CHICAGO — Being asked to put your seatbelt on after giving a cab driver your destination is not common but that's what cabbie Mahfoud Amrani has been doing for 8 years.
Originally from Algeria, Amrani started after witnessing an accident in which a cab in an opposite lane was struck by a drunk driver.
Since 2007, when he watched an elderly man's head collide with a metal partition separating a cab's back seat from the front, he said he has asked passengers if they'd mind buckling up.
"An old man went forward; he broke his nose and was bleeding, blood everywhere," said Amrani, who has been driving a cab for 16 years.
When I hopped in Amrani's cab near near Big Star, 1531 N. Damen Ave., on Saturday, I was distracted and texting a friend who was meeting me at a wedding in Logan Square, so I did not hear him ask me if I could put on a seatbelt.
Stuck in traffic and waiting to turn left at the crowded Milwaukee, North and Damen avenues intersection, Amrani again turned around to repeat his request.
"Uh sure," I said, buckling up.
My father died in a car crash many years ago, so I should be diligent about buckling up. But perhaps because I don't own a car and usually bike unless I'm feeling lazy, I don't put on a seatbelt when I hop into a car's backseat.
When asked how often people comply with his request, Amrani said about 80 percent of the time.
"Some are happy. Some are mean and say, 'Don't tell me what to do,'" he said.
"But when people leave the cab, they respect you more," he added.
Three years ago, he picked up a man, his wife and their two young children, he said. The man got irate when Amrani made the request and said, "You can't tell me what to do with my family," he said.
The man's outburst caused his wife to be upset with her husband. Amrani said he could hear them whispering about the incident as he was driving.
"The wife was saying [to her husband], 'That man is only concerned for our safety' [and] she said he should apologize to me," Amrani said.
The man gave him Amrani a $20 tip.
"He said he was sorry to me in front of his children," Amrani said.
Amrani, who is turning the big 4-0 right around the same time as me in a couple too-short months, lamented that fact when I asked him what his age is for a possible story.
"You look like you're in your 20s," was his reply.
The cab was very dark. I can't tell if my tip was much larger than usual because of his compliment, or his attention to safety.
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