Dear PoPville – Wha’ts the story with Guys offering rides outside Giant in Columbia Heights?

Photo by PoPville flickr user rosiedawn

Dear PoPville,

Twice now I have seen men who stand in front of the doors to the Giant in Columbia Heights who offer rides to people with lots of groceries. No ID, no signs, no marked cars or taxis — nothing to make them look official. They approached me about a week ago when I had a number of bags, and I saw them again yesterday approach someone else. They’re not aggressive in anyway, but without any taxis in view it reminds me of drivers we’re warned against at airports.

45 Comment

  • saf

    They’re not official – think of them as gypsy cabs. They work for tips, or did last I knew.

    They used to be really common at grocery stores in DC. I haven’t seen any lately. I used to chat with the retired guys who drove people home from the Safeway while I waited for the bus, years ago, but I haven’t seen them in a long time.

  • They like to be referred to as ‘courtesy drivers’, but yeah – they’re illegal cabs. Usually older/retired guys. They’ve been around for ages, and still are around the Columbia Heights Giant and the SW Waterfront Safeway [and probably others] pretty much every day.

  • LOL! I take it you are new to DC. They have been doing this in DC since I can remember, I got a many of grocery and rides back in the day. Cabs didn’t stop for young blacks back in the 90’s.

    Head over to MN Ave Safeway or any round the way spot and they will be lined up. Not everyone can afford cars, cabs, zip cars…

  • They are guys offering rides to people with groceries?

  • The story is they want money. How hard was that to figure out? Welcome to living in a city.

  • pennyworth

    how can anyone living in a major city not know what a hack is?

  • I have lived in DC my entire life and have never seen this.

    Having read and heard about this, I would guess, “buyer beware” is an appropriate bit of advice here, especially for a woman.

    Then again a granny cart, available at most grocery stores, would fix this problem.

    • You have lived here your entire life and never saw this? I find that VERY hard to believe unless you just were not paying attention to what’s going on around you. Where on earth did you shop? Where did you live? All of the Safeways and Giants back in the day and some still used to make announcements for/ask you if you needed a “courtesy driver(s)”. Then again, maybe our experiences are just that different. I know for me when I come out of Safeway or wherever, I have pretty much scanned everyone and summed up everything that is going on.

      • Prince Of Petworth

        I also never saw this before until I moved to Petworth.

        • So it is a location thing which usually translates into income disparity of sorts. Not trying to cause anything but I hope this makes sense.

        • I’ve lived in DC for 19 years and I’ve also never seen it.

      • I, too, am a DC native and have never seen this… I grew up in Shepherd Park and my Giant was the Silver Spring location… maybe I wasn’t paying attention because my mom had a car

    • You must be W of the Park or perhaps Adams-Morgan or Dupont. The Park Rd Giant has had this from the beginning. The Giant at 8th and O had it more intermittently. The Soviet (17th) and socialist (Columbia Rd) Safeways haven’t had this, at least not in the last 20 years.

      • Incorrect on Soviet and Sandanista safeways and the “courtesy cars” as we used to call them. Both had them in the early 90’s all the way through the early 2000’s.

        I used them quite often at both locations.

    • i’ve seen them. union station and the greyhound station have had them for years and years. personally haven’t noticed them at grocery stores but it’s not surprising. just folks trying to (illegally) make some bucks.

    • PDleftMtP

      They definitely used to be common in NE when I lived on the Hill in the early 90s. Of course everyone should use common sense and not get into situations that seem shady, but I agree this is something that’s been around a long time and not necessarily inherently suspicious.

  • They are usually harmless and helpful if you are without transportation. “Throw” them a $5 or so and you might even get help carrying your groceries to your door. A lot of them do it to be doing something, others do it for simple gas money…

  • I have also seen people do this outside of van/truck rental places, offering to help people move.

  • Dear PoP,

    I have seen a bunch of men standing around the Home Depot parking lot. They just seem to be standing around in groups of 3-6 doing nothing, they aren’t agressive or anything. What’s up with that?

  • My girlfriend and I rely on these guys to get our groceries home, so I hope this posting doesn’t create trouble for them. They are much more polite and friendly than most cab drivers, their cars are much cleaner than any cab I’ve ever taken in this city and they always help take our groceries to the porch.

    • +1

      They are also historians on DC.

    • I used to use the guys at the O Street Giant back in the 80’s all the time. I agree with all that you said and they were a lot better than using a rolling cart too. No cabs around there back in the day.

  • how much do you usually pay – a few bucks less than cabs?

    • I pay them well because we only go grocery shopping once a week, usually it fills their trunk. They carry most of it into their cars and up the porch stairs. No less than $10 for this, and usually a couple bucks more because of the load.

  • Dan,

    Why the moderated comments? I didn’t say anything demeaning nor hurtful towards anyone. People say much, much worse all the time and their comments stay but yet my comments, as well as someone that agreed with me get removed?

  • Funny how this is not a problem but white people driving a limo from Uber gets the Taxi Commission up in arms and their limo impounded.

    Strange Strange world.

  • I used them once. It was raining and I had my son and a lot of groceries. It was a godsend and the driver was super sweet.

  • Yes, they’ve been here forever – if you haven’t noticed them it’s because they really don’t solicit, they just hang out waiting for people who know they’re there to use them. They don’t actually charge – they offer rides as a courtesy and you in return offer them money as a courtesy.

    Old guys make a little money, people who need a lift with heavy groceries get some help – what’s wrong with that? It isn’t taking revenue away from real taxi drivers because the poor wouldn’t use them anyway, they would simply have to shop more often, buying less on each trip and clogging up the lines at Giant so everyone would be complaining about that instead.

  • When I first moved to CH I had one of these guys offer me a ride outside of the Giant on Park. I think I kind of laughed and answered that I was doing okay. I guess I was surprised that he thought I’d take a ride from a complete stranger. He could tell and stuck his hand out, introduced himself and told me about his service. I never needed it bc I live so close, but always said hello whenever I saw him after that. He seemed really nice and I felt a little bit like a jerk for being my usual suspicious self. Too bad we are all so used to dealing with creeps and weirdos that this service seems odd. I like the idea of these retire guys helping folks out.

  • I’m a native Washingtonian too. I’ve seen these courtesy drivers since childhood, and have used them many times in adulthood. Great community service, I’d say!

  • I use these guys all the time–you’re basically getting home delivery for $5 bucks. I don’t give a damn if they are legit or not. In NYC, the supermarkets have people who deliver groceries to your apt for very little, but not here. So why not use someone who is very nice and courteous wanting to make a few bucks. I can’t believe anyone would complain about this!

  • Yep, I’ve used them a few times, but was super suspicious when one of the guys first offered me a ride. I turned around and went back into the Giant to ask about it, and the cop in there explained. So I took a chance (getting into a car with a stranger that wasn’t a taxi) and it was worth it! Very nice guys and made it very easy on me those days that I bought more than I expected and thought I might have to get a cab home.

  • This post is actually useful for me–I shop at the Columbia Heights Giant all the time and have never noticed them, but it just be because they’ve never aggressively solicited me.

    This is why I appreciate the local insight of this blog–it is nice to know that this is a service that many people actually use, and not a scam or shady operation to automatically be wary of.

  • Nothing new or unique to DC and been going on since the advent of large grocery stores in the 50s. Since most of those were not near black neighborhoods, retired guys have been doing the grocery hack thing since the beginning. In Baltimore I used to see entire families take hacks from the A&P. Even in DC there are still a sizable number of people living in food deserts who need transportation to better food choices, or more importantly a ride back after getting a load of groceries.

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