I first applied to St. Louis County Cab. They told me I had to shave my beard. Not wanting to shave my beard I headed down to Laclede Cab and got hired immediately. 

For ten years I worked for Laclede Cab outside of three time periods.  In 2006 I went back to New York getting a job working for a market-research company and driving a livery-cab on the side.  In 2008 I went to Washington, DC to work as an aid to Imam Mahdi Bray of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.  I came back to St. Louis with Fatimah (my then wife) and her sons. In 2009 I had a brief stint in Dallas due to family reasons and drove a cab down there and did some work for ACORN.

Laclede Cab would always hire me back because I had a good relationship with General Manager Kenny Whitehorn. Kenny is a great guy and runs Laclede Cab on a daily basis. He’s also the highest ranking African-American at the company.  I went to McCluer North with his nephew Jesse. 

Not everyone is as cool as Kenny. When I got hired the president was Jerry Standley.  To say Jerry wasn’t a people person is an understatement.  He was known for having a hot temper and firing people just for the hell of it. Before I was hired he reportedly walked around with a ruler measuring drivers hair to make sure it wasn’t too long. Shortly after I was hired he began offering a $100 reward for any driver who’d snitch on another driver for having a cell phone. 

Jerry Standley retired in 2006. However,  his son Stan remained as the company controller.  Sam has the honor of being a convicted child-rapist in North Carolina. For years if you wanted a de-seg VICC school-trip taking African-American children in the city to school in the suburbs you had to talk to Sam. Yep good ‘ole Sam the registered sex-offender just the one you want with all the addresses of the kiddos.

Sam Standley. Registered sex offender and controller at Laclede Cab. A child-rapist is cool to Laclede Owner Dave McNutt. Fighting racism and police-violence isn't.

Every time I had to see the degenerate Sam Standley I had to hold my tongue.  When I asked around as to how the hell this guy has a job for a company that transports kids everyone at Laclede said this is Dave McNutt’s company he does what he wants.

Not every had a problem with Stan. When Jerry Standley retired Adam McNutt ,son of Dave, took over as president.  He was slow to the draw and on the soft side unable to deal with and intimidated by gruff working-class cabbies. Apparently in order to solve this problem retired ex St. Louis County Police Major Ted Hylla was brought in. Later Adam would lead the way to computer-dispatching and modernization. 

Laclede Cab Vice President Ted Hylla is a retired St Louis County Police Major. Since the Ferguson Movement and my involvement in #BlackLivesMatter we haven't spoken.

No one at Laclede knows exactly what Ted does other than walk around drinking coffee all day. A frequent question is “what the hell is Ted doing here?”. Interestingly while Ted seems to do very little and the African-American GM does everything on a day to day basis Ted outranks the GM.

A lot of drivers think Dave McNutt may have got help from Ted Hylla on some criminal stuff in the past and McNutt has taken care of him in retirement. That’s just speculation with no evidence.  What I do know is that while Ted promotes himself as a stand-up guy and law and order type on a daily basis he can be seen laughing and joking with a child-rapist like best buddies. 

Ted stopped talking to me over my participation in Ferguson protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.  His son is currently a St. Louis County cop based in North County last I heard.  I never was mad at Ted over that. I was working hard doing my job and he had his pro-police position.  Knowing that we would argue and disagree we just avoided each other. 

Dave McNutt to the right. His son Adam, President of Laclede Cab in the middle, and Dave Jr to the left.

One man runs Laclede Cab and that is Dave McNutt.  It was his call to fire me after receiving complaints from racist trolls.  While I’ve put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of Dave McNutt he wasn’t man enough to fire me face to face. Instead he had Kenny Whitehorn come in from vacation.  I love Kenny,  no hard feelings to him; because I know all he did is what Dave McNutt told him to do.

My Twitter feed and Facebook inbox is flooded with support.  I’m feeling the love. Now I just need to translate that into a new job with the quickness and if I can’t do that crowd-funding for the time being.  Several people have remarked this may be a blessing in disguise. People say I’m over-qualified to be a cabbie.  Why is an award-winning writer with bylines in The Guardian and Politico driving a cab?

The truth of the matter is not only do I like driving a cab there hasn’t been a lot of full-time job offers on the table.  Driving a cab you get to meet and talk to all sorts of people from low places to high places.  I talk to them, listen to their stories,  and they listen to mine. I’ll miss them. 

Taking my grandfather a WWII combat veteran from the 1st Marine Division to the polls in 2012 to vote for President Barack Obama.

I have some great Laclede Cab memories.  Driving Fatimah to the hospital to give birth to my daughter,  taking my daughter home from the hospital in the cab, picking up famous people,  having passengers turn into friends,  and other family memories. Some sad ones to. Hearing sad stories and called to tragic scenes to pick people up.

A lot of people have mentioned I should drive for Uber.  My opposition to Uber was never about supporting companies.  It was about supporting working-class jobs. The issue of me being fired over exercising my constitutional right to free-speech highlights the need to organize cabbies.  Cabbies need a union. We need a voice at the table,  a grievance process,  collective bargaining,  health care,  sick days,  a pension. I’ll continue to work towards these efforts. 

I will also miss seeing a lot of the people I had a relationship with at Laclede. Drivers,  the cashier,  the guys that check our oil.  I say to them, especially the drivers,  without a union you can be next.

The party don’t stop.  This dunya is temporary.  Everything is a test.  Allah-willing better things on the road ahead.

If you support Black Lives Matter and freedom of speech and believe my firing to be unjust give Laclede Cab a call at 3145351162 or 3146523456 and ask to speak to Dave, Adam or Ted.

St. Louis Cabbies: Frontlines of the American Dream

Over the last few days as the discussion over Uber and Lyft in St. Louis has raged on there has been one aspect of the conversation that has troubled me more than any other. What is that you may ask? Is it the Ayn Rand economics? The elitism? The anti working-class bias? The illegality? Sure, all of those things bother me; but more than anything I am bothered by the outright attacks on the character and nature of cab drivers. Instead of me writing a piece examining the veiled racism  and outright classism prevalent in these attacks allow me to tell you who St. Louis cabbies are.

First off allow me to paint a picture of St. Louis cabbies by dividing them into three categories; downtown drivers, airport drivers and fleet drivers.

The downtown drivers you will see in the day parked outside of hotels, America’s Center, the Gateway Station, the Lumiere Casino and other places are what is referred to as “dummy cab drivers”. Dummy doesn’t refer to the intelligence of the driver it refers to the fact the cabs are not computer or radio dispatched. At night you will see these drivers pickup up flaggers outside of nightlife hot-spots like Washington Ave, Laclede’s Landing, Ballpark Village, Soulard, The Grove and the Central West End to a lesser extent.

Most dummy cab drivers are immigrant drivers. Of course that’s not a bad thing. Unless you’re a Native American all of our ancestors came from somewhere else. America is a nation of immigrants and in many respects cab driving is a profession dominated by immigrants.

The dummy drivers downtown mostly come from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq and to a lesser extent South Asia.

In 1990 Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre was deposed from power by a coalition of clan-based militias.  What ensued was chaos and violence that led to a man-made famine. Around 1992 and 1993 refugees began arriving to St. Louis from Somalia. Initially most were settled in apartments  on Hickory Street between South Jefferson and Ohio. In recent years we have seen a waive of refugees from Somalia from the oppressed Bantu ethnic group.

In both cases Somalis in St. Louis have gravitated towards becoming cabbies. The earnings from driving cabs has allowed drivers to move from Hickory Street, buy homes and provide lives for their families they couldn’t have dreamed of in Somalia.

Ethiopians and Eritreans began immigrating to St. Louis in the 1980’s around the time of another man-made famine and brutal war between the two nations.  Like the Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans have spread out from their initial enclave in near south city and have become homeowners, their children are going to college, they have opened churches, pray in local mosques and can now be found all over the St. Louis metropolitan region.

Iraqi refugees, Shia from the South and Kurds from the north, began arriving to St. Louis after the first Gulf War and settled in south city.  Kurds faced genocide in Iraq and the Shia faced brutal repression under President Saddam Hussein. Later, after the Second Gulf War and American-led invasion St. Louis received more refugees fleeing the chaos and carnage resulting in the invasion and subsequent civil-war.  Many of these drivers started in cabs and ended up owning businesses. Some still drive.

The airport drivers also contain a lot of East Africans. However, there are also a number of Russians and drivers from the former Soviet Union at the airport. These drivers fled the poverty and chaos that ensued after the end of the Soviet Union. In St. Louis they’ve made good lives for their families driving cabs. Many have settled in the University City-Olivette area.

Not only do all of these immigrant drivers contribute to the fabric of St. Louis life and add flavor to a city that can sometimes be bland; but their earnings also feed many hungry mouths back home during times of hardship.

The third category of drivers are fleet drivers like me. We drive for the large cab companies that are computer-dispatched and cover the entire metropolitan area. Laclede Cab, County-Yellow Cab, Checker-ABC Cab and the Car Service based in West County. While there are many Nigerians and other immigrants driving for fleets the majority of drivers are not immigrants.

The non-immigrant St. Louis drivers are good for the fleet-services because unlike downtown drivers and airport drivers you have to be willing to work the entire metro area and know the area very well. It takes a greater level of knowledge and this knowledge may take some time to acquire.

There is a large percentage of African-Americans among fleet-drivers and there is also a significant number of white American drivers. Its a diverse profession. A profession which attracts unique individuals from a variety of backgrounds. In other words as cabbies we serve all of the St. Louis area and we look like the St. Louis area. We don’t just live and work in a handful of trendy neighborhoods. You can find us working and living in all parts of the St. Louis area.

Driving a cab in St. Louis is a tradition. My grandfather drove a cab in the 1950’s while living in north St. Louis. Unfortunately, it is also a profession which many have given their lives for over the years. This includes a driver I knew being robbed and murdered the same day my daughter was born five years ago.

Are there bad apples in every barrel? Of course there is and that’s why we have the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and supervisors and management at companies. Serious men and women for a serious job. Why would you choose non-regulated unlicensed drivers working for a Walmartization service over these dedicated men and women?