Compiled by Lee Purvey, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Hatch is the owner and lone driver of Jewel Cab, the only cab company based out of Grinnell. Born in Clinton, Iowa, he spent much of his life in Iowa City and West Des Moines before moving to Grinnell in September of 2004. He earned a bachelor’s in English at Grand View College (now Grand View University) in Des Moines and a master’s in history from the University of Iowa. The S&B’s Lee Purvey sat down with Hatch a few weeks ago to discuss his business, his best cab-driving stories and why he should be Grinnell College’s next commencement speaker.
Are you from Grinnell originally?
No, I moved here in September of 2004. Back in the old days when… as a Verizon customer, it was like flipping a coin. Oh wait, I have reception. Wait, don’t move! I’m good here!
And did you originally intend to start Jewel Cab?
No, that was largely because I found that nobody here wanted to employ a late-40s, obese anarchist for some reason. Do you know the Andy Hardy movies at all?
I’ve heard the name.
There [were] 15 or 16 made in the late ’30s through the mid ’40s. And Mickey Rooney was the Andy Hardy character. And the Andy Hardy response, you know, if they were short money or whatever: “Hey, kids. Let’s put on a show!” So, the corollary here was, “Hey, kids. Let’s start a cab company . . .”
Do you mostly get your business through the College?
Probably two-thirds. It’s busiest around the College calendar. You know, whenever the shuttle’s busy, I’m busy. … My wife is actually the professional. In fact, really all I need is the appearance of looking busy. That’s why I moved here, is because of her job. I became a hardcore feminist at that point. Well, if you can make more, do it! It doesn’t bother me!
What does she do?
She’s an insurance adjuster, now becoming an auditor.
So, I imagine you’ve driven some special guests to the college. Anybody particularly notable or interesting?
I will sometimes get some of the Concerts Committee people or the Film Committee people, but the real stars, like any sort of commencement speakers or whatever, no. There’s, I think, somebody in the hierarchy to go take care of that. I’ve been making this pitch for years now: were I to be the commencement speaker, first, I would do it for a third of the price that some of these charlatans—particularly Thomas L. Friedman—would do it. … I could do the, “Today, esteemed guests, alumni, faculty, yada yada yada, today you embark upon a journey” and then some bromide about Horace Greeley telling J.B. Grinnell “Go West, young man. Blah blah blah.” I could do all that and then I’d get to the meat of the speech—and here’s where it would be different—I’d actually tell the truth and say, “Okay, the thing is I’m pretty old, I’m 54, I’ll be dead just in time. You guys are totally screwed, and you’re screwed on multiple fronts. There’s the environmental disaster coming down the tracks, there’s, you know, capitalism is all about crises over and over again, somebody can blow us with nuclear devices. It can come in so many unanticipated ways.” But yeah, you guys aren’t going to have it easy. … Like you say, I could fill 45 minutes and for a third of the price!
Do you have a most interesting cab driving experience? Is there some quintessential Jewel Cab story?
The one that I particularly love, I had this guy, he had to have been 75-80 years old, and it was Sunday morning, like 9 o’clock, which is normally not a lot of action with local fares. And a guy calls from the Grinnell Airport and says, “There’s a guy here who needs a ride.” Okay, I get out there thinking, “What’s up with this? This ought to be good”’ And the guy says, “Well, take me to Des Moines. I’m going to go to the airport there” … and he tells me, “Yeah, I was traveling with my family in the RV and I told them, ‘80 miles-an-hour is too damn fast, but they wouldn’t listen to me. I’ve got my own money. I don’t have to take this crap. I’m leavin’!” Well, we got to about Kellogg, 10 miles down the road, and I get a call “This is Grinnell Police Department. Do you have an elderly gentlemen in the cab?” “Yeah.” “Where are you going with him?” “Well, we were on our way to Des Moines. We’re just about to the 173 exit at Kellogg. Do you want us to wait here or something?” And he goes, “Well, his daughter’s very desperate [laughs]” So, basically, we stopped at Kellogg; he thanked me and he paid me, and his daughter called a second after the police did: “Oh! Dad! Oh!” And, basically, I think he got them to slow down.
What would you say is your favorite thing about living here in Grinnell?
You know, I go to events on campus from time to time. And I like to go to Burling Library—it’s very useful. … So, I feel pretty close to campus in a way. And to me, when there’s sullenness amongst some of the locals about the school sometimes, I’m just like, you know what? Why don’t you go someplace where they’re running a consumer model of education like they are in Iowa City? Where they say: “Oh! Here’s another way we can extract a few more dollars.” I was unbelievably impressed by the idea when we got here that [if] you want to go see Béla Fleck or Wynton Marsalis or whoever? Well, you’ll need a ticket, but we’ll give you a ticket for free. The last one I saw that impressed me like this was the Preservation Hall [Jazz Band]. Next night in Des Moines, that was seventy bucks and here they are just giving it away to local townspeople. … So, everything considered, Grinnell College is a pretty solid neighbor. I was happy to just sort of accidentally fall into all this.
If you ever find yourself in need of a cab ride around the Grinnell area, Jewel Cab can be contacted at 641-236-4411.