By ANDREW MCGINN
If it takes a certain kind of person to give a transient man with untreated schizophrenia a ride to the bus stop in Fort Dodge, stopping on request at McDonald’s, Tom Thumb and a gas station all before reaching the destination, then Tom Ganoe is it.
By his own admission, Jefferson’s only cabbie — and quite possibly its first taxi driver in history — has already heard it all before.
“I’ve been a bartender before,” Ganoe, 50, explained. “The only type of person I haven’t talked to, and maybe I have, is an alien.”
“You never know who you’re talking to these days,” he added.
The conversation that day in November en route to Fort Dodge inside Ganoe’s 2005 Chevy Blazer — the one and only vehicle in the Tom’s Taxi Service fleet — ranged from family life (the man said he had 16 children by six different women in six states) to assorted life accomplishments (the man claimed to have rebuilt the World Trade Center with his mind) before finally reaching the bus stop by way of Mickey D’s, Tom Thumb and the gas station.
From there, Ganoe’s unique passenger was off to North Dakota.
“He said he wanted to go someplace warmer,” Ganoe said.
No, it didn’t make sense to Ganoe, either.
But at 50 cents a mile, it was just another day for Tom’s Taxi Service.
Admittedly, the thought of starting a local taxi service never crossed Ganoe’s mind until the day it actually did. Chalk it all up to the pandemic. One day, everything is going well for the in-home day care you’ve operated with your wife for the past 10 years; the next, you’re driving a guy with schizophrenia up to Fort Dodge because the cherubs of Angel Land Child Care are in quarantine again.
For a while, though, Ganoe was unsure whether he’d made the right decision that last week of September to go into business as Tom’s Taxi Service. Sure, he’d heard that people countywide often face obstacles in getting to doctor’s appointments, particularly the elderly. But after expenses, profits the first couple months amounted to a paltry 70 or 80 bucks.
The Blazer’s lousy gas mileage didn’t help.
“Everybody said the same thing, that we’ve never had this service and we’ve needed it for a long time,” explained Ganoe, a lifelong resident of Greene County.
And then, sure enough, it happened — word apparently got around that Ganoe wasn’t just “this creepy guy in a Chevy Blazer,” as he’d been starting to fear.
His phone actually started ringing.
In December, Ganoe said, profit topped $600, and then exceeded even that in January.
Now he sleeps on the weekends in his clothes, reasoning that “people who are fall-down drunk don’t care how you look.”
He’s even beginning to worry that once the pandemic finally relents, one vehicle and one driver won’t be enough to keep pace.
“If I can make money during the pandemic, I should be able to make pretty good money after,” he said.
As if right on cue at one point during the interview, his phone rang.
“Here we go,” he said.
“What time we going?” he asked the caller a few seconds later, grabbing an old envelope and jotting down the date and time on the back, before confirming, “Eight o’clock to the hospital.”
One guy, he picks up regularly at his home in Boone, drops off at Wild Rose Casino when it opens and then comes back for him at closing time.
“He hasn’t done that in about a month and a half,” Ganoe said. “I think he might have lost too much money last time.”
Because Jefferson is only about six square miles in size, Ganoe charges $5.50 one way for in-town trips. It’s proven to be a small price to pay for many.
“I’ve never been late to anything,” Ganoe said. “At least not yet.”
And not on this cold morning, either, as the interview moved from inside his home on South Cedar Street to the Chevy Blazer with magnetic Tom’s Taxi Service signs on both sides.
He had a 10 o’clock to make, and make it he would — with ease.
“Where we going?” Ganoe was asked as he backed the Chevy Blazer out of his driveway.
“Right here,” he replied, shifting into drive and pulling into the driveway literally across from his.
According to Google Maps, we had just driven 10 whole feet. (Now you see why it’s hard to charge by the mile in Jefferson.)
Ganoe got out and helped his customer, Carolyn Sloan, to the vehicle, putting her walker in back.
She had a weekly hair appointment uptown to keep — a distance of only 0.6 miles, but seemingly much more when it’s the dead of winter and you need the assistance of a walker to get around.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Sloan said of her neighbor becoming a cabbie. “The kids are too busy to take me.”
Ganoe regularly gets groceries for another lady, and has started delivering food from restaurants as well, a sort of low-tech local version of DoorDash.
Before the pandemic, a local resident tried her hand at being Jefferson’s first Uber driver, but riders were required to use an app to hail her — assuming she was even on duty at the time.
Ganoe, on the other hand, is only ever a phone call away. He takes his phone with him to bed.
One night recently, Ganoe was just about to turn the TV off and retire when his phone rang. Outside, a snowstorm was raging, but the woman on the other end was having trouble with her boyfriend. She wanted a ride to her dad’s house.
Off he drove into the frozen night.
Ganoe firmly believes he’s offering a community service — and few would disagree with that.
“There are a significant number of poor people who have undependable transportation,” said the Rev. Julie Poulsen, of First United Methodist Church in Jefferson. “I can think of a dozen stories off the top of my head.”
Many of them are dependant on friends and family for rides.
Poulsen is also frequently the go-to person to assist the homeless in Greene County, putting them up in a local hotel or else finding a bed for them at a shelter in another community.
Before the advent of Tom’s Taxi Service, Poulsen would regularly transport people herself. Now she can call on Ganoe, using funds set aside for assistance.
“He has helped me considerably,” she said. “It’s been a huge help.”
For his part, Ganoe never quite knows who he’ll be picking up.
“I could write a book already,” he said.