For the most part, every single person I met in Anchorage was wonderful…in fact, all but one person was wonderful. Now, I’m sure not everyone in Anchorage is great – I have seen the TV Reality show Alaska State Troopers – but people I ran into were predominantly great.
There was one exception which showed me the ugly side of Anchorage – the criminal side. Before my trip I bought a new camera. A very nice, very expensive DSLR with a special lens for photographing the Northern Lights. On Saturday morning, after an amazing two days in Anchorage (and I really mean that) I got in a Taxi at 7:15 am – almost on the dot. It was pitch dark and Hilton hotel valet was more than happy to help me put all my bags in the taxi. The taxi ride was only 5 minutes to the train station, but it was freezing cold and icy – so I didn’t want to chance walking down a hill.
At the train station the driver told me rate was $5 – flat fee. He’d never turned the meter on – which, by the way, it not allowed in Anchorage. I paid the guy, and even gave him a $1 extra because I felt bad it was such a short fare. As I was putting my bags on the curb, the driver slammed the doors shut and drove away. Before I could even get my arm in the air I’d realized my camera was still in his back seat.
I immediately called the taxi cab company, Anchorage Yellow Cab, and was connected with the dispatcher. I begged the less than enthusiastic dispatcher to help. He said he’d send a message to all drivers and try to call the ones he thought could have dropped me off. I waited about 10 minutes and then, when another cab pulled up, spoke to that driver. He had also just come from the Hilton and knew exactly which cab I got in – he was in line behind him. He gave me as much info about the driver as he could. I called the dispatch back and gave him the additional info, but he said no one had responded yet.
Unsure what to do next, I decided to get in another cab and go back to the Hilton. The woman at the train station told me that if I was back by 8:2o she’d still let me on the train even though you were supposed to be on-board by 8:00am – she felt really bad for me. At the Hilton I spoke to the valet who helped me get the cab and he remembered the cab. His associate called the cab company hoping that they’d be more helpful to someone at the hotel. But they weren’t.
Desperate, I spoke to the front desk, bellman and coffee shop to see if anyone had turned in a camera. Nothing. I then spoke with the front desk manager at the hotel and he was unbelievably helpful. He also called the cab company – unfortunately with the same results. He gave me a key to the room I had checked out of to search and see if perhaps I’d left it there. I hadn’t, I was very sure I’d had it until I got into the cab. The hotel took all my information so that if someone turned it in, or if the cab driver came back to the hotel with the camera, they could ship it to me.
By this time I’d missed the train to Fairbanks – one of the things I was looking forward to most. In hindsight I probably should have just gotten on the train and dealt with everything remotely, however, I didn’t know if I’d be able to buy a new camera in Fairbanks. It turns out that the only type of camera I would have been able to buy in Fairbanks on a Sunday would have been a small point and shoot and I likely wouldn’t have bought it since the iPhone cameras are essentially as good as or better than many point and shoots.
So, I spent a few hours in Anchorage before the camera shop opened and then bought a new camera. Not the exact same model, but a very good camera. While I had been waiting I booked a flight on Alaska Airlines from Anchorage to Fairbanks and in the end, I got into Fairbanks 3 hours earlier than I would have on the train.
On Monday morning I received a call from the Taxi cab company. I provided a lot of information to the manager and he said he’d call me back. Sure enough, about an hour later he did call. He said he knew exactly which cab I was, but couldn’t tell me – he could only tell the police that info. He said he’d spoken to the driver about the fact that he charged me a flat rate, which was not allowed and about the lost camera. It seems that between Saturday and Monday the driver got amnesia and had no memory of a camera. The manager suggested I file a police report and have the police contact him. I did, but nothing has happened to date.
Interestingly I found an article published today by KTVA CBS 11 Anchorage about cab drivers with criminal convictions. According to the article: two 43-year-old Anchorage cab drivers were accused of rape in the last month. The article says: One was convicted, just days after the other was charged. Both worked for Yellow Cab. There’s 173 taxi cabs and in the neighborhood of 700 people who have a chauffeur license. To get a chauffeur’s license, drivers have to pay about $300 and pass a background check. The Eye Team randomly selected 14 drivers of the 718 who are licensed and found five of them have criminal histories that include charges for drugs and driving under the influence. when you call for a cab, you could be dealing with up to four different entities: the dispatcher, the cab owner, the permit holder and the driver.
In fact, I was able to find dozens and dozens of stories related to cab driver arrests and charges. On September 10, 2013 an Anchorage cab driver was charged with pepper-spraying a passenger and firing at least one shot into the ground over a fare disagreement. A few months earlier a cab driver was changed with falsifying business records (a felony offence), theft and value of property (a misdemeanor) . In December 2010 Yellow Cab was involved in a lawsuit in with they were charged with Medicaid Fraud related to Medicaid Travel Vouchers. In June 2013 a Yellow Cab driver was arrested for sexual assault.
Interestingly, when I left the hotel for the airport, after having spent the morning looking for my stolen camera, I got into a cab driven by a native Alaskan woman. The valet suggested that I tell her what happened (she drove a Yellow Cab) and ask her if she heard anything that morning. I told her the story and she was very kind. I offered her a reward if she found out any info and could provide it to me. I gave her my business card and contact info. She told me that there is a subset of drivers who are Albanian working for the same owner and are known for stealing from passengers. Remembering back to the cab I got into at the train station to go back to the Hilton – the driver told me he knew the cab I got into because he was behind him in line had actually told me that the driver was Albanian and gave me a detailed description of the driver.
I know that I left the camera in the back seat, but I really wish the driver had been honest and returned the camera to someone. I provided the serial number to the police, to all the pawn shops I could find phone numbers for and to the camera shops in Anchorage (there are only two) in hopes that if the guy tries to pawn it, he’ll be caught.
I suspect there are many cities with this type of crime, and there are dishonest people everywhere, but it’s a shame that cab drivers seem to have such a bad reputation and criminal record in Anchorage.