A character, on a city street, is trying to hail a cab. No matter how many times they yell, "Hey, taxi!", nothing stops for them.
This can be played for comedy, such as trying to show a country-bumpkin just how tough the big city can be. Or it can be played for a drama. One simple and frequent plot is when the lack of a taxi will slow the hero down in their quest. Another is if there's a sinister reason no taxi will stop for the protagonist in particular, often demonstrated by showing one that just ignored them stop for somebody more "suitable;" for instance, the inability of a black man to catch a taxi is a too-frequent Real Life occurrence that fiction often comments on.
- In Spirou and Fantasio à Moscou, Fantasio is trying to get a cab in the middle of Moscow, with no success. Meanwhile Spirou is digging through the material they got from the KGB (which they work for at the moment) and shows Fantasio the spiffy new KGB badges they've been given. Six cabs immediately stop for them... driven by some very nervous-looking cab drivers.
- In To Be a Muggle Remus tries hailing a taxi in New York and when none of them so much as slow down, he steps out into the street and has to be yanked back by Snape, who then gives a loud whistle and gets one to stop almost immediately.
- In The Adjustment Bureau, the Bureau limits David Norris' options by altering reality so no taxis will stop for him, even though they clearly have no passengers. When one finally does stop, it gets hit by a truck.
- The first scene of Batman (1989) has a tourist family failing to get a taxi. This one's especially bad because they were getting ready to board a cab when someone else butted in and boarded, even though they were there first. This would eventually lead the father to try to take a shortcut through an alleyway, leading to them being victimized by two muggers at the end of the scene.
- In Down to Earth, after being brought back to life for the second time, Chris Rock's character tries to hail a taxi to test if he was reincarnated as a black man. He fails to attract a single cab, much to his delight.
- In The Great Muppet Caper, taxis don't stop for Kermit and company until Gonzo jumps in front of one.
- In the Jim Carey live-action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the race-card version of this trope is used. The Grinch tries to hail a taxi, but it speeds on by, and the Grinch screams to the air that it's just because he's green.
- In Just My Luck, when Lindsay Lohan's character gets bad luck, the taxis won't stop for her. As soon as she gets good luck, she can get three taxis to stop with a wave of her arm.
- In Meet Dave Number 2 eventually has the robot grab a car in mid-drive.
- In Night on Earth Mookie has a hard time getting a cab to take him to Brooklyn late at night.
- North By Northwest begins in New York City — a man hails a cab, and Roger cuts in with his secretary, claiming she's pregnant, and takes it. She chides Roger, who assures her his lie let the guy think he was doing them a favor.
- In The Pelican Brief Grantham has this problem. Somewhat justified in that he was dressed for street surveillance and looked somewhat suspicious, made worse by the fact that he is black.
- Planes, Trains and Automobiles begins in New York City rush hour with Neal trying to hail a cab to the airport. He competes with Kevin Bacon for a cab and loses. He pays another person to take the ride, but is stiffed paying him $75 before Del takes the ride.
- In Quick Change, the heroes have robbed a bank and are futilely trying to flag down a cab to get to the airport:
Loomis: Ten thousand dollars for a taxi!
Phyllis: And a blow job!
- Stuart Little: At one point, Reginald Stout tries to hail a cab, but has some trouble, probably due to the driver missing him because he's a tiny little mouse.
"What's a mouse gotta do to get a cab in this city?"
- This is the subject of a joke in Tootsie. Tootsie is trying to hail a cab, and calls twice for a cab in his woman voice. Finally he bellows for one in his man voice and one stops immediately.
- Defied and parodied in Top Five. Chris Rock tries to invoke this by saying "Black man trying to catch a cab in New York City!" As soon as he holds out his arm, a taxi stops.
- Variation in The Wiz: Dorothy sees and approaches a parked Oz cab on two occasions early on — each time, it switches on an "OFF DUTY" light and drives off before she can reach it. Later on, she and the other main characters ignore the cabs entirely (or even stand on them) while singing "Ease on Down the Road". This is probably supposed to symbolize their choice of a more challenging, but also more rewarding, path.
- Inverted in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, wherein most characters report that the late James O. Incandenza, Jr. was capable of conjuring up Boston taxis in extremely unlikely places.
- Ephraim Kishon, when he was in Paris. Even praying in Hebrew and cursing in Hungarian didn't help.
- A Wizard of the Crow comes out and says it: the main character, born in Africa, can only get a cab when it's driven by a black guy.
- Will happen from time to time on The Amazing Race, and is always played for drama. Most of the time it happens because teams will be tasked with finding a cab in an area that doesn't have many.
- In a sketch on Chappelle's Show about monsters who happen to be African-American (or African-Americans who happen to be monsters), it's unclear whether the mummy is unable to hail a cab because he's a mummy or because he's black. This makes him late for his appointment with his parole officer.
- Criminal Minds, from the episode "A Real Rain":
Morgan: (about the UnSub) Well, he got picked up in the pouring rain by a New York cabbie, so we definitely know he's not a brother.
- Doctor Who: In "The Runaway Bride", Donna Noble tries to hail a cab in her wedding dress, without success.
The Doctor: Do you have this effect on everyone? Why aren't they stopping?
Donna Noble: They think I'm in a fancy dress.
[One cab passes by and toots its horn]
Cabbie: Stay off the scotch, darlin'!
Donna Noble: They think I'm drunk.
[Two men driving the other way shout through their window]
Both Men: You're fooling no one, mate!
Donna Noble: They think I'm in drag!
The Doctor: Hold on, hold on. [hails a taxi by emitting a long, piercing whistle]
- However, they have no money, so they get booted out of that cab quickly due to double rates on Christmas Eve. To get money, the Doctor waits impatiently in line at an ATM while Donna begs for change on the street. Just as the Doctor's getting his money for Donna's fare, he sees her riding off in a cab... driven by a Robot Santa. Cue a climactic chase sequence on the expressway.
- An episode of the Disney Channel series The Famous Jett Jackson was about Jett spending some time in a rougher urban area than he was used to and realizing that his sheltered, privileged life isn't typical for a black teenager in America. One of his clues was that he couldn't get a cab to stop for him. (It's a cliché, but still, try finding a storyline like that on Disney Channel today.)
- A Happy Endings episode had Brad, who is black, and Max, who is gay, arguing about whether it is harder to be a black man or a gay man. Brad complains that the other night he couldn't get a cab to stop for him in an extremely expensive suit, while a white man in grungy clothes was picked up almost instantly.
- In The Incredible Hulk Returns, Don Blake tried to hail a cab by wimpily lifting his arm and calling "Hey, Cab" but they all passed him by. Then Thornote used his lung power to bellow "HEY! CAB!" and one stopped abruptly.
- The Law & Order episode "Rage" centers around the murder trial of a black stockbroker who killed his white mentor after the latter discovered that he had scammed the brokerage out of millions of dollars. At trial, the killer's lawyer argues that he committed the crime out of "black rage," essentially claiming that he was driven to kill by society's pervasive racism. After the conclusion of the trial, prosecutor Jack McCoy reflects that, while the defendant's legal claim was bogus, the racism he saw around him was not. He then hails a cab...which deliberately swerves to avoid a black man who had hailed it seconds before.
- In Oz, part of Poet's face is scalded and rendered temporarily pale, at which he remarks "at least I'll be able to hail a cab."
- A segment on Sesame Street talking about how we use our hands to communicate ("Hand Talk") involved a man hailing a taxi, only to have it drive right by, with a waving fake hand in the back.
- The intro to Conan O'Brien's first episode of The Tonight Show had him, unable to hail a cab in New York City, start running — all the way to Hollywood! (although, in Real Life, "Move to L.A." was probably further up his list than where it was shown...)
- In an episode of Michael Moore's TV Nation, they showed Famous Actor Yaphett Kotto (a large black man) try to hail a cab, and about 10 feet in front of him an anonymous white man also trying to hail a cab. Kotto was unsuccessful but the white guy would get all the cabs he wanted. The kicker: the white guy was a convicted felon who had been recently released from prison.
- Played for comedy when the TV Nation crew would quiz the taxi drivers who didn't pick up Kotto, and tried to address the problem — when the drivers said Kotto "looked scary", they had him hail a cab while holding a bouquet of flowers and a baby, and even standing by an illuminated sign reading "I NEED A CAB".
- The accompanying book, "Tales of a TV Nation", notes that Kotto did get a lot of rides... from black cabbies.
- A white man starts slowly turning into a black man in The Twilight Zone episode "Shades of Guilt." He at one point tries to hail a cab, only for it to pass him over in favor of a white man as a passing black man quips, "Happens all the time, don't it?"
- On a episode of The Wayans Brothers, Marlon doubts a person who claims to be an angel until he performs a miracle — causing a cab to stop for a black person. Marlon believes him instantly.
- The original sketch for "I Can't Get Started" in the revue Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.
- Emily in Allegro, at the end of "The Gentleman Is A Dope," finally gives up trying to hail a cab and says, "Oh, hell, I'll walk!"
- Skid Row in Little Shop of Horrors is described as "Downtown...where the cabs don't stop."
- In the "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" number in Avenue Q, Christmas Eve complains about the personal hygiene of (presumably Indian) taxi-cab drivers. Everyone agrees with her except Gary Coleman who says "I can't even get a taxi!"
- Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk features a number in which a series of increasingly well-dressed black men try and fail to get a cab. The final man in the series is a soldier carrying Colin Powell's memoirs.
- In Grand Theft Auto IV sometimes taxi cabs won't answer to Niko Bellic in which he will angrily show his disapproval.
- Played with in the Daffy Duck cartoon "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery": Daffy (as Duck Twacy) hails a taxi, which zooms up, and tells the driver to "follow that car!" The taxi zooms off without Daffy, who says to us "Keeps 'em on their toes!"
- Played from the taxi driver's perspective in one episode of Family Guy when Brian takes a job as a cab driver and doesn't pick up Cleveland when he's attempting to hail a taxi. Subverted in that Brian wasn't even thinking of picking up a fare at the time and simply had to run another errand (though Brian is known to have racist leanings, leading to a possible Double Subversion).
- One of the many uses mentioned in the advertisement for the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tube Man is helping black men hail taxis.
- Early in Gargoyles, the Trio needs a means of getting back to the castle before dawn after spending the night exploring their new home, as their wings are getting tired from gliding. Brooklyn notices someone hailing a taxi, and decides to try it. It doesn't work, since the taxi driver got too freaked out when a gargoyle jumped up in front of him.
- The Madeline animated series: while visiting New York, Miss Clavelle's cries of "Taxi!" get no attention whatsoever. Madeline solves the problem with an earsplitting whistle.
- Taxis in most major cities don't normally respond to curbside hails as most taxi service is dispatched straight to a calling customer's location. Doesn't stop people from trying to hail them while they're en route to a dispatch, and flipping off the driver when he appears to be ignoring them.
- And then there are cases where people do call for a taxi, but it fails to pick them up due to confusion over their exact location, or if there are more than one person waiting for a cab at the same landmark, not all of whom may have called ahead for one.
- Played perfectly straight all the time in Las Vegas by tourists who don't know it's illegal for cabs to pick up on public streets. Protip: Get to a casino valet or flag one down while standing in a parking lot off the street instead of the sidewalk.
- Smartphone apps for hailing taxis, as well as taxi-like services like Lyft and Uber, allow you to have the driver pick you up at a very exact specified location at the touch of a few on-screen buttons rather than having to recite an address or the nearest cross street...assuming your phone's location-tracking is functional and not tricking your driver (e.g. due to GPS signals bouncing) into trying to pick you up from the wrong side of a divided street and failing to find you, causing them to take back off without you out of impatience. Or calling you to confirm if you're trying to get a ride from the middle of the nearby ocean.