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Legal Blanket for the Movie Star
Last week, I read with disgust a headline reporting that the nude pictures of a famous actress (let’s call her “Mrs. Dem”) were held hostage by a taxi driver. Apparently, she and a companion hired the taxi driver to take them to a special airport destination. According to the article, they forgot their camera in the taxi and now the driver is looking for big bucks for its return or else.
What is the world coming to? I’m missing something here. I’m going to assume he didn’t know who his passengers were so he searched the contents of the camera hoping to identify the owners. That being said, wasn’t the idea of searching for the contents the sole purpose of returning the item to the owner? Then again maybe he did know who his passengers were.
Last year I flew from Paris to Saint Martin. An hour later I caught a connecting flight to Antigua for a Cricket Final. For those who don’t know, Antigua is part of the twin island nation of Antigua/Barbuda – two 80,000 resident gems in the Caribbean ocean. Most know the destination as the place where the rich and famous and the local population have interacted and lived comfortably for the past 50 years. True: hundreds of celebrities have summer, winter and permanent homes there, but it hasn’t lost its natural charm or “world famous taxi driver hospitality/honesty”. During the tournament, it was not unusual to hear announcers asking the person who drove in taxi number so and so, who left this equipment to go to place x and bring some kind of identification.
I operated a luxury wholesale tourism company on that island for years. My responsibilities included looking after senior travelers. Some wanted helicopter tours to neighboring islands: the most requested were Montserrat volcano tours, and Barbuda, Antigua’s sister island tour to the largest frigate bird sanctuary in the world. My last shift, before taking my current radio job, was to send 200 passengers every week during the winter seasons to 10 luxury resorts. They will come for a week and during that time, 90% wanted to discover as many as possible of the almost 400 beaches of Antigua. It never failed. Although I would try to bring them to the airport early to avoid congestion, on the day of departure there were always the dead with the same story: “We don’t want to leave.” In that vague and tense pre-flight state, many would forget items.
Taxi drivers there knew we operated charter flights. On average six to ten times a month, drivers would call me on my cell phone. “I just returned to the hotel; the last passenger I brought up there left —-in my taxi. Taxi driver so and so, car number so and so just left for the airport and I gave the items to him or her .” I would call the tower and the drill began: the tower to the captain and vice versa. The captain would announce, and sure enough the passenger was on board. Some would request that the item be shipped to the company’s Boston office. Others would ask how long it would take and many times we would hear that the flight was on the taxiway and it would hold. It was ordinary.
Naturally, I questioned some senior taxi drivers. Do people still leave cameras and briefcases in your taxis? “Every week” was the answer. There wasn’t one driver I interviewed who didn’t know what to do. In Antigua, about 2000 people are registered drivers belonging to about 5 taxi associations — three of which have exclusive contracts with the hospitality industry. I don’t know if it’s the pride they put in their customer care – a known marketing fact, but they take pride in their relationship with their customers. They earn stripes when repeat passengers ask for them by name, and every year “their repeat guests” bring them gifts: from baseball caps to the latest electronic gadgets. It is not unusual to see visitors having breakfast, lunch or drinks at the homes of their “favorite drivers”. I bring you this data to understand the utter shock, outrage and anger these guys expressed when I showed them the article. ‘DAT CAN’T HAPPEN YA.” “Dem kicks you out of association immediately.” That needs no explanation: automatic disqualification, ridicule and bad reference. If this happened to any of their drivers, he/she would have to leave the island. The shame and disgrace would be too much to bear.
Guest industry service providers operate in a pseudo-ambassador capacity. Fixed drivers fall into that category. When people hire a taxi to take them from destination A to B, it is expected that the driver delivers the passengers with all their belongings safely. In Antigua/Barbuda, all taxi drivers must be members of formal taxi associations. They sign a protocol agreement and there are specific prerequisites. All tour operators contract them with the understanding that they will follow these principles. Many times, guests left cameras, wallets and luggage. Many attentive drivers check before driving off; some make discoveries only after returning to their base. Not only have we delayed flights, but also cruise ship departures, to return items. One time we had the tugboat captain return a movie camera to a cruise ship.
The fact that the taxi driver knows what was on the camera means one of two things:
1. He checked the contents to try to identify the possible owner.
2. He suspected who the owner/owners were and tried to be curious.
Whatever the motive, in most tourist destinations, the driver has one option – to return the product period. Trying to sell the data is a big theft for two reasons:
1. He breached the implied contract between mobile contractor and passenger.
2. He stole private vacation souvenirs from his passengers.
There are different types of contracts acceptable by institutions of jurisprudence: expressed and implied. Under these two types, injured persons can seek compensation through the courts. Am I to assume that because the passenger is a celebrity and their personal possessions have more value than say John’s Are the rules different?
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