Marcello Di Cintio is writing a book about the secret lives of Canada’s cab drivers.
The award-winning Calgary author visited Yellowknife last month for the last stop of a country-wide research tour. He has also made stops in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, St. Johns, Halifax and a few other communities.
“I wanted to go somewhere north for the last stop,” said Di Cintio. “I’ve never been north, which is shameful being in Canada my whole life.”
Initially, he had planned on going to Iqaluit to learn about that city’s taxi drivers but decided to visit Yellowknife on the advice of Toronto author Dave Bidini, who used his stint as guest columnist at the Yellowknifer to research his recently released book, Midnight Light: A Personal Journey to the North.
Di Cintio’s book will take an in-depth look at the people behind the wheels of Canada’s cabs. He expects the still unnamed work will be published in the fall of 2020.
While in town he spoke with Phil Bailey, who Di Cintio believes is the only Indigenous cab driver in the city, and Kareem Yalahow, a Somali immigrant who fled war and poverty in his home nation to make a new life for himself in Northern Canada.
“Kareem reminded me a lot of the other guys I’ve talked to in the country,” said Di Cintio. “He’s a guy coming from far away, escaping a war torn country and finds peace and solace in Canada, has a family, works very hard and becomes a leader in the community.”
Interviewing Bailey was a unique experience for Di Cintio.
“I had not interviewed any Indigenous drivers yet in my research,” said Di Cintio.
“So it was interesting to interview Phil who is a Dene man … He’s from here. There are very few cabbies I’ve met who are from here so it worked out almost poetically that of all the people I met, he was the last interview and the most connected to this place.”
Di Cintio also noted that Yellowknife’s cab drivers have formed a tight-knit community.
“When that cab driver (Ahmed Mahamud Ali) passed away earlier this year, he was considered as a good friend and member of the community,” said Di Cintio. “He had no family, his fellow cab drivers were his brothers, and to meet such a violent end was a great loss for the community. It was unique in a tragic way, for this event to pull the community together.”
Di Cintio said he enjoyed his brief stay in Yellowknife, and had one peice of parting advice.
“Don’t get Uber,” said Di Cintio of the ride-hailing app. “A lot of drivers in Canada spent a lot of time talking about how terrible it is and many big cities are paying millions of dollars to cab drivers and companies. It’s bad news.”