Sunday, March 14, 2010

Clocks Forward, Proletariats Backward

At 4:15 this morning I ambled out of my Brooklyn cavern and walked west 4 blocks. On the last stretch of sidewalk from which one can safely hail a cab and have it turn left unto the BQ Expressway ramp (ain't paying for no red lights), I snatched a passing cab that sniffed my subtle intentions. A 22 year veteran from Peshawar rolled down his window. Confidently, I declared "Do you wanna go downtown Brooklyn?" His response was enthusiastic (therefore competent) enough for me to hop in.

Until recently I worked out of a garage that was 10 minutes away by bicycle, 20 minutes via subway/walking (only 3 trains an hour) or 5 minutes by cab. Their available shifts dwindled down over time to only Sundays. Since I'm saving for summer travels in Europe, I need more workdays. So I switched back to the very first (of three) garage I leased cabs from when I first got my hack license (2006). They now require a 5 day schedule, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. I'd rather rest on the Sabbath, but I'll take what I can get.

This garage is 25 minutes away via bicycle or subway/walking. It's 10 minutes by cab. An $11 fare. $15 with the tip cause I don't have the heart to give a good cabdriver any less than that. I avoid the bad ones (if at all possible) by sniffing them out before I get in. I only take a cab to work if it's raining, too cold, or I overslept. I must be frugal since I only average about $190 a shift, depending on how many breaks I choose to take (zero for 200+) and luck of the passenger turnover rate.

At 4:44 am I was assigned to taxicab 7L62 by my favorite dispatcher (of 10 I've met), the magnificent Bobo (of Haiti), who always carries the sincerest smile. Today's shift would entail 134 miles of urban meanderings and two fares to Newark Liberty International (within two hours). Oddly coincidental, since I normally only get one fare to that airport every couple of months.

The shift also entailed brief, but peak moments of nail biting, like the puddle on MacDougal Street that turned out to be a crater lake of a pothole, as I dashed through it, sending a 10 ft. splash at pedestrians on the sidewalk. NYU students, on a Sunday stroll, shrilled at the top of their lungs, as I faded into the horizon with my giggling Korean passenger.

At one point I was cruising down Fifth Avenue (in the sixties) when I spotted a sheepish hand flail about and drop, just before disappearing behind a stopped MTA bus. My peripheral vision had sensed a gang of tall, lost Europeans huddling around a map. I was on the opposite side of the street and had to instantly drop my speed from 34 to 4, in order to pull into the first available fire hydrant. I put it in park and ran across. There they were, four lovely Norwegians attempting to figure out where to have breakfast. They were stunned (and grateful) that a cabdriver would go so far as to fetch them by foot, to initiate what would become the best cab ride of their visit. They explained that after breakfast they planned to walk around Greenwich Village.

Their question was, "are there any good traditional American food in that neighborhood?" First word that came to mind was diner, a term they weren't familiar with, but I knew that's what they wanted. Off hand, I could only think of the ones along the eastern and western flanks of 23rd Street. Not the Village. I called up my main man Mikey (who also drives a cab) and he unveiled a brilliant idea: the Waverly Restaurant (on Sixth Avenue)! They fell in love with the place before they even stepped inside. I was given $15 for a $10.50 fare and my helpfulness. The tips are in the pudding. I owe you one, Mikey.

The last two fares of the day were off-duty negotiations. At 3:45 PM I was coming down Ninth en route to the Manhattan Bridge for the shift change in Brooklyn. My garage is strict. I must be back by 4:30 PM. No if or buts. I follow TLC regulations by having my doors locked, off-duty lights on, and window cracked, which allows me to gently negotiate destinations with would-be street hailers (without being accused of refusal). I make a left unto 23rd (in order to cross town without hitting Holland Tunnel traffic) and stop in front of an elder lady who is hailing me. "Where are you going?," I ask through the crack.

"The Morgan library museum (Madison and 36th)," she says achingly while standing with imbalance. I immediately unlock the doors and motion her to enter. First thing she says, as we're on our way, is "I don't think you're supposed to do that (in an authoritarian tone). " She is referring to the fact that I asked for her destination before letting her in. But there is a (humanitarian) loophole in that law, which I've copy/pasted below in blue (off the TLC website). The loophole exists simply for the purpose of not leaving everyone in Manhattan stranded, between roughly 3:30 and 5:00 PM, without a single cab around available.

I couldn't believe she was actually going to pull this on me. Before I even saw her, I was already facing the challenge of completing task A thru H within the next 45 minutes:
A. Maneuver through five Manhattan neighborhoods,
B. a long bridge with rush hour traffic,
C. and two Brooklyn neighborhoods.
D. Fill up at the gas station,
E. fill out my trip sheet,
F. gather my belongings,
G. run the cab through the basic daily mechanic inspection,
H. park it, and have the night dispatcher punch out my trip sheet.

But out of compassion for her, and an idealistic overconfidence in my capabilities, I had decided to let her in and go 13 uptown blocks out of my way, because I knew she'd have difficulty finding a cab at that hour. Besides, I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I drove past and ignored a stranded elderly person. And besides that, the refusal law (although existing for several little reasons) is mainly about curbing widespread racial profiling, which makes catching cabs a difficult feat for blacks. It was Danny Glover's complaint, filed in 1999, which brought this law to the surface of everyone's mind. The result, as I've witnessed and experienced it, has not been a reduction in racism among cabbies (which remains nearly the same), but a pandemic of white pedestrians using their misconstrued understanding of this law to lash out in anger against cabbies and unwarrantedly claim victimhood when finding themselves stranded during the shift switch.

If taken to court by a complainant, you must be able to prove that it was indeed the end of your 12 hour shift, which is effortlessly easy. The TLC itself has the proof. It's on their GPS data, which records every detail (of when and where) while a cabdriver is logged on to the system (including how many consecutive hours they've worked).

The very last fare I did pro bono for a nice man who was only going down Third Avenue from E12 to Houston (in my direct path), and I had already turned off the meter. He threw 3 dollars at me anyway.

Upon returning the cab, I learned that Napoleon (the night dispatcher) is from Leogane, the town (18 miles west of the Haitian capital) where the epicenter of the quake was located. With glazed-over eyes, a forced smile, and his New York lingo in a Kreyol accent, he said, "fogedaboudit, don't even ask what happened." As you know, the day dispatcher (Bobo) is also Haitian, but from which part of the half island nation? I don't know yet.

§2-50 Refusals
(a) A driver shall not seek to ascertain the destination of a passenger before such passenger is seated in the taxicab.
(b) A driver shall not refuse by words, gestures or any other means, without justifiable grounds set forth in §2-50(e) herein, to take any passenger to any destination within the City of New York, the counties of Westchester or Nassau or Newark Airport. This includes a person with a disability and any service animal accompanying such person.
(c) A driver shall not require a person with a disability to be accompanied by an attendant. However, where a person with a disability is accompanied by an attendant, a taxicab driver shall not impose or attempt to impose any additional charge for transporting the attendant.
(d) A driver shall not refuse to transport a passenger's luggage, wheelchair, crutches, other mobility aid or other property.
(e) Justifiable grounds for the conduct otherwise prohibited by sections 2-50(a), 2-50(b), 2-50(c) and 2-50(d) shall be the following:
(1) another passenger is already seated in the taxicab;
(2) a hail from another person has already been acknowledged by the driver, and that other person is being picked up or is about to be picked up. Provided, however, that a driver shall not acknowledge the hail of a prospective passenger over the hail of another prospective passenger with an intent to avoid transporting the passenger whose hail was not acknowledged;
(3) the passenger is carrying, or is in possession of any article, package, case or container, other than a wheelchair or other mobility aid, which the driver may reasonably believe will cause damage to the interior of the taxicab, impair its efficient operation, or cause it to become stained or foul smelling;
(4) the driver is ending his or her work shift, has already illuminated the “Off Duty” sign, locked both rear doors, and has transmitted the relevant information to an electronic database for entry on the electronic trip record or, until a taxicab is required to be equipped with the taxicab technology system as defined in section 2-01 of this chapter, and thereafter whenever the taxicab technology system is inoperable for not more than forty-eight (48) hours following the filing of an incident report with the authorized taxicab technology service provider as set forth in section 2-26 of this chapter, indicated on the written trip record that he or she is off duty and proceeding to his or her garage or home;

§2-53 Accepting Passengers While Off-Duty
(a) A driver who has illuminated the "Off Duty" light may not solicit nor accept a passenger unless that driver is returning the taxicab to his or her garage or home and has transmitted the relevant information to an electronic database for entry on the electronic trip record or made a written trip record entry "Returning to garage (or home)" and the passenger's destination is directly en route thereto; when the last passenger is discharged, the driver shall lock the doors and return to his garage or home.

§2-54 Solicitation of Passengers
(a) A driver shall solicit a passenger only from the driver's seat and only with the words "taxi" or "cab" or "taxicab."


  1. I enjoy your blog a lot. its so much easier now with white background though I feel bad every time I visit that now ur pics are a bit out of context.
    i was a computer major and know a little about backend stuff let me kno if you ever need help abt stuff.
    talking about u saving for europe trip. try monetizing your blog with adsense.
    I recommend you add' to your blog to know ur traffic too.
    keep writing specially when you saved ur self from somebody tryin to pull somethin over u its helps other to avoid situations.

  2. perhaps the new light gray background blends in more with the dark pictures than the pure white one did.

  3. That's a great edit, and vibrant color choices! Please stick with them, at least for a while.


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