Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gimme 22 minutes, I'll give you the world.

Before I go into tales of cabdriving, I'd like to invite my dearest New Yorkers on a bicycle adventure this Saturday (5th). It's my only day off. A friend and I plan to pedal through Flushing Meadows Park, stop by the Queens art museum, ride over the GW/Bayonne bridges for great views of NYC from NJ, and board the SI ferry back into town. I have an extra bike. Get in touch.

This past Friday I drove the PM shift for the first time. Just wanted to get a taste. No plans to make it a habit cause my body gets better rest at night. First fare a Dutch couple I mistook for Scandinavians. They taught me the correct pronunciation of Brooklyn (Breukelen) and swapped spots with a traditional Texan family en route to a sybaritic restaurant on the UES. The aging macho father sits up front, annoyed at his newly married daughter's back seat inquiries: "Dad, do you want to visit the cigar bar after dinner? But first we have to find out if blue jeans are allowed." They're in for a disappointment. Soon the roles are a switched again, with a sumptuous, semi-elder French mossback couple entering and uttering a single word: "Peninsula". Nightly rates at that place and the size of my tip are like night and day. I guess its exact address should have been in my rote memorization, along with 40,000 other locations. Or perhaps I should have gone to taxi school in London, not Queens Plaza. I'll remember places I can relate to. So, no, saying "it's by abercrombie & fitch" doesn't clarify anything. I swear it's so much more fun, less time consuming, more spiritually rewarding, and just as lucrative to take two working class women to the nearest subway station from their alphabet city housing project. After that it's on to some intoxicated dude duo that stumbles out of a busy club and politely request Penn Station. All trip long, one deplores the other for having made out with someone who had an ugly face. "Yeah, but the rest of her body was nice." Blah bla bl b. Time to go back to NJ, boys! Then at around midnight this pre-adolescent was operating his remote control taxicab right out in the middle of a heavily trafficked strip along St. Marks Place in the East Village. From the safety of the sidewalk this kid navigates the little toy car back to the curb , narrowly avoiding it getting crushed.

Final fare of the night was by far the best. At 3:39 am an old Polish lady headed home to Maspeth (Queens) stood at the corner of 6 Av and 28th. Her coworkers from the largest department store in the world had just treated her to a few drinks. She had her head poked through the partition the entire ride as she chatted unscrupulously with me, comparing her miserable 75 hour workweek with mine. Laughing ferociously at the mutual list we assembled of similarities between customers at Macy's and typical taxi passengers. Wish I had a grandmother like that.

On Thursday my friend Cassandra, an upbeat schoolteacher from Florida, rode along in the cab with me and had a great time sightseeing New York as we delivered people all over town. She had considered riding one of those double decker bus tours, but discovered this was much better for plenty of reasons. Around two dozen acquaintances have taken me up on my "on duty taxi copilot" offer since last winter. Don't wait too long. I might be retiring from the taxicab profession as early as early this autumn. Outside of hacking, my life has revolved around trying to deplete resources in the kitchen so they don't rot in this apartment that is devoid of all its residents for nearly three weeks, except for the one solitary cabbie who stayed in town. Also, I'm serious about memorizing the lyrics for that song "They want EFX" by DAS EFX, to use as performance art in social situations where the air needs slicing, like bread. Ever heard that song. So intricate.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I must start keeping tape and scissors in the glove box from now on, because I love the idea someone had of posting an article on the wall at the JFK taxi hold that's relevant to cabdrivers, and watching them crowd around in a half circle and hullabaloo over its implications. The one hanging up this week was about undercover TLC enforcers hailing cabs just to see if we deter them from swiping a credit card. At 10 am the lot had 40% capacity and 'regular activity'. But still it took until 12:30 to get into a terminal. Too long of a wait that results in sub-minimum wage earnings by the end of the shift.

The young English couple I drop off at Millenium Hilton graciously add $10 to the flat fare, and switch places with a post-teen j.a.p. who is late to her afternoon shift in the Garment District. After stepping off the East River teleportation device unto 42nd, which vacuums the taxicab westward in 400 seconds, I let her off on 6 Av, and point her in the right direction. No need for either of us to agonizingly endure that specific crosstown street (39th) she had first requested. It only takes a couple seconds of pep talk for her to agree that 792 feet are completely walkable. Moments later Times Square yields a pair of Spaniards on route to the liberty tours heliport for an insanely priced panorama of New York. And just down a dusty road in far northwestern Chelsea two Germans hop in, needing to be rerouted to the other helipad, way downtown. The meter prints its final receipt of the day and, like divine geo-synchronism, the bridge home to Brooklyn awaits just up ahead.

With one red light on Water Street left to sit thru, I watch dozens of stranded people waving at me, and all the other off-duty cabs around. I roll down the window to ask the plainclothes lady nearest to me if she's going to Brooklyn, cause I'd take her free of charge. The only opportunity all day to bring carpool/ridesharing ideologies to life and she shreds it to pieces. "I'm a cop", she boasts. "What's your medallion number, I'm reporting you." It's true the TLC does make it illegal to ascertain a passenger's destination before they get in. However, that rule exists to keep drivers from being pick-and-choosy about fares throughout the course of a shift. Because everyone deserves to go where they need to go, regardless of distance (within the 5 boros).

Between 15:30 and 17:00 it's a whole other ball game. Cabdrivers MUST return the cabs to their respective garages so the night shift can go out. This is when it is essential that people on the streets of Manhattan understand something very clear and simple: negotiating patiently until you match the direction you're going with that of an off-duty cabdriver is the ONLY way to keep the first part of an evening rush hour from paralyzing NYC. Or do you like the 3rd world conditions? If so, keep dialing 3-1-1 like righteously ignorant gringos.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

This one hit me like a brick.

"I do not understand how a government agency can require a privately owned business to accept anything other than United States Currency, or a government voucher. In my opinion this is a dangerous precedence and I hope that someone will pursue this issue further. If taxi companies choose to accept credit cards that is one thing. The government should not be forcing anyone to do business with VISA, MasterCard or American Express. This is outrageous."
— Posted by SF Taxi Driver

Monday, December 10, 2007

I'd rather live in Sunset Park

A combination of radioactive diarrhea and wet, quasi-frozen street surfaces kept me from opting for 2-wheel transportation today. Besides, buses allow for further readings of The Brooklynites, an awesome book with images of 'random' people who live in this borough and captions that capture their voices. And now we dive into that yellow cab. Fastforward the reading tempo: This matter-of-fact kind of person asks to be delivered from the spotlight of a street lamp in SoHo to an underground parking garage in NoLita. It's a 2.5 minute long fare that might seemingly exasperate a cabbie, but to me it's nothing less than the first trip of the shift, a great warmup calisthenic (12 hours yield 20 to 35 fares total). Then a suit comes bouncing smugly round the corner. The moment I turn left, his grin makes sudden sense. He's beat someone with lots of luggage, to my taxi. There goes an early airport fare (extra miles mean meter multiplicity in pre-cockcrow trafficlessness). The next 4 uncarpooled fares (ecological karma descending fast as the ascending national debt) materialize as 4 sterile suits. All display similar behavior: a gray area between 'best bud' and genuine prick. One tries swiping his debit card over and over while the bellman opens and closes, and opens his door in utter confusion. Another standoffish, but potentially flamboyant suit is expedited from Battery Park to Central Park South.

I love how after a certain hour the suits are all in their conference cubicles and everyone hailing a cab from that point on is a character of some sort. An elder whose life brims with synchronicity and she glows because of it. The Guatemalan futbol fanatic who brings me up to date on global preparations for world cup 2010 in South Africa. An rt gallery assistant who promises to teach me Mandarin. The Scottish dancer on crutches who lies on the phone about being 5 minutes away for her doctor's appointment, and the FDR Drive that facilitates it from being too far from the truth. Some down-to-earth guy with a feathered hat. An immaculate expedite (minimal use of brakes for any reason and wise grid navigation by maximizing use of traffic light patterns) of a young lady from Essex Market in the LES to the Film Forum in NoCa is rewarded with an 80% tip. An NJ girl appreciates the bright blue jacket compliment, which I spot a 1/2 block away. It's the 1st time she "successfully hails a cab from across 14th street like that".

Finding myself surrounded in a sea of empty cabs with numbered roof lights brightly lit is like having my tail between my legs. Independent, yet humiliated... and seeking to go off on a tangent, ASAP. Technical tip for fellow cabbies: cruise up the Bowery from Delancey to Houston for droves of art zealots exiting this recently opened venue. That one goes out to Aziz, the Moroccan cabbie I met at LGA, who's trying to write a better guide for NYC taxi drivers than the one that's currently offered. He confirmed the intuition which led me to believe that Arabization of northwestern Africa was heralded by the Yemenites. But that does not take away from the fact that the world's greatest accordionists and Salsa musicians are Colombian. And don't forget: no left turns from 57th unto Broadway between 8 and 19:00, unless it's Sunday.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Q) Where U from? A) My mother

Bobo, the apologetic Haitian dispatcher reports zero taxi vacancies this morning. "You don't believe how many drivers I send home already." It's looking like Sabbath is forced to be my 6th working day again this week. It's the peak season in which cabbies maximize their turnout. Days leading up to this have had the widest range of revenue. Anywhere from $30 to $230 in the pocket per shift. Boiled dogs in the lunch bag save a Lincoln from those sidewalk carts .

Noteworthy/heartwarming riderships this week:
An older businessman mutters "happy holidays" and hands me a Hamilton for a $4.10 fare. An upbeat mid age suit eagerly points out Tavern on the Green as the secret shortcut (I never knew about) to avoiding Columbus Circle bottlenecks. A Mexican florist going just two East Village blocks with cardboard carrying trays containing efflorescence that cover 100% surface area back seat and trunk. Some fuzzy French dude in a furry trenchcoat: says he's counting his cash when I 'mistakenly' ask him what book he's reading. The fidgety Italian couple, late to Conde Nast and in need of a lecture: sitting in traffic with the meter running is not as lucrative as it might seem.

The easygoing Californian exhibitioner from Javits Convention Center to Penn Station while everyone else in line was an obvious airport fare. The wide eyed no-English Chinese kid whose jaw was in his lap as I delivered him from the Manhattan Bridge to Borough Park in supersonic speeds, rebounding to Boerum Hill so the night driver can start on time. The prosecutor of organized crime that I couldn't see at first in that thick pre-dawn darkness, until his pale hailing hand stuck out inches from my cab. The clan of proud Boriquas and their conga drums rolling around the trunk as I Willieburg bridged away from the LES. Clerk of an architectural firm who chats about DOT's lack of utilizing known traffic patterns to solve problems.

Early Sunday morning drunk professional who hides it well from Flatiron to Astoria, followed immediately by a Roosevelt Island bound fare with an odd language on the cellular, and then a Brette Favre look-a-like back to Manhattan, closing a lovely circuit all before the sun even comes out. The undocumented supermarket employee who realizes he forgot a lawyer's form that allows him to be seen at the doctor's appointment in Bay Ridge. I expedite him all the way back to Bronx and then Brooklyn. I browse the atlas for 95th street, spot it in Brownsville, but later learn of the huge mistake. It's the other 95th. The one by the Verrazano bridge. A journey in which I lost money, disengaging the meter, for it wasn't his fault. The whole ordeal due to the fact that he was struck by an SUV while on his bicycle last week.

And a few random tidbits... an Access-a-ride bus blocking the taxi stand at port authority during rush hour and the orchestra of horns that blared behind it. The six o clock hour with 96.7 FM, an unlicensed station, broadcasting jewish pirate radio: debates in hebrew with arabic accents and ashkenazi ones disagreeing on everything, but the reception is bad. Later on in the day I witness a man's green cloak get caught in the sliding door of a Sienna mini van taxi across the median on Park Avenue. Slow motion moment when the light turns green and he gets violently yanked to the ground. Something inside says he probably needed a good reality check like that.

Each dawn I pedal my red Peugeot or hop on the B38 down Dekalb to Flatbush and walk over to the taxi garage. Afternoon same deal. Radio says it takes 3L of H20 to create 1 bottle of bottled water. There are only 31 or so female firefighters in the FDNY. Regular unleaded holds steady at $2.25/gallon.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Bushwick was the first neighborhood I called home when I moved to New York. And in that same corner of Brooklyn is where I found housing affordable enough to establish a suitable address for my little sister, her two schoolmates, and our mother... all new transplants from Florida. Living under the same roof since August, we've adapted well, and maximized the occupant capacity with the arrival of my father. It's a commonwealth consisting of three college students, an electrician uprooted from the tropics thanks to economic upheavals, a social worker/housekeeper who can't live without her adult children, and a yellow cabbie who has postponed world travel plans to provide the aforementioned people with general sustenance until they can stand on their own ten feet.

It's been seven months since I jumped back into the taxi profession full force, and a lot has changed since I first got my hack license (last year). GPS is now in the cabs and well, every handful of shifts feels like a half decade's worth of hands on experience with a vast spectrum of socioeconomic anthropology and urban clockwork in this unique city. I keep a notebook of mentionable adventures and serendipities encountered while on duty, which I plan to share on this blog, inspired by fellow cab driver Melissa Plaut, who posts her stories on

So here we are, embarking on our first full winter season ever as a family unit. We've come along on a counterclockwise rotation around the nation. From L.A. in 1984 to Houston in 1993, to West Palm Beach in 1998, to a post 9.11 big apple. And all the while there was nothing I wanted more than to circle this planet on a bicycle (so to speak). The first rain check that got in the way was college. Then it was paying off college loans as 'steadfastly to avoid interest' as possible. A quick glimpse of South America and now it's back to work, cause I won't allow financial trouble in the family to prevent my little sister from going to the best university for the field she wants to study. And now matters are made worse with the advent of higher monthly mortgage payments and a recession in Florida that is making remunerative employment scarcer for working class people like my parents.

Luckily, being a yellow cabbie in New York is so magnanimous and temerarious that it eases, or numbs the psychological burden of a seventy some odd hour workweek. Upcoming entries will zoom in on genuine moments inside (and outside) the 13,087th taxicab as it expedites human beings uptown, downtown, and across town.