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.