Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It's exciting to learn about the state of the profession, decade by decade, since the early 1900s. I enjoy how people's image of taxi driver evolves and devolves, in ever-fluctuating waves. I'm especially fond of the fact that the author himself used to be a cabdriver. He is now the distinguished Fulbright professor of history at Beijing University. Here are a few of my favorite chunks from the book:

"The NYC cabdriver personifies the energy and zeal of the world's greatest city."

"Cabdrivers make up the human element of the New York City experience."

"In taxi is the university of all humanity."

"Cabdrivers only stick together in traffic. The rest of the time they suffer from occupational loneliness and often wind up as blabber-mouths, exhibiting a weak drooling volubility to passengers (now cell phones) in which sense and nonsense are inextricably linked.

"When adjusted for inflation, cabdrivers' annual income was less in 2003 than it was in 1929."

"New Yorkers strived to commemorate their cabbies. One work of art created unexpected problems. In April 1996, the city installed a statue of a man hailing a taxi at the corner of 48 and Park Avenue, The piece was entitled "Taxi" and was sculpted by J. Seward Johnson. Within a few weeks, the city had to move the statue back away from the street because cabdrivers competing for the fare were getting into accident after accident."

"As city harassment of cabbies increased, turnover soared to over 50 % in less than 5 years. Garage owners who in the past had supported the TLC 's crackdowns, now complained that good drivers were leaving the industry because of the burdens of petty but expensive tickets."

"After dark, the cabdrivers guided and transported willing New Yorkers into forbidden worlds (1910s)."

"The Jazz Age was celebrated in NY as nowhere else, and cabdrivers were eager participants in the whirlwind frenzy of nightclubbing, easy sex, and social liberation that made the 1920s in NY so notorious."

"The public credited cabdrivers with oracle-like knowledge about politics, the 'chief source of public opinion' about candidates" (1930s).

"Rationing of gas and of private car use and fares flush with wartime earnings made cab driving easier and more profitable than ever (1940s).

"Newspapers ran stories that assured New Yorkers that in the event of an atomic bomb attack, cabdrivers' knowledge of city streets would help avoid traffic snarls."

"Observers began to describe cabdrivers as philosophers, comparing them with Socrates, who was a 'great street talker in Athens' " (1950s).

"Generous cabdriver stories enchanted Americans who identified cabbies as the ultimate New Yorkers".

" The average hackie is an honest, hard-working, careful and skillful driver who's been doing this kind of work 'temporarily' for many years." -journalist Hy Gardner
"Now cabbies ranked with coal miners and below farmhands (1960s)".

"A helpful article in Reader's Digest listed the many ways cabbies helped policemen and performed acts of courage and charity." (In response, Mayor Wagner proclaimed January 27th to be 'Taxicab Day')

"The backseat was so uncomfortable that a journalist argued that fares were forced into a "paralytic yoga position, fists clenched into the white-knuckles mode, knees to the chin, eyes glazed or glued shut, bones a-rattle, teeth a-grit." " (1970s)

1/1/1970 A law made yellow the official color of all medallion cabs, required that they be equipped with bullet-resistant dividers, and assigned undercover police to drive cabs.

3/2/1971 Mayor Lindsay signed a law creating the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

(artwork by Red Grooms, whose depictions of taxi life are classic)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3/17/2010

    Wow, this looks like one fascinating book, Time to write your own, An account of a NY cab driver drive...somethin' like that!!


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