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Retiring Windsor taxi driver reflects on 65 years behind the wheel

George Hamilton drove cab for 65 years in the City of Windsor. He retired earlier this month. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)
George Hamilton drove cab for 65 years in the City of Windsor. He retired earlier this month. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)

George Hamilton didn't have a licence or a car when he first set out to make money by driving people around town in 1958.

As a youth, he would wait for his parents to go out and he'd borrow his uncle's taxi to go play something called pick up.

"I did that for years, until they caught on to me," he said. "I didn't have a driver's licence or a taxi permit."

The now 84-year-old said people would wave down cabs on the street if the light was on, but there was also a way to call for one if they wanted.

"There was no dispatch system. There was a telephone box on a telephone pole and all the different areas, we call them zones. It was a taxi stand, you would pull up there, you know, line up." he said.

"When it rang, whoever was first got out of the cab, answered the phone and they would dispatch, give you the trip, give you the address."

Hamilton retired from Vets Cab earlier this month but over the years he worked for different companies, including Checker Cab, which is today known as Canadian Checker. He even tried working at Chrysler for about seven years.

"I didn't like it there," he said.

He's also seen his share of interesting fares and some brushes with fame as he's gone along.

Gordie Howe, Ed Asner, Don Cherry and Dennis Rodman are just some of the names he drops.

"Some from the airport and some from the the Hilton... The Pistons would train at the University of Windsor and stay at the Hilton."

He's seen Windsor through some changes over the years.

"When the casino got here, business got better, obviously," he said.

"There's been a lot of changes in this city, growth."

'You gotta be friendly'

But the way the taxi business works has changed as well. His biggest concern for drivers these days has to do with safety.

"There's some crazy people that get in the cab," he said

"After the years, I could pretty well tell if I saw someone that was pretty well oiled up. I just drive right by, but now you have to pay attention to what you're doing."

"You gotta be friendly and obviously you're dealing with the public."

He says he's uncertain what can be done to make taxis safer. Even putting a shield up in the cabs as they do in some other cities makes doing business harder, as then you can only drive three people at a time.

He's going to be missed here, for sure. - Bill Oag, Vets Cab

"Nobody's ever tried to hold me up or anything like that," he said.

"A lot of people run out of the cab, then no big deal, you're going to lose 15 bucks [or] 20 bucks."

Hamilton says he is battling cancer "a little bit," but he's beating it. But when asked why he's retiring from the business now, he says "it's time."

He says that while he is going to miss driving cab, he's now going to spend his time relaxing, playing golf and drinking beer. He's going to keep on driving, but now in a motor home.

"Gonna do some travelling with my nephew's baseball team. He manages Drouillard slow pitch. Actually, they're going to the North American championships at 27th of this month down in Florida, " he said. "Go Drouillard."

'Well respected'

Bill Oag, operations manager for Vets Cab, sings Hamilton's praises.

"I take all the complaints, so I very rarely have ever received a complaint on George. In fact, I've received compliments," he said.

"He's always been the most professional guy that we've had here."

Oag, who has worked at Vets for 38 years himself, says that Hamilton goes out of his way to help people.

"Even giving people free rides at times if they were short on the fare [or] helping someone jump their car in the middle (of) winter... kept his car clean and just overall was one of our best drivers."

Oag calls the 65 years of time Hamilton spent driving in Windsor "quite the accomplishment."

"This business has changed quite a bit over the years but George has adapted well."

"He's going to be missed here, for sure."