The Winter of January 2013 was my very first time in Boston. I had just arrived Logan International Airport having flown for hours from Atlanta and the day previous, flown for over 14 hours from Lagos, Nigeria. I was excited! I was looking forward to the experience. I had just been admitted into the prestigious HBS for a course in Negotiation & Deal Making.
The cold wind hit my face as I struggled with my suitcases outside the airport. Cabs were lined up to pick passengers in turn. The queue of cabs and passengers were long, but well managed and organized. The driver in the cab whose turn was next, just stepped out of the cab opens his trunk and swings in the passengers luggages, slammed the truck while the passenger sank into the back seat of the cab and slammed the cold and snow out of the cab.
I was next in line. Except, that my cab driver was black. I thought this would be an advantage. But I was wrong. The cab driver beamed a broad smile at me, in the cold dull snowy, windy evening. I might have underrated the weather, because I didn’t dress very warmly. I jumped into the cab, slammed the door and we sped off. I tried to rob my arms to warm up a bit while waiting for the heater in the car to circulate.
The usual interrogation by cab drivers began.
Is this your first time Boston?… What brings you to Boston..? How long are you here for…? Where are you headed…?
I always prepared myself for these questions. Sometimes it’s very engaging and interesting. At other times you’re not just in the mood and you want to shut down by answering as few questions as possible. But you must answer a few questions, no matter how disinterested one was. So, my answers were pretty straight, honest and to the point.
Yes, it was my first time in Boston…I’m a student at HBS. I will be in Boston for a week. We are headed to Charles Hotel in Boston.
He pretty much let me be, after these series of answers. He soon got engaged in series of telephone calls. I couldn’t help eavesdropping, even though I was admiring the city and watching the adverts on the tv monitor at the back of the cab.
The roads were paved with snow and the snow flakes quickly organized themselves to encased packed vehicles on the road. I noticed my cab driver was speaking Yoruba language into the phone to someone at the other end. That told me he was a Nigerian, even though I neither spoke nor understood the language, but I could identify it. He seemed to be stealing glances at me while speaking to someone at the other end. At some point I made out they were probably talking about me. My alarm antenna went up instinctively and I began to think what their plot might be. Could it be that he was taking me to a wrong destination? Would he try to rob me? Would he stop by on the way to pick someone else?
I sat at the edge of my seat and waited for any suspicious moves from the cab driver. I had just a wad of $100 bills. So I decided it would be a bad idea to pay him cash. He might claim not to have my balance. I decided I would swipe my card and pay him his exact fare. That way, we were squared and he couldn’t steal from me. But I was wrong…
At this time, we had arrived Charles Hotel, Boston. My cab fare was $48. He asked how I was paying. I told him by card. So, he punched the machine in front of him a few times and asked me to insert or swipe my card after also punching in the amount that appeared on the screen. I did as he directed and I swiped my card. It debited instantly for $48. I alighted from the cab, still wondering how he had planned to steal from me. It was clear at this point from the body language and mannerism that I was the subjects of the discussion.
I walked briskly into the lobby of Charles Hotel. Exchanged pleasantries with the receptionists and mentioned that I had a reservation. Just when I was giving my names and ID to the front desk my phone rang. It was my bankers. They asked me if I was in Boston ! Alarmed! I said yes. They said there was an attempt to withdraw $1000 from my account and it was just in front of Charles Hotel, Boston.! I told them, they were mistaken, that I was at Charles Hotel and I was not trying to withdraw any money. Indeed I was just about trying to pay $350 for my hotel reservation.
The person at the other end of the phone screamed at me and told me there was a second attempt, again to withdraw $1000 from my account in front of Charles Hotel! He asked if I was in a cab.!?
Immediately, I sensed the danger and ran out of the hotel. The black cab driver saw me and sped off!!! I called the bank back to ask if theft withdraw from my account had succeeded.
They said it had not, because they had known my spending trend and that, I would never withdraw $1000 at once. This was why they disallowed the two attempts.!! I was sweating in the cold winter evening in front of Charles Hotel. I was trembling. My phone dropped from my hand. I was confused. They told me my card had been blocked and that I needed to visit my bank branch where the account was opened to resubmit my details and confirm the account as mine before it would be unblocked.
I went back into the hotel and explained what had just happened. I offered to pay for my hotel accommodation in cash, but they declined. I was told cash payments where no longer accepted. I explained again and again that my card had been blocked to prevent a theft but that even alarmed the receptionists the more. They refused to give me accommodation and I was stranded.
I walked out into the cold winter night wondering what I was going to do now that I had no hotel accommodation.
Another cab pulled over. This time, it was a bearded old man from the Middle East. Sounded kind and was ready to help. I explained my ordeal, it sounded pretty normal experience of first timers. He told me there used to be an old inn somewhere at Cambridge area that used to accept cash. He called them on the phone and handed the phone over to me.
They said they had accommodation for $110 but it was going to be by card. I didn’t tell the cabdriver this development. Otherwise, he may just have dropped me back in the cold streets of Boston. We drove to the inn at Cambridge. It was a real inn. But neat. They took my drivers licence and I poured out all the credit cards in my wallet and we began swiping to see anyone that would have up to $110. Luckily one went through and was debited. That’s how I paid for my accommodation, since I was a day early and was expected in HBS the very next day for the commencement of the program.
I went back to Houston to regularize my account details and was very careful how I swiped my card going forward.