As a taxi driver working the night shift, Jim McPherson has seen his fair share of weirdness, not unlike Robert DeNiro does in the movie Taxi Driver.
“You deal with all kinds of people late at night, people throwing up in your car, stuff like that,” he said, the look in his eye making him sound very convincing.
McPherson has been driving cabs in Hay River for almost five years. He drives an average of 350 to 500 km per evening, and has done as much as 600 km on really busy nights.
“I know the town and the people pretty well,” he said modestly.
Not only does he know Hay River like the back of his hand, he says he can recognize the voices of his customers, 90 per cent of whom are regulars.
“I can probably recognize close to 500 voices and I usually know exactly where they are when they call,” he said.
In fact, he’s probably not embellishing: having lived in so many NWT towns — Fort Resolution, Fort Smith, Pine Point and Yellowknife, to name a few — McPherson has come across a lot of people, whether at school or the various jobs he’s worked at, including being chief liquor inspector for the NWT.
“I know so many people from the top down,” he said, referring to Premier Bob McLeod, with whom he went to school.
One of the downsides to working any night job is the time you lose with your family. McPherson doesn’t get to see them very often, except when he comes home early in the morning.
He refers to it as “two ships passing in the night.”
His daily routine usually consists of sleeping from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., then getting ready for work. His life experiences have helped him adapt to different situations. He says you need a certain set of skills to become a good taxi driver.
“Besides knowing the town really well, you need to be a good people-person,” he said.
“I’ve acted as a marriage counselor so many times – people want to cry on your shoulder, everyone has a story.”
Fortunately he’s only been involved in one physical altercation in the five years he’s worked for Reliable Cabs. A young, intoxicated woman was giving him a hard time and refused to pay her fare one winter night.
“All of a sudden, she just punched me in the side of the head, I never saw it coming,” he said.
McPherson takes pride in the fact that he has helped many young teens find their way home after nights of drinking.
“I know most of the young people who take cabs in this town, but if I don’t know who they are I’ll make an effort to find out where they live, and make sure they get home safe,” he said.
When asked whether he had seen Taxi Driver, there was no surprise.
“Yeah I saw it a long time ago. Hell of a good movie, but I’m nothing like that guy!”
– Myles Dolphin