By Geenah Krisht
SMU The Daily Campus, Thursday, March 21, 2013
It was after midnight and John was fourth or fifth in the line of cabs outside of the bar. A young woman walked up to his window, after being denied a ride from the cabs in front of him, and asked to go to Potomac Avenue.
Not only was she a single rider, which most cabs do not take for monetary reasons, she also had no money. She told John that she would pay him upon arrival, so he agreed.
When they arrived, she realized she had no money at home either.
She scurried into her house and returned with handfuls of canned beans. “Can I pay you with this?”
“I’m not hungry,” John laughed.
She promised John that she would pay him next time. It was then that John knew he had gained another loyal customer.
After leaving his home in Nigeria, cab driver John Okolo has become increasingly popular among SMU students and the greater Dallas area. Students are on a first-name basis with Mr. Okolo, even giving him nicknames such as Rabbi John and Johnny Boy.
“He was my first cab driver ever at SMU, and I have been one of his V.V.I.P.’s, very, very important persons, ever since, “ sophomore Alexis Wulf said.
Contrary to the stereotype that cab driving is a mere stepping-stone for immigrants entering the workforce, John has chosen his job because he loves it.
“A lot of people look at cab drivers as homeless people or bad people, but that’s not true. I know people that are pilots, people with master’s degrees; we are not what you think,” John said.
John was born in Lagos, Nigeria, where he was raised with his five brothers and two sisters. Growing up, he discovered that his passion is working among others. He put forth a wholehearted effort when participating on his gymnastics team, and when coaching.
In school and at home, he spoke English, Yoruba, and a mixture of both called “broken English.” This turned out to be an advantage for him later on as he began establishing gymnastics programs in private schools all over Nigeria.
Three of John’s brothers and one of his sisters moved to Dallas, and John followed suit in 1997. When he moved, his brother recommended cab driving to get him started.
“I got into cab driving because of SMU, “ John said. “From the moment I started working with SMU students, I loved it.”
His brother, who had worked as a cab driver while earning his master’s degree, advised him to work during the SMU primetime: 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. So, in December 2005, John began working for Dallas Yellow Cab.
“I did this for a month or two, and then decided I wanted to put everything I have in this business,” John said.
Since then, he has switched to Cowboy Cab and has started an independent cab business. “I didn’t want to work for anyone, I wanted to work for myself,” he said.
John created his independent business, Party Cab, two years ago.
His business provides both cab and limousine services. John’s charismatic personality combined with his excellent service is the key to his success.
“[He] is an ideal compilation of everything a college student wants from a taxi cab,” sophomore Clifford Brookshire said.
When reflecting on the cab industry as a whole, John said many cab drivers are in it solely for the money.
“To me, it is not all about the money. I didn’t get into this business because of [that]. I wanted to get into a business that I could build relationships with people,” John said.
He explained that, for him, relationships and business fall hand in hand. He said his most loyal customers have become his greatest friends.
“I have been to SMU kids’ weddings.
I have met parents and grandparents,” he said.
“He's driven my parents around and they love him…as do all parents. He even texts me on my birthday and holidays. He's the best and nicest cab driver in Dallas,” Wulf said.
The relationships that John and many of his “V.V.I.P.’s” established were not all instantaneous. However, when he made simple selfless gestures, such as taking a drunken friend home safely, customers knew that he was a confidant they could trust.
John said that trust is the foundation of these relationships. When customers do not have enough money, he trusts they will pay him later, and when a customer is in need of a ride, they trust John to get them there safely.
And, along with these personal relationships came lots of famous nicknames. The first nickname was given to him about seven years ago, when several members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at SMU became some of his first “regulars.”
“The president of SAE was the first one to call me ‘Rabbi John,’” he said, “Sometimes they even call me ‘Grandmaster Rabbi.’”
Other loyal customers have come up with new nicknames over the years, and John reflects on these nicknames as terms of endearment.
“Johnny Boy, as me and my fellow friends warmly refer to him… is the most fantastic cab driver in the world,” sophomore Justine McGregor said. “He was there from freshmen week one and has been with us to this day.”
John believes that if one puts his or her heart into their job, they will love every aspect of it. He said, “It doesn’t matter what you do, just do it well.”