Monday, June 28, 2010


The centennial anniversary of the metered NYC taxicab was celebrated in 2007. The Empire State Building was lit yellow in commemoration.
Shirts with the design below printed on them were handed out at.... Taxi 07: A DESIGN TRUST PROJECT EXHIBIT (NY Int'l. Auto Show)

In the following commercial, a Mexican taxicab plays an important role in world cup soccer:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Xeno and Vexillophilia

#1 The flag of the nomadic Berber peoples of northern Africa. Their cultural (not to mention genetic) specificity has long been downplayed by Arab nations. #2. This flag is banned in Turkey, Syria, and Iran. It is the banner of the unrecognized Kurdish nation.
#3 The map is probably banned too.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


As Abraham Maslow (and more recently Adam Willson) suggested,
let's focus on that uppermost violet section of the humanist hierarchy.
Actualization of one's full potential, peak experiences, spontaneity, creative problem-solving,
lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts, playfulness, meaningfulness, purpose, authenticity, community,
autonomy, openness, morale, accuracy, fulfillment .... even transcendence.
The pinnacle actually has nothing to do with the self.
It has to do with helping others become self-actualized.
An endless, paradoxical cycle of light and lovingkindness.
Becoming one with all people and all things. I can't wait!
(It ain't hocus-pocus. It's inside your mind)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010



Friday, June 18, 2010


I only lived there for the very first month of my life,
yet for some reason it contains a large chunk of my heart,
tucked away inside an Andean valley of everlasting springtime,
on the northernmost reaches of the world's longest continental mountain range.

A short bus ride away from the axis of world-renowned coffee cultivation.
Just 60 miles east of the Pacific and 80 miles south of the Caribbean.
Colombia's 2nd metropolis and the world's 91st urban agglomeration.

An historical hub of oxen and mule path networks for cocoa farms.
Now the industrial capital of Colombia and orchid capital of the world.
Home of South America's first kidney transplant.
Affability and diligence are the qualities of its people.

Oh, and did I mention that it is Fernando Botero's home town?
He's the self-proclaimed "most Colombian of Colombian artists."
Famous for situational portraiture of proportionally exaggerated figures.

Did you guess which city yet?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cartography of Football and Limited Recognition

Map of the most successful countries in World Cup history. 205 countries entered the 2010 qualification competition. The Philippines and Brunei had their late entries rejected. 848 games were played during 27 months and only 32 teams remain. Laos was the only member nation not to register at all.

With a miniscule exception, there virtually aren't any countries that are not members of FIFA, unless of course you count the ones whose autonomies enjoy limited recognition, if by anyone at all, such as Abkhazia, Northern Cyprus, South Ossetia, Somaliland, Transnistria, Western Sahara, and Nagorno-Karabakh. Kosovo recently became the world's newest country, but no football team yet. In yet another category are countries that don't exist in the eyes of a select few. Palestine and Israel don't recognize each other, but both are FIFA contenders. Taiwan and China don't recognize each other, but both are FIFA contenders. Then you have national identities that didn't even make it on the "ambiguation" map below, such as Tibet, Kurdistan, Kashmir, and the Basque community.
Red: No recognition by any state
Pink: Recognized by UN non-members onlyOrange: UN non-members recognized by at least one UN memberGreen: UN member states, not recognized by at least one other state

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Summer Stage at Central Park (near E72 and Fifth) is hosting several fantastic upcoming shows:

On Saturday, June 26th, from 3 to 6 PM, three eclectic international bands will play. I'm excited about Omar Souleyman, who has been on the frontline of the dance-folk-pop scene in Syria since 1994. Tinariwen, the pied pipers of social conscience in the southern Sahara, will also be performing. Toubab Krewe, a fusion band from North Carolina, will blend West African music with rock.

On July 3rd, Istanbulive II will go down. Five hours of Turkey's most contemporary sounds, starting at 2 PM. Not quite as traditional as I would've liked, but an intriguing language to hear in song nonetheless. On July 11th, Jimmy Cliff, one of Jamaica's reggae legends, but more importantly (and on the same day): Victor Deme. He's from Burkina Faso and his voice, guitar, and humility are profound!

On August 22nd at 3 PM, The Specials will be playing at that same stage in Central Park. In case you're not two-toned and rude, this British band helped revive Jamaican Ska music in the late 70s and early 80s. Speaking of the 80s, Public Enemy will be on stage August 15th. And on September 26th is the Black Sea Roma Festival. I love 'Gypsy' music!

In addition to Central Park, there are free concerts occurring at several other parks:
Brand Nubian will perform at Crotona Park in the Bronx on June 23rd at 7 PM.

Brooklyn Bandshell in Prospect Park:
July 2nd, at 730 PM, The Fab 5 and Uzalo
July 9th, at 7 PM, Ozomatli/ Fidel Nadal/ Toy Selectah

The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival on August 28th at 3 PM at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, and the 29th at Tompkins Square Park in the Village.

There are many more performances, but these are the once I've highlighted, according to my tastes.

Yellow Author Fever

Where's your book, Gil? That's what some of my relatives and friends ask me. Well, I don't feel like I have enough book-worthy material typed out yet. Volumes of it are certainly written, sketched, and drawn out on my extensive collection of artsy journals, which I've maintained since my mid-teens.

Obviously, only the last three years contain taxicab accounts, while the rest are from hitch-hiking around North America, attending college, and short stints in a smorgasbord of jobs. The thing is that it's just as important to me to publish text and illustration on taxi life as it is to do so for the three other most important themes of my life: budget travel, sustainable living, and altruistic spirituality.

I'm trying to find a way to sew these all together into a quilt that might eventually produce that book, or at least a solid, unwavering sense of personal happiness to carry with me wherever I go. All I really want is to maximize the meaningfulness of as many lives as possible, starting of course with my own. I want to have lofty goals (like a book), but only if they truly serve a deeper purpose than just massaging my own ego. That is perhaps where my hesitation lies, if not feelings of inexperience and unreadiness. Or maybe it's those feelings that are the true ego.

My life has enough direction on its plate right now. I'm saving up madly in preparation for my lightly-packed and open-ended adventure to Europe and the Mediterranean, which is set to begin in late July and carry on for about two months. Upon returning to New York in mid to late September, I will make the official, long-awaited move out of 'the nest'. Ideally, I want to find a communal loft space somewhere nearby in Brooklyn that I can share with like minds, to keep my rent low, while residing in one of the little make-shift rooms. Even more ideal would be to find a set-up like that in Jackson Heights, my favorite neighborhood, due to its diversity. I don't know what comes after that, but it's bound to be exciting.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Among Thousands of Cabbies....

April 29, 2010

J. Singh

STRUCK WITH METAL RODand told to "go back to your country"

April 23, 2010

A. Abdallah

CAR JACKED and ASSAULTED suffering a fractured nose

March 28, 2010

Mohammed Chowdhury

SLASHED Across Neck And Beaten In Head And Face

October 31, 2009

Ndiaye Serigne

ASSAULTED By Four Masked Passengers

August 7, 2008

Enois Malbranche

BLINDED In the Right Eye after Being Shot Point Blank

March 18, 2008

Neeru Singh

CHOKED By Passenger Through Partition Window. Called Racial Slurs and Harassed

February 25, 2008

Zakir Howlader

CHOKED, Kicked, Punched, Spat On By Rider Exiting Cab.

December 25, 2007

Gurmail Singh

BEATEN WITH IRON ROD Repeatedly In The Head - Required 16 Stitches - When Parking Car At End Of Shift.

November , 2007

Mohammed Elwaleed

KILLED. Mowed Down By Motorist While Checking Car For Damages After Collision

October 2, 2005

Shajedur Rahman

REMAINS IN COMA. Assaulted On The Job By Private Car Motorists

March 29th, 2005

Mamnun Ul Haq

STABBED In Back With 10-Inch Hunting Knife, Grazed On Both Sides.

I personally haven't had anything as bad as these drivers happen to me. Little things have occurred, some of which could have escalated to an unknown degree had I not countered them with profuse apologies and non-combativeness. I was once spat on by an angry pedestrian who yanked my passengers' door open and leaned over their sitting bodies to get a clear shot at me through the partition. All this simply because I wasn't being conducive to her sporadic jaywalk, which was highly unaware of its surroundings.

I was once watched intently and incessantly by a passenger with a ceaselessly evil giggle who was sticking his face in the partition so I could feel his corrosive breath, while engaging in what I perceived to be masturbation for the duration of the 5 minute ride. It was the one time I almost closed shut the partition for its intended purpose, but I didn't want to stir up anything more ultimately time-consuming or risk not being paid the fare. I felt like I had my head millimeters away from a lunatic and that my life was threatened. He was grunting a lot and making the cab sway from side to side. He then paid and walked out into the darkness like nothing had happened.

I don't remember any other incidents off the top of my head, but I'm sure there were several more. That is why the NY Taxi Workers Alliance is working so hard to push our state government to make the assault of a cabdriver a felony, just as with bus drivers and train operators. We are all transit workers who are responsible for the lives of others, and we work hard to ensure that passengers are ferried safely. These jobs are challenging enough without people attacking us physically.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Staggering the Shifts

Why don't they stagger the shifts so that not all taxicabs are off-duty between 4 and 5 P.M.? That is one of the most common questions I get as a hack. My guess is perhaps only slightly better than yours. I've heard it has to do with ensuring that no shift gets the short end of the stick. Each of the two 12 hour shifts needs one uninterrupted chunk of rush hour in order to make do. It seems that in order to make things even, whoever created the universal shift change decided to interrupt the afternoon rush of just about anyone and everyone. If I were in charge, I'd stagger the shifts and create different leasing prices to adjust to that shift's attractiveness.

I personally maintain a schedule that is staggered from the rest of my fellow drivers. I often go into the garage by 2 A.M., sometimes as early as 1:00. The dispatcher hands me whichever cab happens to be available at that time, and I return it exactly 12 hours later. That means I'm back in the garage by 1 or 2 in the afternoon, hence making the taxi available to any night driver that wishes to begin that early, which in turn lessens the distress that the city feels at the height or the homebound rush.

I don't get any discount on my daily lease for getting my butt out of bed so early or for taking that fiscal risk of being out on the streets at the quietest hours, gambling with my gas tank and cruising time, trying to eek out a miracle or three. I don't mind though. I love the rush I get from this challenge. To me it's like a very hard and serious, but rewarding game of world cup soccer, in which very few points are often scored, but they mean everything.

There are indeed a few advantages for me as a cabdriver in staggering my shift. I don't have to wait in a heavy pool of hacks at the garage to be assigned a cab. I don't have to wait in line at the end of my shift to collect the cash from my credit transactions. I don't have to use the air conditioning in my cab because by the time it gets real hot midday I'm turning it in. I don't have to stress in afternoon traffic jams about trying to get the cab back on time. I get several hours of quiet, congestion-free traffic flow at the start of my shift. In essence, my shift is what you could call a hybrid of both night and day shifts. I really love it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Whenever the fare goes over $25.00 and the passenger pays with credit card, a signature is automatically required. If I don't bring back a signed receipt for every one of those premium fares, the cashier at my taxi garage does not cash me out. Since the great majority of rides remain under that amount, many people have absolutely no awareness of the signature requirement. The result is that half of those times, my passengers blare out something like this:

"I have never heard of this before, having to sign a receipt, are you sure?"
"sign it? this is the first time I have EVER been asked to do that. how come now?"
" this a new thing?"


Also, please please please stop freaking out when the driver asks you to swipe your card again.... and perhaps again, and again. The fear of being charged multiple times for each and every swipe is irrational. Once a single transaction goes through successfully, the meter automatically clears itself. There is absolutely no possible way for your card to be charged more than once for the same total fare amount. Sometimes the machine outright declines the transaction, for a number of reasons.

If you have no other functional cards, it is required of you to pay cash. That is when many people fall under the assumption that the driver is trying to collect cash on top of the already "charged" card. It is very simple to clarify this misunderstanding. Just ask for your receipt and make sure that it is the receipt that was the very last one to print out before being handed to you. You'll hear and see it printing. You'll hear and see the driver ripping it off and handing it to you. If the bottom of the receipt says something like....

AUTH: 021108

....then the card was charged and it was charged ONLY ONCE!
If none of that is present on the receipt, then it was a CASH PAYMENT ONLY!

One last thing: You cannot pay for some of the fare amount on card and some on cash. You must pay the full amount due with either one or the other. Tipping is a separate issue. You can tip in cash after applying zero tip on the screen. Or not tip at all. And if you are one of those people who are perpetually afraid of cabdrivers ripping you off, please do me a favor and read about yourself here.

From Freedom to Uncertainty

If only I had the privilege of creating my own schedule as I go along, from day to day. That is how it used to be before the taxi industry became saturated with so many new drivers that the lease depots gained the upper hand. Before the economic downturn, taxi garages were begging us to come in and lease their cabs, at times even offering us discounts. Now they impose a strict schedule upon us that undubitably includes both days of every weekend.

Sure, I can call in before a shift and ask the dispatcher not to reserve me a cab because I have matters to attend to, but each time I do this my risk of being given the boot by the garage altogether becomes greater. They now have the power to simply eject me from the list, because there are so many drivers without cabs to drive. Now this is all just my impression. In reality I don't exactly know what goes on behind the scenes. I just don't want to be left without an income at a time that I'm trying to save up and travel across the sea. It would have been nice, however, to explore that camp out on the beach.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Image Credit: Luiz Pagano at

I took today off from work to go greet my mother at the airport, along with my father and sister. She has been in her native Colombia for the last several weeks, getting all her medical examinations at a fraction of the price, and with a more human touch. She also came back with a few Colombian expressions I'd never heard before. It's no wonder one of that country's nicknames is Locombia, as in loco (crazy.) Here are a couple examples:
"Que me corte una teta si no es asi," which means, "Chop off my tit if I'm wrong."
"Esas dos son como una y mugre," which means, "Those two are like fingernail and dirt."

Once back in our neighborhood we treated mom to our favorite local eatery, a homey hybrid of Mexican and Diner by the name of Grand Morelo's, off Graham Avenue in East Billy. We knew there'd be a crowd of onlookers glued around the television since the first match of the world cup had just begun in South Africa, and Mexico was pitted against the host country's team. As a multi-international family, we wanted to be around all the excitement and watch some of the game there since we don't own a TV set. While we masticated omelettes and sipped horchata, the entire restaurant roared proudly, slamming fists on tables as goal after potential Mexican goal was thwarted by the RSA's defense.

Both of today's games ended in a tie score. That means all four of Group A's teams are tied at one point, including France and Uruguay. Three matches will be held tomorrow-- all of Group B and some of Group C. I'm hoping Greece beats S. Korea, Nigeria beats Argentina, and the U.S. beats England. I'll be listening on 1050 AM radio from inside the taxi. Hopefully, I'll get some soccer- loving passengers between first kick-off at 7:30 A.M. and the end of my shift. Perhaps I'll go find flags from those countries and sport them on my cab, and honk like a maniac if they score.

Last, but not least-- today I stumbled upon this blog that posted a really neat entry. It visuallly compares some of the different taxicabs of the world. I thought it would be appropriate for the end of this global, yet very local post of mine. Savor the taxi designs on

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cabbie Interviews in the L Magazine

Photo Credit:

In case you didn't know, the L Mag (stands for Local) is a free bi-weekly pocket-size publication you can pick up at most any sidewalk newsstand or store entrance in NYC. It's not something that I necessarily crave in my reading routines, but it's not a bad last-minute overview of the city's culture and happenings.

The thing I always look forward to is a single page somewhere in the middle of the magazine that is dedicated to interviewing random cabdrivers on their opinions concerning current events, but more often just random lighthearted questions like 'your favorite color.' They tell you where the hack is from, what their previous profession was, and how many yellow years they've served.

There is another section in the magazine that is almost identical, but geared toward bartenders, which confirms my long-standing theory that all employees of bars and cabs alike are kinfolk. We're a big family that deals with the same nuisances at work: the worst (and at times best) of human behavior. I always tell my bar-tending passengers this and they agree wholeheartedly.

Once a bartender said, "I started out babysitting. Then I worked with animals. Now I do this. A natural progression. It takes a special kind of person to do our kind of work." I jubilantly responded that I too had had a steady domino effect of string theoretical employment. I was a bike messenger, then a moving truck driver. And now this.

No doubt it shows in the tips. It's the same reason I see a look of astonishment on my girlfriend's face when we leave a restaurant. Few people can truly understand what would possess me to drop a 25% tip on nearly every check, every time I go out for dinner. It's called genuine, first-hand empathy. Empathy: my favorite word in the dictionary.

Let's not go off on too long of a tangent. If you'd like to scroll through some of the questions and answers in that ask-the-taxi-driver section of every L Magazine, you can find the archives neatly arranged on their website. Many of them are downright dull, but there are a few magical winners. Have at it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Not an Ad. Just a Tip.

As with my previous pizza recommendation, there is absolutely no hidden relationship between myself and this place. This endorsement is purely out of my urge to share valuable, little known information with fellow cabdrivers, New Yorkers, and even the adventurous tourists.

This is simply the best Middle Eastern fast food in NYC. This little place in the East Village opened up earlier this year, replacing Cinderella Falafel. In my humble opinion, it puts all the other cheap falafel/ shawarma spots to shame, including Mamoun's, Bereket, Oasis, Ali Baba, etc.

The difference is that their pitas are terrifically fresh and have a beautiful texture. The pitas are not cut in half, and their structural integrity prevents everything from spilling out. A pita is served whole with a slit across the top, allowing for generous and efficient insertion of the most authentic salads and chickpea (or chicken) fill in town (no lamb.) It's all crammed in with tongs and layered so the array of flavors is present throughout. The sandwich moistened with a plentiful amount of true tahini sauce (t'khinah.) Strict vegetarians, beware-- they mix meat and veggie tongs.

On the counter you can find a bottle of delightfully viscous (homemade?) orange-colored hot sauce and a bottle of Amba, a sweet pickled mango sauce. These condiments are not just a special treat- they are a rarity that I can't really find anywhere else.
They also have delicious thick Belgian-style fries to go with your deep pita pocket.

The place is reportedly co-owned by an Arab and a Jew. The employees all seem quite happy to be working there. What more can I tell you? It certainly meets my high standards for a cheap, easy, somewhat healthy taxi- break meal or snack.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dangerous "Public Safety"

When responding to a call, one thing is to be on the wrong side of the street. That might just be acceptable, depending on the situation. Another is to block the bike lane on such a busy and narrow thoroughfare. I did not witness any good reason for the police to be endangering bicyclist safety this past Saturday night, on Grand Street in Williamsburg.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Signs at J & I Taxi Garage

Jenine took these pictures at the garage. She found the signs especially interesting. This car was blocking part of the garage's driveway. So the garage put this sign on their windshield. "A question: When do I get to use my driveway?" By the way: the garage never actually uses that driveway). This is from Grandma Rose's menu, taken yesterday. I think they mean email list.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lluvia Nieve

Just reminding myself that I do love and appreciate summer the most, no matter how mysterious and pretty winter is.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Night Hack Animation

This cartoon clip is sort of ridiculous, but worth one watch (only once).
I'm not exactly fond of it how it portrays cabdrivers.
Actually, it's what I strive not to be: an impersonal grunt.
But that is precisely what many of us are. So let it be.
Funny he refused service to the teenage girls, the little boy, and the detective....
but he gladly took off with some guy and his horse.
I would have kicked the horse out of my cab for farting jelly beans too.
Thank you John, at Dublin Taxi, for sharing this.
Taxi Guy. - Free videos are just a click away

Ad for a Pinball Machine

I can relate to the trail mix of characters on the sidewalk and the driver's jaded, million-mile stare. I have always said that driving a cab is like being the twisted combination of a cruising pinball, a jagged, relentless tetromino in the game Tetris, and Pac-Man himself. An endless cycle of chasing, being chased, and having to think quick on your mental feet, with as much efficiency as humanly possible. It's a real-life, non-video game addiction that takes years to overcome. The problem is that it also qualifies as a job. One that you wake up from nightmares about. You're asleep in bed, but you think you're driving asleep on the wheel. When you wake up with your knuckles suddenly clenched in front of you and your toes pressing forcefully into an imaginary brake pedal, you know it's time to take a vacation. And I just discovered that the board game below even exists. I hope I have a chance to sit down and play it with friends some day.

Bogota to New York

This past March buses in the Colombian capital went on strike. It spread to other cities, and eventually they were joined by intercity buses and taxis in a nationwide strike. Taxis deliberately blocked traffic to increase the mayhem and commuters hitchhiked with private motorists and on flatbed trucks. The strike was a result of failed attempts between trade unions and the government to negotiate a dispute over the process of exchanging old buses for newer models through 2010. Taxi drivers involved themselves both out of solidarity and because the mayor's office was refusing to abolish the payment of outstanding traffic fines beyond three years of age. Imagine if Greyhound, all the other regional bus lines, and all of the taxis in major cities along the Northeast Corridor all decided to join NYC's transit union and go on one enormous strike? Only in Colombia! The difference is that here the MTA is one system, run by the city. In Bogota each of the thousands of buses are owned and operated independently, somewhat like NYC taxicabs. But we come out looking like weasels next to our Colombian counterparts.