A Thief By Any Other Name…

A week ago I attended the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio. It’s one of the two big game conventions in North America and I think I’ve missed it twice in the last 31 years. It’s always a lot of fun, with over 10,000 people trooping through over the four and a half days of convention, buying and playing games. I’ve watched the show grow from the days when there were only 2,000 people there, with three of them being female.

Gaming has come a long way.

Seven years ago I joined the Game Manufacturers Association’s Board of Directors, so I help run the show. This gives me a whole different view of it. It doesn’t really cut into the fun, just shifts my responsibilities. Generally I get used as a utility infielder. If there is a problem that needs a cool and clever head to smooth over, I get the call. This year things went pretty well, so that duty wasn’t too bad; and with new programs slipping into place and our attendance up, things look really good for next year, too.

On Monday, as I was preparing to leave Columbus, I returned to my hotel to pick up my luggage. The convention had a car making a final run to the airport and I was scheduled to be in it. As I got up to the front desk, the assistant manager, Joel, was speaking with a cabbie of East-Asian descent. I heard Joel say, “There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s between you and him.”

The cabbie, dissatisfied, turned away and Joel got my luggage. He asked where I was heading for and when I said the airport, he suggested I might be able to help another guest who was also headed there. He indicated one of our senior volunteers who I’d previously spoken with about getting a lift to the airport. As I walked over to some comfy chairs to wait, the volunteer (who is at least ten years older than I am), commented, “The cabbie is not happy.”

I didn’t say anything. It was the end of a convention. I was pretty much talked out. Having to endure fifteen minutes of waiting with someone who wanted to chat was slightly less desirable, in my eyes, than having a lobotomy performed with a dull butter knife and a power drill. I hoped, if I said nothing, he would not continue talking.

No. Such. Luck.

Our volunteer went on to say, “Yeah, I had him bring me back from the airport because I forgot my knapsack and computer in the business office. He wanted too much for the trip, so I didn’t pay him.”

It took me about twenty seconds to parse all that. I looked outside, saw the cabbie in his cab talking on the radio, then looked back at the volunteer. He just sat there, as if nothing in the world was wrong. Then the cabbie left his cab and walked over to talk to a hotel security guard.

I walked outside and asked the cabbie, “How much did he stiff you for?”

The cabbie explained that the full fare was $60, but he’d chopped $15 off. I repeated my question, and he said, “Nine dollars.”

I handed him a ten.

Then I went back into the hotel and spoke with the assistant manager. I told Joel that I’d taken care of the cabbie. He looked relieved, which was good. The convention does a lot of business with that hotel, and it really doesn’t look good for one of our volunteers to be stiffing cabbies—or doing anything else which is stupid.

Then I approached the volunteer. “You know what you did was wrong, right?”

He looked up at me, surprised. “I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t agree.”

Over the course of the five minute conversation we had, the guy never once accepted responsibility for his action. His reasons for refusing to pay ran the gamut:

•”I told him to pick up a return fare since I wasn’t going to pay him.” (Cabs have to exit the airport and get into line to get fares, so this was a non-starter.)

•I pointed out that if that cabbie had not been there, he would have had to pay another cab full fare to get to the hotel. He replied, “I would have taken the bus.” “But you didn’t,” said I, “you had a contract with the driver and you failed to live up to it.”

•I pointed out that the cabbie would have to pay his boss for the charges on the meter, and that by stiffing him, our volunteer was taking money straight out of his pocket. “This is how he makes a living,” I added. His reply, “He makes a better living than I do.”

He buttressed all of his arguments with the refrain, “I hear what you are saying, but I don’t agree.”

Then the convention car arrived for the airport run. They had room for one passenger, so I told them to take the volunteer, who claimed to have given the cabbie all his money. He had an hour to catch his flight. I told the driver I’d catch a cab, and they were off.

What the stiffer didn’t want to understand is that he was a thief. What he did was the same as a dine-and-dash—running out of a restaurant without paying. For those of you who don’t know, when you do that, your waiter or waitress often has the cost of the meal deducted from that week’s paycheck. You also might not know that aside from making $2.15 an hour as a wage, they have to split tips with busboys and bartenders. If you tip nothing, it comes out of their pockets, so they literally pay others for the privilege of serving you. It would not surprise me if cab drivers likewise have to split tips with dispatchers or others at the office.

Maybe I’m just naive, but I don’t remember a time when it was okay to cheat someone. It’s petty, coarse, crude and stupid. It makes the world a nastier place. Now maybe I can’t plug leaking wells in the Gulf, or stop wars in far away places, but I can sure as hell treat other people ethically and fairly.

I don’t reckon I’ll ever see that $10, but I consider it well spent. It’s little enough to pay for a reminder that being nice to folks really is priceless.

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15 Responses to “A Thief By Any Other Name…”

  1. I completely agree with all of your points here.

    Makes me wonder if he’s also the type that’s of the mindset that people are generally out to screw him over, given that I’ve seen those two things go hand-in-hand with other people.

    Good on you for making things right with the cab driver.

  2. That was an extremely classy thing to do, Michael, and I applaud you. There’s so much ugliness in the world, why perpetuate it over a measly $9. I hope you never have to deal with that crass individual again and that he’s turned away as a volunteer next year for lack of professionalism.

  3. “Dine and dash” was the same analogy of which I was thinking. You did a classy and ethical thing, and I’m sure karma will compensate you, even if the douche volunteer doesn’t.

  4. Mike, well done. And well said.

  5. I hope there’s some way to ensure the volunteer is not invited or allowed to voluteer again…and that it’s made clear to the volunteer just why: because he’s a thief.

  6. As someone who’s spent a long time working in food service (as has most of my family) and who’s had many a frustrated argument with others about just why stiffing a server is wrong, thank you. Thank you for realizing all of this, and thank you for helping out that cabbie even though it wasn’t your responsibility.

    People like that volunteer make up a frighteningly large percentage of the service industry’s customer base, and to say it’s demoralizing doesn’t even begin to cover it. The occasional person like you really and truly does make a positive difference to us, and the reassurance that the human race isn’t entirely nasty often means more than the money. Thanks for that bit of reassurance.

    (And even on a purely practical level, you’ll get better service with this sort of outlook, too. Believe me, we remember the nice people, and we will bend over backward for them. Guaranteed.)

  7. My question is whether or not you’ll allow that volunteer to represent Origins next year. I’ve been to GenCon, WonderCon, and the like to run various booths, so I’ve gotten to see a lot of the organizational behind-the-scenes stuff, and the volunteers make the show a success or failure. If he’s skimming $10 from a cab, he might be stealing a $10 miniature that fits in his pocket. Just a thought.

  8. Ugh. This is why sometimes I hate people!

    On the other hand, you are a class act, Mike.

  9. Way to go, Mike. Most people would have done nothing and just marveled at the guy’s stupidity.

    I do hope you were able to figure out who he is. You don’t need anyone with that low a moral compass working the con; even as a volunteer.

  10. Richard Ginesi 04. Jul, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Well done Mike, that was a very nice thing you did there and I’m sorry the volunteer was such a, well, jerk. I swear common decency in this country has fallen drastically and it’s upsetting.

  11. I know you didn’t settle up with the cabbie for kudos, Mike, but you deserve it. You’re a class act.

    This kind of thing upsets me, too. Whether it’s someone stiffing a server on a tip, or treating someone like they’re inferior because they’re “just a janitor” (or similar), it’s not right.

    My late grandfather was one of the finest human beings I’ve ever known. Throughout his career, his employer told him not to worry about retirement because they’d “take care of him”. As he approached retirement age, the company folded and he learned that there was no retirement fund. Worse, Social Security money was years away. To pay the bills, he took a job as a janitor at my high school. It hurt me to see my classmates making unnecessary messes without hesitation because “the janitor” would clean it up. I knew his medical conditions slowed him down and caused him pain, and had a pretty good guess how much each “little mess” affected him. They had no respect for him, or what he did, and no concern for how their actions affected him.

    People in any kind of service role, whether it’s a waitress at a diner, the stylist at a salon, or the person who fixes your computer at work, deserve our respect, appreciation, and (where appropriate) tips. If they’re rude to you or the service is absolutely horrendous, you’re within your rights not to tip. But pay your bill, at least. Anything less, as you point out, is theft.

  12. Wow, all I can say is wow. That person was a real winner. How is it the cabbies fault that he left his bags back at the hotel, has to drive him back, and the charge comes out to more than he wants to pay. Even when the cabbie was cutting down the fare. I just don’t understand people sometimes. I cannot fault you for wanting to keep good relations for the convention, but the problem I have is that person has more than likely learned nothing by the experience. He got what he wanted and if he finds what he did that reasonable he isn’t likely to give it a moments. Other than to possibly being annoyed at you. I’m not saying you were wrong in doing what you did or that I would have a better answer, just that in a way you promoted that person’s possible stupidity in the future. I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m trying to pass judgement on your decision in any way either.

    I just feel we cover stupidity far too much as a society as it is. That we more often reward stupidity over other actions inadvertently. Maybe it would be even better to say we some times justify their stupidity. Case in point our courts are clogged with this now justified stupidity, because these things were allowed to become precedents. Sorry for a bit of a rant.

    I have to agree and I like how Kristy put it “On the other hand, you are a class act, Mike.”

  13. Not a lot that I can add which hasn’t already been said. It saddens me when people can be so self-righteous and oblivious to how their actions impact others.

    I agree, a very classy move to help the cabbie out.

    I enjoyed speaking with you at breakfast on Sunday at Origins, Mike, and appreciated the insights on the convention which you were able to share with us.

  14. Thanks for promoting decency, Mike. I also worked in food/drink service when I was at uni, and I was taken aback by the behaviour of well-off people. I worked both at a “top” hotel and at a surbuban pub, and I’d take the suburban pub for preference anytime. Many people with money seemed to look down on the people proving services, viewing them as “less-than” in some peculiar way.

    I’m also interested by the denial behaviour of this thief. It sounds like he’d done a communications course at some time, but had completely missed the point. “I hear you” doesn’t mean “my ears work but I’m not listening”.

  15. Agreed on the cab fare. That’s the price of the service. I would never consider stiffing a cabbie.

    Tips are an interesting case. There is no broad agreement on when gratuities are appropriate or how much they should be, and customers generally are not told when they are expected to tip or how much. Given that, a customer can be forgiven for paying the asking price, especially if they can barely afford the meal.

    In practice, an expected gratuity is a way management gets around charging its customers or paying its employees. It’s fraudulent at its core and promotes miscommunication and ill-feeling between servers and customers.

    I would far rather pay the full real price of a service than risk stiffing someone because I don’t know the expected gratuity for someone in their line of work.