By Brad Dison
On the morning of November 10, 1980, Daniel Irvin Jr.’s plane landed at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. With no one to pick him up from the airport, Daniel hailed a cab driven by 38-year-old Gene Phillips. Daniel asked Gene if he was familiar with Castlewood Terrace. Although Gene had been a taxi driver in Chicago for a dozen years, he replied that he did not know the street. In fairness, Castlewood Terrace was a block-long street in the prestigious Lakefront district. Daniel gave Gene directions to the location. “Go down the Kennedy [Expressway] to Lawrence. Go east on Lawrence, and Castlewood would come in between Marine Drive and Sheridan Road. They stowed Daniel’s luggage in the trunk and set off.
Gene followed Daniel’s directions – Kennedy Expressway to Lawrence, east on Lawrence, past Sheridan Road. As he passed Sheridan Road, Gene began looking for Castlewood Terrace. Daniel said it would be between Marine Drive and Sheridan. When they reached Marine Drive, Gene asked Daniel if he had seen the road. Daniel replied that he did not. Gene drove around the area looking for Castlewood Terrace. Finally, Gene said, “Look, I’ve got to be in the garage by 1 p.m. I’m not going to be able to drive around all day looking for it.” Gene’s leased cab had to be returned to the cab company by 1 p.m. or he would have to pay a penalty. Daniel asked Gene if he was trying to put him out of the cab. Gene explained that he was not putting him out but said he had limited time. As they drove, Daniel spotted a police car. Daniel said, “There’s a policeman. I think I might get out and just get in the police car.” Gene responded, “Do what you please, as long as you pay the fare.”
Gene pulled up alongside the police car and asked the policeman if he was near Castlewood Terrace. The policeman explained that they were just two blocks away from the location. Daniel had given Gene bad directions. Daniel decided to continue riding in the taxi with Gene. Within a couple of minutes, they arrived at the requested address. Daniel reached for his wallet and noticed that the driver’s cab license, which was required to be on display and visible to passengers, was missing. “Driver,” Daniel asked, “Where’s your license?” “Mister,” Gene replied, “will you give me my money? The fare is $12.55. Will you pay me?” Daniel said, “I’m not going to give you a thing until you produce a license.” “I’m going to ask you one more time,” the cab driver said, “Give me my money and get out of this cab.” Daniel replied, “I’m not going to pay you until you produce a license.”
Gene was fed up with Daniel. “I got a ticket, mister, and that’s really none of your business,” Gene explained, “but that’s why I don’t have the license there.” The policeman who gave Gene the ticket took his license to ensure that he would pay the fine. The ticket allowed Gene to continue driving his cab. Gene’s explanation was not good enough for Daniel. “I’ll tell you what,” Daniel said, “I’m not paying you. I’m getting out right now. Get my luggage.”
As Daniel reached for the door handle, Gene slammed on the gas pedal. “You won’t pay me?” Gene quipped, “When we stop a squad car, you’re gonna pay me.” The taxi sped down the luxurious street. The only recourse Gene, or any other taxi driver, had against people who refused to pay was to drive until he found a police officer. Taxi drivers could face charges if they physically confronted the person, kept the luggage, or followed him into a residence. As Gene sped through town looking for a policeman, Daniel stuck his head and shoulders out of the window of the car and yelled that he had been kidnapped. He threatened to jump out of the moving car. “Ok,” Gene said, “Jump and you don’t have to worry about paying the fare.” “This is kidnapping,” Daniel yelled. “I’ll make sure you never drive a cab again.” Daniel continued screaming out the window that he had been kidnapped.
Finally, Gene found a policewoman. He pulled the car over and tried to explain the situation. He assumed the policewoman would arrest the man just the same as other police officers had when the same scenario happened. To Gene’s surprise, the policewoman reached out and shook Daniel’s hand. People walking by stopped and did the same thing. Everyone seemed happy to meet Daniel. A passing ambulance saw the cop car, the taxi, and the large gathering of people, and pulled over because the ambulance crew thought someone had had an accident. Other officers arrived and greeted Daniel in the same manner. Gene was puzzled by their actions toward Daniel. Finally, a policeman asked if Gene was the cab driver. Gene only had enough time to reply “Yes,” and they placed him under arrest.
As Gene sat in a jail cell, he learned that Daniel was at the police station and wanted to pay the fare. Danial was adamant, however, that he would do everything in his power to ensure that Gene never drove a cab again. A spokesman for Daniel said, “It certainly is not [Daniel’s] intention for anyone to lose their job, but he is concerned that a similar incident may happen to someone else.”
In April of 1981, Daniel dropped charges against the Chicago cabbie. Through the entire event, Gene never recognized Daniel because he said he rarely watched television. Millions of people around the world knew and trusted Daniel. It was he, Daniel, who reported from Dallas in November 1963 on the John F. Kennedy assassination, gave regular reports on the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon’s presidency, the Watergate scandal, and Nixon’s resignation. The man who claimed Gene had kidnapped him when he refused to pay the $12.55 fare, was CBS news anchor Daniel Irvin “Dan” Rather.
- The Daily Chronicle (De Kalb, Illinois), November 12, 1980, p.12.
- Washington Post, November 13, 1980.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1980/11/13/cabbie-no-fare/0acc8cb6-0bd5-4101-b693-993571770466/
- Globe-Gazette (Mason City, Iowa), April 8, 1981, p.7.
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