Thursday, November 13, 2014
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Thanks to Andrew for sharing the below article on Facebook. I always thought London cab drivers were super great to talk to when visiting London. I don't remember if I ever wrote a post a few years back about the one time I asked this cabbie why he became a cab driver. He was so passionate about being a cab driver, the way he spoke about how he got into it, it was both admirable and fascinating in the sense of how can you not admire someone for being passionate about what they do? He was the first one to put me onto "The Knowledge" and it's existence. Leave it up to the Brits to have this secret society like examination for cab drivers most of the world is oblivious to.
So back to this guy, even after he retired from a position at the Post Office, he studied to be a London cab driver for a few years years. But the way he would describe his work at the Post Office was in this almost Tim Burton like dream sequence. I remember he said he would sit there for hours in front of a wall of like 40 cubbies, and for the entire day he would sort and pitch letters into the appropriate boxes with windmill speed. I mean I was picturing this old English guy with windmill arms posting every letter with machine like precision and it was kind of a cool image to have.
But back to The Knowledge, he said one of the most harrowing experiences of his application process was having to get on a bicycle when the weather was shit, for months, and peddling around the city to figure out the side streets. Apparently the rules are you have to be on a bicycle or walking or something. I think that's partly what makes it so grueling and why taking a black cab in London is really fucking expensive. On average a black cab to most central London locations is roughly $80 US easily.
Ultimately, this test really puts NYC to shame in terms of getting into a cab these days and 30-40% of the time the guy admits he doesn't even know how to get around the same borough. Dumb Yanks and our failing standards at like.. almost everything I guess. It's clear that The Knowledge, represents so much more than a test. As an outsider, it easily represents a legacy of rich tradition and pride so engrained in English culture. But even just below the surface, it is how I see the English approach life. Even from studying shoemaking in London, every measurement was done to the last millimeter, there were never shortcuts to anything. The process is just as important as the result. There are clearly no shortcuts in becoming a London Cab driver.
It's interesting to see a place like England battle technology and threats like Uber because I think you get to see these human vs. robot dilemmas unfold where you do want to see the underdog, ill equipped, yet clever humans win over the army of clumsy, smoking GPS machines. Because before you know it, these concerns start to multiply all around the world presenting similar if not the same problems to local jobs and economies. It's the classic Man vs. Machine argument that will forever shape our world into this almost unrecognizable mess of technologies, complex labor laws, and big business agendas. Oh yeah and then you can always rely on Heavy Discussion to make it even more confusing.
The Knowledge, London’s Legendary Taxi-Driver Test, Puts Up a Fight in the Age of GPS
The examination to become a London cabby is possibly the most difficult test in the world — demanding years of study to memorize the labyrinthine city’s 25,000 streets and any business or landmark on them. As GPS and Uber imperil this tradition, is there an argument for learning as an end in itself?