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Cabbies draw attention to dangers of job
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 8/12/2009 12:04 AM

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Some Chicago cabdrivers observed a "day of prayer and meditation" Tuesday, a work holiday planned before the Patrick Kane case, but perfectly timed when the incident became big news.

George Lutfallah, a cabdriver and publisher of the Chicago Dispatcher monthly newspaper, organized the "day of prayer" as a way to draw attention to the difficult issues faced by cabbies, then saw the Kane case shine a spotlight on it.

"The Patrick Kane incident does highlight some of the problems we have in this industry," Lutfallah said. "But the reason this is such a big story is it's Patrick Kane. It's not that a cabdriver got beat up. Cabdrivers get beat up all the time."

Kane, a Chicago Blackhawks star, was accused of being involved in an attack on a taxi driver in Buffalo, New York. Since the weekend incident, much conflicting information has been released about who was to blame and exactly what happened.

Lutfallah urged cabdrivers in his newspaper and online to take the day off Tuesday to remember Zubair Khan, a Chicago cabbie recently beaten on the North Side. He also pointed to Artur Shehu, a Villa Park cabdriver who committed suicide after being accused of killing his parents. Lutfallah says the city of Chicago canceled his taxi medallion, depriving his surviving sister of what he said was $95,000 in equity invested in it.

"It wasn't renewed, true, but it wasn't renewed because he was dead," Lutfallah said. "That's what the day of prayer is all about. The city needs to do what's right and give the money to this woman and let her get on with her life, to rebuild something. It's unconscionable."

Lutfallah insisted it was not in any way involved with a recent petition signed by 1,400 cabbies asking for a rate increase from the city. He deliberately set it on a Tuesday, typically the slowest cab day of the week, to be less disruptive.

He said he was simply trying to draw attention to the dangers and difficulties faced by cabdrivers, something the Kane incident did in spades.

"It is a very dangerous job. These kind of incidents happen way too often," Lutfallah said. At the same time, he said the possibility that Kane and his cousin were locked in the back seat in some sort of dispute with the Buffalo, N.Y., cabdriver argued in their favor.

"I don't know cabdrivers who do that. It's kind of offensive," Lutfallah said. He added that a sense of mutual trust was essential. "We pick up strangers, and we turn our backs to them. You have to have some level of trust in this job."

Lutfallah said, "Lots of drivers have taken the day off" Tuesday, but it seemed largely a normal day of taxi traffic in the Loop. The vast majority of cabbies seemed to work as usual.

Anthony Guido, a doorman at the Palmer House Hilton, said it seemed an average day. He was sympathetic toward the plight of taxi drivers, but at the same time realistic.

"I think it's a hard job, a stressful job," Guido said. "Sometimes they're in a good mood, sometimes in a bad mood. It's a big city, you know? ... Overall, it's like any group of people."

At the cab stand in front of the Palmer House, Raza Jafri said he wasn't aware of either the "day of prayer" or the Kane incident. He was the last cab in the taxi line, and having made a turn his back bumper was just barely left hanging into the crosswalk. A Traffic Management Authority cop came over as I was talking with him and slapped a ticket on his windshield.

"It's a tough life," I said.

"It's not tough if you obey the law," she added, then flipped her ticket book shut and walked away.