Most people know him as the “Jiffy Caaaaaabs” guy.
Rodney (Cocker) Dunn has dispatched taxis in St. John’s for 39 years, but he started his last shift on Saturday at 3 p.m.
He said he’s stepping away from the phone and stepping into a cab for a few nights a week. He wants to meet some of the people whose calls he’s answered for nearly four decades.
As he sat down in front of the phone inside the iconic bright yellow building at the corner of Pennywell Road and Cashin Avenue, he answered his first call the way he’s done it for 25 years: “Jiffy Caaaaaaabs.”
Dunn was 14 when he started dispatching. His first job was at Radio Cabs on Waldegrave Street. He was there for six months before he went to Gulliver’s and then Co-op.
He settled down at Jiffy Cabs in the early 90s. He’s been there for 25 years.
Jiffy Cabs business manager George Murphy estimates Dunn’s answered about 11.7 million calls over his 39-year career.
When the company announced his retirement on social media Saturday morning, many people called it the end of an era.
Some of the province’s biggest celebrities sent congratulations via their social media. Mark Critch called Dunn “the best in the biz”. Rick Mercer called him a legend.
Say that to Dunn, however, and he’ll laugh and call it “cracked”.
When asked what he makes of such comments, his eyes welled up and he brushed away a tear.
The 53-year-old said his main focus has always been looking after the customers.
Still, people called — and some showed up in person — to congratulate him on his retirement.
While taking calls, he opened a gift that was dropped off before he showed up for work — it was a glass with the words: The man, the myth, the legend.
“He touched a lot of people, b’y,” said Murphy, calling Dunn a “cornerstone” of the company and a part of St. John’s residents’ everyday lives, ensuring they have a ride to work, and a ride home.
Over the years, Dunn said he’s had a wide range of experiences, from taking calls from police officers looking for suspects, to helping customers find items they left behind in a car — the 12-hour shifts are never dull.
He said the scariest call was probably from a female driver who was hit with a rock by passengers who robbed her.
The strangest call came from a man who believed he was being followed by the FBI.
Both Murphy and Dunn said they’ve often shared a laugh over the radios late at night.
“Some people thinks I’m cracked the way I gets on, but I likes a bit of fun,” said Dunn.
While he doesn’t have plans to return to dispatching, if there’s an emergency and they need him to come in, he said he’d do it.
“I’m all about Jiffy,” he said, explaining the company has offered him good opportunities over the years, such as getting a few cabs of his own.
A family industry
Dunn’s father was a cab driver for 52 years, and his father drove cabs, too.
Dunn’s younger brother, Jay, also works at Jiffy Cabs.
“I was taken right back when I found out two weeks ago that he had his notice in. I was like, ‘What? Retiring?’”
Jay, 42, said he learned a lot about dispatching from his older brother.
“Just by sitting down and watching him – you know, certain ways he holds the phone, certain ways he holds his pen and the shorthand when he’s writing down different calls.
“And when it comes to the knowledge of the city — I don’t know how he knows it all.”
Dunn said he’s taught a few people some tricks of the trade over the years, even though he admits he doesn’t have a lot of patience for teaching.
“But it is nice to hand it down to other people, and I hope the customers be’s looked after as well as I think I’ve looked after them because, like I said, the customers are No. 1 one for me.”
Murphy said Dunn made the job look easy.
“He has one of those minds — it’s a three-dimensional way of thinking that you have to have for the job. I don’t know if I’ve ever mastered that. It’s a specialized skill, and not everybody can do it. You’re kind of thinking where the job is to, where it’s going, and at the same time you’re thinking where your cars are at, and at times you can be controlling upwards of 75, 80 cars.”
Murphy said he believes every other dispatcher in the city likely patterns themselves after Cocker Dunn, adding that Dunn is “the original” and “the master.”
“I think it’s ingrained here in the province now that it’s just part of Newfoundland and Labrador folklore that there’s only one Cocker Dunn, and there’s only one way of doing it – and he’s it.”