This is a dangerous business when Moscow roads are slick with ice, as it was last weekend. But it's the rule. The trick is to leave very little space between you and the car ahead of you, so that no other cabbie can cut in and steal your fare. You also have to watch out for the civvie Zhigs and other harmless-looking non-Russian cars; they might be playing uninterested until a fare comes along, then they'll cut in and steal it.
I had half a dozen fares stolen from right under my nose before I managed to pick up my first client, at around 1 a.m. I cruised my gypsy cab Nissan outside 16 Tons, the Moscow club that hosted eXile's Xth anniversary party last summer. A guy flagged me down to drive two chicks to Opera, an elitny dance club about a half a mile up the street. The girls were both wearing miniskirts and short black fur coats. It was a straight shot and I didn't bother to ask how much he was paying.
"You'll take care of these girls, right?" he said as he placed a couple of bills in my palm.
"Of course," I said, thinking he'd be generous with his fare. But the guy was just putting on airs for the ladies. In my hand were two crumpled 50-ruble notes. But compared to the fares I'd collect over the next two days, it was a jackpot.
I didn't get a good look at the girl in the back, but the one sitting in the passenger's seat next to me had a typical clubbing blond look. It was below zero outside, but she was wearing fishnet stockings. She was probably around 19 and had a pretty face pocked with acne scars. She pulled down the mirror and started covering them up with powder. She also fumbled with the window controls, accidentally opening her.
"Yes, it sure is hot," I joked.
"What?" she asked in an annoyed tone.
"Nothing, I was just making a joke," I said. That was the end of our conversation.
As soon as we started driving, the chick in the back started trashing the guy who had paid their fare. She recounted how the last time she was at Opera, she ran into him while she was on the arm on another guy.
"He saw me with at the club with a different boy, but he never came up to me. He was too embarrassed to come up, so he pretended not to see me. The guy I was with was sooooo cute!" she laughed.
The narrow street in front of Opera was gridlocked with Mercs and Porsche Cayenne SUVs getting parked by valets, as well as gypsy cabbers dropping off people and waiting around for whoever didn't make it past face control. The way the street and entrance were laid out made it a convenient place to hunt for fares. I decided to swing around and make another pass when I ran into two friends walking down the street.
Dave and Matt were drunk and on the way to a brothel. I probably should've kept working, but I decided to be friendly and give them a lift. After all, isn't this what being a bombila is all about? The freedom to be your own boss and do what you want when you want to do it? Besides, nothing pleases gypsy cabbies more than driving their fares to brothels or tochki.
On the way, Dave had a change of heart. Instead of whoring, he wanted to roll with me. Why not? I thought. I've seen pairs of guys pick up fares, sometimes guys even do it with their girlfriends when they have nothing better to do. But would people, and especially girls, get into a car with two sketchy dudes? The usual rule is "never ride with two guys." Or so I thought.
We rolled up to two ladies in the Kitai Gorod area, both sovok secretary types in their early 30s standing outside of Zolotaya Vobla. This chain of beer halls is the Russian equivalent of TGIF, with a name that translates as "Golden Salt-Cured Fish"; it's a huge hit with the podmoskovie crowd that metros into the city to work. Instead of quirky hostesses covered in flair, the chain features AK-toting guards on weekends.