At first glance, one wouldn't assume that 22-year-old Pavjit Nagra, a full-time student of Langara College's business program, drives a cab on the weekends. But this young taxi driver says there's nowhere he'd rather be on Friday and Saturday nights—not even on the other side, partying with his peers.
After leaving his retail job just over a year ago and taking up cab driving at the suggestion of his father, who also happens to be a cab driver, Nagra says he hasn't looked back for a second.
"My main goal when driving a cab is to break cab culture," said Nagra during a ride-along with the Straight earlier this week.
"I'm not just driving someone from point A to point B; I'm selling them an experience. I'll give them a laugh, I'll give them something to talk about. There's a bunch of different things that happen in a cab that you normally wouldn't have with people in your regular life, and that's one of the main things I like about driving a cab."
Nagra says his customers are often "astounded" by his story: a young, spry, outgoing man with goals of getting into the world of marketing doesn't seem to fit the average person's idea of what a cab driver should look like, and that's precisely why he's so interested in continuing his job as a part-time chauffer.
"People ask, 'why is a 22-year-old kid driving a cab, when he could be on the other side of the cab partying on Granville Street?'...A lot of people have these stigmas that all cab drivers are greedy, that it's all middle-aged East Indian men who just drive cabs for money, and I want to break that stigma," said Nagra.
Without question, he says the best part of his job is meeting new people every day.
The most interesting conversations he gets to engage in come from people who are commuting in and out of downtown. Some of his favourite stories involve women serenading him with Céline Dion songs, two passengers enjoying the selection of music on his iPod so much that they began engaging in rap battles, and business professionals offering him advice about what steps to take once he's finished school. Tourists visiting Vancouver during cruise stops also have stories that Nagra describes as "just amazing".
Spending the majority of his Friday and Saturday shifts driving to and from downtown means Nagra has also had his fair share of drunk and disorderly passengers along what is arguably Vancouver's busiest strip of nightclubs.
"The worst is when someone passes out in the back. It's hard when you're trying to get money out of a guy who's just puked his brains out in the back of your cab, or you'll have a guy get in the front seat who's just eyeing your bag on the ground with a $5 bill sticking out of it, or your phone that's in your pocket, so you never know... Sometimes it does get a bit nerve-wracking, when it's 4 in the morning on the Granville strip, but at the end of the day, it’s my job to take people from one place to another."
The right music plays a part in providing his customers with the right experience too, and the mix of rap, R&B, and club hits on his iPod often gets passengers hyped up for a night out. He says customers will often reach over and turn up the volume, which Nagra has no issue with, as long as people are enjoying themselves.
"If you get in my cab, you're going to have a good time. You're going to laugh, and if you need to talk about something serious, I can try my best. I don't want someone leaving my cab who's going to be angry—I want them to leave on a positive note," said Nagra.
"I love my job. For now, I wouldn't give it up for the world. I work two days a week, and I probably have the best times talking to people. Until my education's done, I don't see myself getting another job."
Nagra will be one of four panellists during the Indian Summer Festival's In the Driver's Seat talk, where current and former cab drivers will come together to discuss "the art of taxi driving".
The event is scheduled for July 10 at 8 p.m., in the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (149 West Hastings Street). Tickets are $15 each, with $20 double-feature tickets available for those interested in the evening's earlier talk, The Ever After.
See the festival's full lineup here.