- De la Ciudad de Panama: a random hairstylist on vacation.
- A proud 3rd year resident surgeon at Mt. Sinai. Too full of himself. Almost lost his cool when I crossed the park at 86th instead of his usual 96th. But it was 5am on a Sunday morning. Perhaps a bit too robotically wired as well.
- I like to play geographical trivia with my passengers and I always break the ice by asking them to give me just the first letter of the place they're from. Nine times out of 10 I can guess it. But this time I had a 'tricky' Greek guy in the cab. Since his accent all but gave that away, I asked him to give me the 1st letter of where in Greece he's from. He said 'K', which threw me off completely because in English they don't spell Crete with a K. Oh well. Win some, lose some.
- My windshield smashed into an airborne pigeon for the first time. These slovenly beautiful creatures tend to glide low and stroll about near wheels, but always manage to slip out of the way, no matter how impossible it seems. But not this time. Headed west on W57th, full throttle with a near replica of my little sister, who was running late to manage a booth at Pier 94. She witnessed it and tried to calm me down because my karma nosedived when I saw those fluffy gray feathers fly out like a fatal pillow fight. It felt like a hit-and-run. I came back after I dropped her off and felt relieved not to find any birds or their guts lying on the roadside. But who know what may have happened. I was prepared to take the pigeon to the nearest vet clinic.
- Two southern ladies got in and began what sounded like a lively conversation. As we soared downtown and the minutes went by, their interactions were sounding less and less coherent. All of a sudden I realized that they had each gotten on their cell phone at the same time and had not been chatting with each other at all. But their intervals of speech had been right on the ball.
- Another instance of unintentionally odd passengers was the tipsy Latino I took out to Flushing. We spoke in solid English the entire ride and I hadn't revealed my Castilian fluency, not through accent, appearance, or otherwise. He blabbered the whole time, but used not a single word in Spanish. And at the end, all of a sudden, he burped and said, "izquierda" (left).
- Captain Sully, who landed an airplane in the Hudson River, has warned the airline industry that if they keep making pay cuts, they'll see their most skilled and experienced pilots end up leaving, in search of more worthwhile endeavors. It's funny to me how similar this predicament is to that of the truly talented, knowledgeable, and downright caring cabdrivers, slowly making their exit out of the taxi industry, due to mounting animosities set forth by the NYPD, the TLC, the DOT, the GPS/credit card people, TAXI TV, the greedy garages, city hall, and anyone else involved in making our lives impossible, simply because they've decided to either put a negative label on all of us or just take advantage of our helplessness.
#1. Bike messengering for champion courier in Manhattan.
#2 Box truck driving for Hercules Movers, Inc. all over the tri-state area.
Early October 2006: I was lucky to have Abel Zamora, a doddering Chilean, as my taxi school teacher. Since 1972 he's been driving cabs in NYC and his aura glowed 10 times brighter than any professor I ever had in college. 30 classmates representing 15 nationalities, all shy at first, but loudly debating advantageous routes to common destinations by the end of our 1 week crash course. A wide range of thick accents pervading the room, of mostly south central Asian, East European, and west African origin. Teacher would quiz us questions on the geography of New York City. I'd let 5 erroneous answers get yelled out before giving him the correct one. During breaks many students would come over with their road atlases and request my help getting oriented with the landmarks and traffic patterns. Stories of my bicycle messaging days would surface and so would giggles. I think this made them more considerate of 2 wheelers, having been shown that bicyclists are human beings and even cabbies too sometimes. No women attended the class, but that doesn't mean I haven't seen women cabdrivers on the street, cause I have.
Our curriculum consisted of bridges, tunnels, one ways, squares, parks, avenue endings, rules regarding customers fornicating in the back seat and service animals for disabled patrons, major thoroughfares of each borough, random changes in street names and numbers, appropriate metered fare calculations, transversals connecting the UWS with the UES, rare access ramps to highways, fire hydrant exceptionalities, determining cross sections using unique formulas of NYC address algebra, parallel and perpendicular intersections, compass directionalities, and more.
I passed taxi test with a 92. It's been 2 almost weeks now, so we're talking 48 hours or so remaining before that taxi license snails into the mail. Between the money orders, licensing, drug testing, the class, the exam, being unemployed since I got back from Florida, and sending mother a bulk of chinese herbal pills she requested, I managed to go completely broke. So I returned to that moving company again and did the furniture hauling one more time for a handful of days. That job is so much easier in the cold weather than it was in the summer. Nothing but a t-shirt on at the end of October in suburban NJ. But I'm looking forward to dropping the boxes and picking up the steering wheel.
October 25, 2006: Taxi school is over and the final exam too. These last two hurdles now behind me, but yet another bureaucratic delay: the actual Taxi license takes 10 days to get mailed. Similar to a month ago when I had to wait for DMV to mail me a NY State driver license.
The moment my 'hackie' card arrives, I will rent out my 1st every yellow cab for a 12 hour shift. From then until mid December I won't stop hustling these streets on four wheels, except to sleep. I know some of you think I'm just adding to the loud, gasoline-obsessed, bicycle-hating madness of our developed world, but it's been a dream of mine since 1st grade. In 2 months I'll walk away from this hyper-stimulating metropolis with a few thousand dollars that will sustain my worldly travels for an unspecified amount of time off, beginning with Latin America and Europe. But before I hit the int'l road, I'll stop in Florida again, to recharge inner batteries among family and friendsNovember 19, 2006: The taxi license landed in my hands three days ago. I had to go pick it up, cause it was mailed back to the commission since no one had been home to sign on it when it arrived. Out of the handful of yellow cab garage facilities, I picked one closest to the cluster of apartments where I couch surf, which, by the way, all happen to be in the same vicinity..... Brooklyn's northern neighborhoods of B'wack, Bed-Stuy, and W'amsburg.
J&I Maintenance, a fleet of both newer and older cabs, hired me with an agreement to work 5 days a week: Sun to Thurs. 12 hour shifts, from 4am to 4pm. Renting out the cab for a discounted $85 per shift. Cab hits the streets with a full tank of gas and I must return it that way. Aside from that, I keep every dollar the meter charges, plus tips. An income of pure cash, no check cashing hassles.
Yesterday was my first day. Up until dawn things were slow. No one out on the streets to pick up. But between 8 and 2, the minute a passenger would exit the cab, a new one would step inside for a ride. It totaled out to 19 fares, each one with its own unique destination, and fluctuating levels of occupancy, talkativeness, formality, impetuosity, and generosity. New Yorkers in a serious hurry, entering my cab like winds of a hurricane, uttering nothing to me but the cross streets, and occasional lane change requests, like the backseat drivers that they are. On their cellulars the entire duration of the ride, asserting demands from who knows who, via numerous brief calls. Tourists chatting amongst each other in their native tongue, inquiring me about all the peculiar sitings outside the window, with destinations like Rockefeller Center, Penn Station, Sheraton Hotel, and Cooper Square. All of them hailing me down from the edge of the sidewalk with their right hand in their air.
Even got to take an investor to Wall Street, an old lady and her grand-daughter to the end of Sheepshead Bay, these two Japanese businessmen from Terminal 1 at JFK airport to Midtown, and plenty of other special people with special destinations. It's nice having Sabbaths off for sure. And I'm serious about going anywhere in New York and its surroundings to pick up a friend or friend of a friend and delivering them wherever it may be. 1.800-825-1713 (NO LONGER VALID). I love this job more than any other one I've ever had. It's even better than figure modeling for drawing students in art classrooms, or being Jim Baker's right hand as we clean out his Secret Garden. God only knows how hard those are to beat.
The insane occupation of guiding a checkered yellow missile through the electromagnetic streets of this atomic city is more mind blowing than I had ever imagined. At the end of the twelve hour shift a sadness sets in that is comparable to an action-packed video game addiction. Eyes all swollen from being fixated upon a turbulent screen, butt cheeks numb from sitting, and bladder bruised from holding urine for too many hours, due to lack of legal pit stop spots throughout Manhattan.
December 2, 2006: Being a YELLOW TAXI CAB driver in NEW YORK equals a happiness I haven't felt since I was a playground child. It erases conventional limitations and elicits meaning from its erratic surroundings like no other. The city breathes, wrestles, and implodes upon itself with each passing minute. Cabbies are perpetually engaged in its effervescence. Our immaculate sense of distance, space, and the intuition to know what split second decisions might be made by pedestrians and bicyclists. The way we shift lanes, left to right and back, accelerating and breaking with a 40mph range from one second to the next. Coming within inches of buses, trucks, and each other. Yet no collisions whatsoever. Zilch!
Like a cockroach whose nervous system allows it to dodge your every swat with no thought processing, or sperm racing eggbound as seen through a microscope. A four lane avenue might suddenly become a single lane, and it doesn't stop the blood cells from flowing right past the clot. Driving in the city yields such sensory stimulation overload, forcing me to pull over at any open gap to jot down thoughts and ideas. That's when a customer might walk up, open the door, step in, and say 3rd and 50th please, before returning to their cellular conversation. I often make the mistake of assuming that they're still talking to me. I respond wholeheartedly, only to find myself 'embarrassed' for interrupting their call. Especially when they say, "good morning, how are you?"... but not to me.
This trade might very well be the one with the most tricks. There's slick solutions to every complication. Some that I can't even express out loud. The main cause for jams and gridlock in NYC are motorists from out of town who attempt to cross an intersection even though it's obvious that they won't clear the box, hence blocking everyone with a newly green light. That's when 100 horns go off, each with its own exclusive pitch, creating an orchestra of numbness. Combating this involves jolting forward, cautiously yet assertively, the moment the light switches to yellow on them.
Inconsiderate passengers take advantage of their backseat heating controls and leave it blasting after they've exited. I'm prefer windows rolled down while the cab is empty, since I'm wearing layers of warmth. I'm forced to park and squeeze my head through the narrow partition slit to turn the damn thing off.
Some fascinating passengers have included a woman with multiple sclerosis on her lunch break, trying to get a dozen errands done via taxi. Or the wealthy family on their way to dad's panoramic office view in Midtown on Thanksgiving morning for the big Macy's parade. We stop at a bakery so he can grab them breakfast and there's this poor man stumbling down the sidewalk, crying. So I motion him over. Says his apartment in the Bronx caught fire yesterday and his entire family's homeless. The kids in my cab are stunned, but their mommy casually says,"oh that's so sad" in a sarcastic tone. I jump out, hug, and hand him a Jefferson. He stresses he's not a begger and refuses it. Does wealth have the power to make people insensitive to human pain?
Then there's the fancy young trench coat woman on route to the Upper EastSide. She requests,"90th & Park, far right corner" with outstanding insolence. I knew she was trouble from the get go. At the destination there are 3 cars standing right where she wants off, so I float ahead to the nearest vacancy. "Oh, MY GOD, I'm practically at 91st Street at this point", she exclaims with disgust. She can't stand to walk 30 extra feet. I almost dragon-fired her right out of my cab. The lack of worldly perspective on some of these people. Outrageous!
So many more passenger stories, good and bad ones, I'll have to tell you face to face some day. Let me just leave you with this last quick bit... every black passenger is so relieved to see a cab stop for them with such effort, like from the opposite side of a busy street, the way I have. Makes you wonder what they go through to catch one. Actually, I was late to the work one morning, so I caught a cab to the taxi garage. On route the cabbie shared all his suggestions with me on how to do things. On was to pretend I don't see blacks when they hail me, and ignore white hailers on the same block, so no one'll play the race card.
I've calculated my daily earnings and they're averaging out to around $15 an hour. The other day I waited in the taxi lot at La Guardia Airport. Next to the ocean of yellow cars I saw a snack stand with the same basic things as inside the terminals, but for a small fraction of the price. This be a hint hint for anyone hungry at an airport from now on. While waiting to move forward in line, some cabbies were feeding pigeons. Others were gathered on their prayer rugs, bowing before Allah. A scene of foreign serenity amidst this domestic flight hub.