A flat tire awaited our family after a Sunday lunch at The Varsity on North Avenue in Midtown. This was about three, maybe four years ago.
It’s a long story, but I didn’t have a spare tire in my car. So we called roadside assistance. The towing company would be more than an hour, so I hailed a rideshare car on my cell phone for my wife Lori and our children. I chose to wait with the car.
Since the rideshare app was on my phone, Lori took it, and I took Lori’s phone, which didn’t have the app.
No big deal, I thought. After the tow truck hauled our car, I punched these familiar numbers into the phone — 404-233-1152.
Going back to my college years and beyond, when the Buckhead bar scene was at its apex, I carried a business card with that number in my wallet. It is for Buckhead Safety Cab. A few of us even had charge accounts with the company, paid by our parents so we wouldn’t have to drive after an evening of bending elbows. I still know it by heart.
The phone rang, and rang, and rang. I hung up and tried again. An exasperated employee answered quickly this time and asked me to hold.
It took close to 25 minutes for the cab to arrive. I was kicking myself for not having downloaded the rideshare app onto Lori’s phone. When I got to our house, the tab was $40. Lori paid $20 with tip for her ride of the same distance with two more people. And it took less than five minutes for their car to show up.
Clearly, I thought, the taxi business is in trouble.
It turns out I was right. I heard last week Buckhead Safety Cab, one of the oldest taxi companies in Atlanta, closed shop. I called the numbers, the old one and the new one. They are disconnected. I drove by their offices off of Piedmont Avenue: no office, no taxis.
Another of our institutions has disappeared with barely a trace. The website is still up, for now, but that’s about it. It is a familiar story in Atlanta. Here today, gone tomorrow.
According to the website, the company dated back to 1936. I interviewed Gene Loudermilk, the former proprietor of the Buckhead Pool Hall, about 15 years ago. His family owned Buckhead Safety Cab, he said then. The owner, according to public records, is Jean Charlemagne. Props for having a name I least expected to find. Middle Ages nobility, sure, but a taxicab company?
I don’t know what happened to Buckhead Safety Cab, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the rideshare companies have changed the world. Uber is now a generic name, like Band-Aid or Frisbee. It has become ubiquitous; the word applies to the industry it spawned.
According to an article in Atlanta magazine, the Ubers and the Lyfts of the world arrived in Atlanta in 2012 and 2013, respectively. At the time, Atlanta had about 1,500 licensed taxis, which operate under certificates of public necessity and convenience. These would be known as taxi medallions in New York. They could run a driver as much as $80,000.
The taxi companies sued the state for allowing the rideshare companies to operate without a certificate and without the same regulated standards.
In the early 1990s, when my friends and I were tap-dancing from watering hole to watering hole, there was usually a Buckhead Safety Cab nearby. They were on Cains Hill Place and Irby Avenue. They were on East Paces Ferry Road and Bolling Way. You could catch one on Peachtree Road.
Long before Uber Eats, residents could call Buckhead Safety Cab to get all kinds of things delivered. If you didn’t want to leave your home but needed something, you called 233-1152 and paid the cab fare.
It could get you home safely at the end of the night, or pick up your cold medicine from the pharmacy. They were even known on occasion to deliver booze. Talk about saving a trip.
It’s funny how these companies were doing the things that are popular today before anyone thought of marketing them that way. It seems the newer model has driven the old tried and true to the curb.