Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Aquamarine Street Litter Basket

MTA buses shift lanes like barbaric, self-entitled whales, and in my book they have the right to, since they have the least selfish purpose of having the most fuel efficient carpools. Meanwhile, taxicabs swerve around them like frantic schools of yellow fish. It's a truly dynamic sea of nimble ambulation on the streets of this city, when you take everything and everyone into account. My adopted homeland of elated madness.

Since I get to take out a different cab each day, and every cab has its own unique set of idiosyncrasies, I'd like to start a brief new series of listing and comparing these quirks.....

#6N14: Driver side door does not open from the outside, even when unlocked. And the front passenger side window doesn't close unless helped manually.

#3H60: The floor cover in the back is busted and its bulky, cumbersome edges are pointed hazardously up at the uncomfortable legs of my passengers, if they didn't already trip over it upon entering. Not a single soul passes through my cab without making annoying remarks about how I should get that fixed. As if it were my car. As if the mechanics at my garage are willing to spend any time on such an 'insignificant' matter. They'd say,"does the car run? Then hit the road jack. We've got some truly sick taxis up in here. You don't wanna trade. We ain't got no time."

I don't mean to disrespect Simon Garber, the founder and president of my garage. Everyone says he such a nice guy. Him and his family emigrated from Russia to Jersey when he was 12. At 17, he started driving a taxi in Manhattan to pay for college. The following year, recognizing potential in the industry, he borrowed money and purchased two medallions. He soon added more medallions and funded growth by establishing a financing arm to offer insurance and loans to drivers. Now with almost 400 taxicabs on the street he is also one of NYC’s largest independent cab company operators. Not to mention his other fleet, the fastest growing taxi garage in Chicago.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Idle Hands and Sestural Glips

(spoonerisms are often used in the titles these postings are given)

Things are getting a bit craggy at the garage. It seems all 700 drivers want to work 7 shifts a week. Those who were driving all along are now putting in more hours to offset newly unemployed relatives sitting at home. And then there are those who've had their valid hack license stored away in a drawer, just in case, while relying on a steady day job that ended up falling through. So now they're adding to the long waiting lists at the garage. And the dispatchers are taking advantage of the situation by catering to those drivers who make a habit of tipping them better than anyone else. Leasing a taxicab has become something of an auction, and furthermore, a casino where you put down a hefty sum, in hopes of earning it back on the streets of a landscape that has gone from luscious economic greenery and endless nocturnal revelry, to block after urban block of sand dune. More cabs on duty, later and later into the night, circling the same deserted sidewalks like an obsessive needle locked into a groove on a broken record. These days I'm taking whatever the garage can give me. Day shift. Night shift. Double shift. No shift. Carpe diem.

Last week I got lucky one evening when, after teleporting someone from Midtown to Sunnyside, I happened to be approaching that fork in the road where Queens Blvd splits into Thomson at precisely the right moment. An elder was being escorted on foot from La Guardia College. His helper waved animatedly at me while the #7 made hellish noise, not to mention short circuit sparks seemingly dripping down like lava above our heads. Together we eased a flustered gramps into the backseat and I was reminded of how touching it is to clench a senior's cold, anhydrous hands. Made me nostalgic for the part time companionship I was hired to provide to two wheelchair bound nursing home residents during college. Off to Morningside Heights we went and it turns out he's a retired art history professor who was giving a lecture. And from the same corner where he got out, a college student entered the cab, needing to be at a Pilates class in Union Square, in 8 minutes. God bless the Henry Hudson Parkway. For months she had been oblivious to the statue of Mohandas Gandhi that was directly across from her building, and I was euphoric to have the honor of revealing it. It's my favorite statue.

Jenine was down from Providence over Valentine's weekend and did a few hours of front seat co piloting, during which we took her friend Liz Harris, who's now a famous musician, to the airport, after having come in from Portland for a live performance at the New Museum. That shift Jenine had to witness several instances of me swelling up in dramatic conniptions over unfair activities being carried out by the NYPD against fellow yellows all around us. They're really stepping it up on behalf of city revenue. Just ask this 31 year veteran cabbie who also happens to be one of the best taxi bloggers on Earth. His story is one of hundreds and his account infuriates me. Especially if the cop was a rookie in his early 20s. It's like a teenage Israeli soldier humiliating a Palestinian who is old enough to be their aging parent. The other guy who really pushed my button was a passenger who kept mumbling under his breath about how much he hates cabdrivers (and everyone else who is obsequious to him), for no apparent reason. I sure as hell didn't give him one. Jenine had to tranquilize me with a peaceful pep talk.

This Presidents Day had the smoothest traffic flow of any day I've ever worked (minus Xmas), while yielding the most continuous stream of fares of any holiday I've ever hacked on. The sidewalks were akin to bee hives and ant hills cause the weather had warmed up, yet not a single ounce of vehicular congestion could be found. The reverse gear wasn't responding on this particular cab, so I had to pre plan all of my movements to take that into consideration. No stealthily slothful U turns on 14th, 23rd, 42nd, or 57th. I don't understand slick young men who say they'll pay for my ticket if I get pulled over for breaking a turning law on their behalf. Why would they then leave less than a 10% tip when successfully arriving at their destination on time, thanks to the risky short cut. Something's missing from that equation. In the physical notebook I keep on board the cab is an uninterrupted list of every final red glow display on the taximeter, coupled with another row for the actual total given (including tip). So in theory I could add a 3rd row to show the percentages of gratuity, and even devise statistical charts of generosity levels.

1. Minneapolis parents and their post graduate New York daughter jump in at Gramercy Park and hesitantly inquire about making three stops. Why in the world would I have an issue with stopping at the thrift store to unload three large bags of clothing donations, dropping her off at work (NY Times), and then continuing on to David Letterman's show with the free ticket wielding parents? Sounds like a fabulous fare to me. Some of these cabbies have really devalued the riding public's expectations. She was so surprised at my enthusiasm and her parents were like (in a thick Midwestern swing), "see honey, they're not so bad." $14.60 was the bill and one crisp, solid Andrew Jackson their reward.

2. The sweetest old lady ever leans down and collects a few chunks of rubbish left on the floor by previous passengers and says, "I'll throw this away for you honey." Meanwhile, her door person stands there and holds it open.
In a 180 degree upper torso twist I blurt out,"I really appreciate it".
"I know you do", she smiles warmly with sustained eye contact.
No one ever does that for a cabdriver. Especially not on the Upper East side.

3. If it hadn't been for a graciously informative guy from Seattle that I picked up at the international toy fair earlier in the afternoon, I would have made nearly 100 dollars less that shift. On our way to his hotel he let me in on the inside scoop: where would many of the 1000 toy manufacturers, distributors, importers and sales agents from over 2 dozen countries be partying tonight? The hottest new spot in NYC: Strata! From 11:30p to 1:30a I kept bouncing off that place like a pinball stuck between a jackpot and a trampoline. I tend to avoid nightclubs because they're always already crawling with yellow cabs, but this one has yet to be discovered.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


#1. A cocktail waitress from Winnipeg: home to Astoria from the bowling alley on West 42nd.
#2. An elder trio from Minsk: to church service in Boerum Hill from their doorstep in the E.V..
#3. The skinny version of Morgan Freeman goes 4 dollars worth and says, "God be with you".
#4. Windshield gets dangerously dusty on the newly salted expressway and urine flies unto your face when you pour the piss bottle out the window to substitute the empty washer fluid tank. You can call it 'minimal maintenance' on the fleet garage's part.
#5. Maori father and son who just immigrated here (NYC) from New Zealand now find themselves not driving fast, but flying low from Chinatown to Sutton Place and breaking the sound barrier in a cadmium yellow light.
#6. I often get the straphangers who never take cabs, but are running late to work. These MTA aficionados and the bartenders who do a marvelous job of empathizing are the best tippers of all. They know our professions put us up against the worst mental states NYC has to offer.
#7. Hannah Temple boards the front seat of the taxicab for a couple hours of co piloting and part of the plan is to roll past the evening's scheduled humanitarian Gaza demonstration in Manhattan, but out of the hundreds that show up, everyone gets either arrested, sent to the hospital in an ambulance, or promptly escorted back to subway pits and parked cars on parallel avenues, courtesy of NYPD on bullhorns in paddywagons and on foot. Hooray for freedom of speech!
#8. Swank man pops out of Webster Hall and jumps into your cab. He's visiting from his customized mansion in Western Mass. that he brags about the entire ride. He's here for GlobalFEST '09 and wants a ride back to the Hilton in midtown. That's all fine and dandy, and we even get into a friendly chat about our mutual love of international rhythms. He suggests I attend next year's event because it's well worth the $40 admission. Now mind you the cheapest room at this hotel is $219, plus his gas, tolls, and steep parking rates. He hands me a $100 bill and asks for 10 back on an $8.10 fare. "But sir this is not a twenty" and I hold up the bill. He says, "oh, well in that case gimme 90 back". Not a single utterance of appreciation for this whopping act of honesty. He steps out and doesn't look back. My heart sinks low. I understand these things must be done without expecting anything in return, but this just adds to the feeling of bleak helplessness that comes with providing a service to the best of your abilities and being very poorly compensated for it time and again.
#9. First long distance fare beater in my 28 month cabbie career occurs the following night. It's just past 4 am on a Wednesday morning and I'm idling on the corner of Prince and Thompson in SoHo. People are emptying out of Milady's bar and one guy in his mid 30s comes inside. He sits there silent until I ask, "where to?"
"Queens, take the LIE" is all he says, in a voice almost as shady as this. Twenty minutes later we're in front of his single family unit on Mexico Street in St. Albans. The meter reads $38.20 and he says,"I gotta go inside to get some money. Wait right here." Before I can protest he slips out the cab and into his house. Twenty minutes later he still hasn't come out and I've never called the cops in my life, mostly out of indifference. But this time I feel an urgent thirst for justice. It takes them another twenty minutes to arrive. They wail the siren for a moment and put all their strobe lights on before knocking on the front door. Lights remain on inside but no one answers. They come back shrugging their shoulders. Nothing they can do. They say I should have demanded advance payment but that happens to be highly illegal under TLC rules. I bite my tongue, clench my teeth, and cut my losses by heading to nearby JFK airport.
#10. Zubin rides the front seat of the taxicab to triple check if this is indeed a job he would want to do part time. Looks like the verdict is positive. People hesitate to get in when we respond to their street hail because they think we're undercover cops. He's a substitute teacher in NYC schools and perhaps I should be doing that too. Did it in Florida for a brief period of time. He's an Iranian Jew and when I reverse haphazard yet clear through an intersection to catch a missed street hail he remarks it's a very Persian thing to do, as in very genius.
#11. We pick up the lady who was La Reina de Turkiya at last year's International Coffee Beauty Pageant in Colombia. It was the first time Turkey was ever represented. She's currently couchsurfing among friends in NYC and considering a permanent relocation from Istanbul.
#12. A few days later that plane lands in the Hudson River and when I suggest to a passenger that it should be put in a park and turned into a playground like I've seen them do to old planes in other countries, she gets emotional about how good an idea that is and tips me like 45%.
#13. On MLK, Jr. Day I get this murmury and miserable young Bangali dude in the cab who claims that this holiday is only for the blacks. I don't bother arguing, but what about all the other struggles people like MLKJ stand for. They represent the triumphant human spirit.
#14. Financial absurdities I keep hearing on the radio making me lose momentum in the otherwise perpetual taxicab hustle hunt for rapid rider turnover rates because I see how easily billions of dollars flow above me, while the trickling down takes hundreds upon hundreds of hours to accumulate into an income on the streets. Three new local stadiums are being built next door to older ones that, if you ask any developing or underdeveloped nation, are in near mint condition. The 2nd Avenue subway tunnel might be a need postponed for too long already, but here we are again in the midst of economic depression. That is precisely what stopped this line from being built in the 1930s. And how about that John Thain character? Spending lavishly as CEO and then disappearing so as to leave less of a trail. Who the hell needs an 83.1 million dollar salary? Only someone with a damn heck of a lot of charitable ideas in mind. Not some numskull in an deceitfully ironed suit.
#15. Jenine Bressner of Rhode Island rides shotgun in the taxicab late one Sunday night and our suspicion of being potential soulmates and twin siblings from other nibblings is confirmed. We both have a tremendously vigorous admiration for life and the world as a whole. We absolutely love learning, teaching writing, editing, and being fit on various fronts (muscles, intellect, and spirit). We each have a plethora of future goals that involve the proliferation of our independent artistic endeavors, an ongoing altruistic service to humanity, and ecological homewardboundness. We both have an extensive travel destination list and a commitment not to be merely tourists in our peregrinations. Our lifestyles and ethical stances mirror one another. The both of us are multiethnic Jews who deplore violence and negativity whatsoever. We can more or less communicate in three languages. And juiciest of all, we have an immense physical attraction to each other. The only issue to look out for is that we're both Leos and therefore must be mindful not to burn each other up in contending passions. It's like putting two confident lions or blazing suns next to each other for prolonged periods of time. It can either turn into one unstoppable ball of flame or two charred and wilted carcasses of infatuation. I have reason to trust in the fireball. And no it ain't making holiday stops at the shopping mall this fall.