Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Demonstration Against

Garage Greed!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Midtown Garage

42-50 24th Street (Queens)

(N/Q to Queensboro Plaza;7/E/M to Court Square)

Since the 2004 fare raise, garages have raised our leases and watched our incomes plummet while their medallion is now valued at $1 million dollars. When gas prices soared, they did nothing to share the burden. When the MTA tax cut our tips and smaller trips, they did nothing to share the burden. When credit card fares started taking over and cutting our incomes, they gladly took the 5% surcharge.

Now, after the TLC actually did the right thing and said the lease cap includes all taxes, fees and surcharges, including the sales tax - they paid millions of dollars to sue us in state court for $4.77 per shift. They have million dollar lawyers, million dollar lobbyists, but can't spare a lousy $4.77 from us. For drivers, it's a loss of 5% in their income when there is hardly anything left to lose.


The New York State Court of Appeals made a devastating ruling on Thursday, December 15th, stating that garages can charge us sales tax (now at $4.77 per shift) above the TLC's lease caps. The garages, represented by Midtown Garage Owner Ron Sherman and his Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (MTBOT), sued the city when the TLC passed a rule banning them from the pass-along in 2009. They lost. The TLC would have to redo their rulemaking process in order to change this.

Please know that the court did not say that the TLC does not have the power to stop the garages. The court only said that the TLC has to follow a different rulemaking process than they did. The TLC has the power. And we will organize to make them use it. The garages don't have to add the tax above the lease cap. They are
choosing to charge us more. Garages did not even wait 24 hours. They started charging immediately, even to day drivers who were mid-shift when the ruling came out.
In Solidarity,

Bhairavi Desai

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Minuses and Pluses

A question for the state government: What's with this new "Sales Tax" ? As of a few shifts ago taxi drivers have been paying $4.75 more per shift to lease a cab. I thought the odds you (and other entities who want a slice of our pathetic little pie) stacked against our livelihoods couldn't get any higher. The management at my garage could not answer why it's even called a Sales Tax. Thanks for bursting my sensibility bubble. Passengers have no idea about this. They wouldn't know how much we paid in the first place. Let alone how the whole taxi system works for drivers. I invite anyone to come along for part or all of a shift, front seat, like a copilot, and see for yourself. Or at least just click on the pic to enlarge the evidence.

Next question goes out to the credit card technology folks. Why does the passenger screen pop a "Thank You" in the middle of a transaction, before it's authorized? Passengers often mistakenly believe it means they've already been charged, whether they're sober or drunk. They look at me and respond as if I'm a lying crook when I tell them my screen says "swipe again" or "card error" or "declined" or "not approved." Please prevent the back screen from thanking them prematurely. Thank you.

A shout out to Amadou, 9M86's steady night driver, for always making my shift start full blast with Senegalese talk radio on 930 am, soon as I turn the ignition. I love listening to that language, though I don't understand. A minute later I'm flushed with frustration and hooking up my FM transmitter on 95.1 to treat my passengers to my own homemade radio station of 1400 mp3 hymns of every imaginable culture and genre.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Land of 573 Hills

I do take heed of Albert Einstein's words:"Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Anyone who reads too much and uses their own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking." However, I am at the point in my life when I've decided to finally just tackle the must-try-reading list of books I've had rotting idle on my shelf (and at the library), so that I may keep only a few favorites for reference and loan-outs, while finding new homes for the remaining bulk. All part of the becoming-less-materialistically-anchored life path.

This particular one was thick like an encyclopedia, but juicy enough to finish in a few days. Its gist is that Manhattan has always been an extremely unique island. Before 1609 it was to nature what it is to humanity today: the anomalous zenith of diversity. Just as its multiethnic mosaic dwarfs that of any other city on Earth, it was at one point home to a more juxtaposed variety of ecosystems than all its surrounding regions combined. An archipelago in an estuary and that's just the beginning. An entire chapter is dedicated to the Lenape, the oldest of Algonquin tribal cultures. Stewards of New York before Europeans and urbanization came along.

I learned of our complex indebtedness to soil, our planet's living skin. That our climate requires 40 years to form 1 cm of it. Inky Schist, Granitic Pegmatite, Granodiorite, and anthropogenic (garbage) being my favorite names for some of the 87 different kinds that exist in the modern city, out of 17 originally. I discovered the words Onomastics, Toponymy, and Bathymetry.... all right up my geo-linguistic alley. The book inspired me to go check out Cold Spring at Inwood Hill, the most preserved stretch of wild nature left on the island, and the supposedly still bubbling, original Tanner’s Spring in what is now Central Park near W82. Ilearned that in 1640 there was a merchants ordinance against reckless sledding, inspiring me to borrow garbage lids next time snow accumulates and get a bit reckless at Forest Park, the hilly wilderness behind my Queens neighborhood.

Favorite quote from the book: "One of the main wonders of NY is her people. Opinionated, quick with a word, insistent on getting ahead, generous in a pinch, New Yorkers are, nearly to the last individual, a tremendously alive bunch. It seems impossible to live in NY and be boring, or be bored- there is always someone to irritate, titillate, or stimulate you into action. Love it or hate it (arguments can be fairly made on either side), NY culture is a mind-altering experience. It can be a bit much, but when it works, it works like nothing else to please the human animal. That NY culture is so vibrant today sometimes obliterates the fact that there are other ways to please the human animal. Before the whole party got started in 1609, there was another way, equally distinctive, for people to live on Manhattan."

"If the entire world lived the way Americans do today, it would take 4 planet Earths to supply the global population’s resource requirements.

Regurgitational Fragments:

"The U.S. Gov’t. estimates that the off-shore wind-power capacity of the US is in itself sufficient to supply electricity for the entire nation. In an average year NYC has 232 sunny days (nationwide average is 212). Solar shingles collect energy as plants do. New Yorkers use 2/3 the energy per person as Americans. Over 1/3 of mass transit trips made daily in the US are in NYC. The population of Seattle can be found in our transit system on a busy evening rush. Average New Yorker produces 3/10 the carbon dioxide annually as an average American. 100 year experiment concludes cars don’t work that well in cities.

How much pain can we suffer before we apply ourselves to tasks?

Plan of Action:

Reintroduce the street car (trolley), use subways to haul nonhuman cargo,implement pedicabs (cargo trikes) to deliver it locally. Unstructured outdoor play is exactly what helps kids learn to love nature in the deepest recesses of their hearts. It is the biota that we love the most.

New Jersey, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley must return to Agrarian ways. Suburban sprawl must be replaced with complex, dense cities and agro-belts that extend into the city. Organize farms cooperatively, not corporately. We will of course produce a few more apples and potatoes than needed and trade them, along with our art, science, business, and savvy, for sustainable coffee shipped into a revitalized harbor. We must have our coffee. We will still live on an archipelago in an estuary after all, on islands narrowed by rising tide. A businesswoman will be able to fly-fish in Minetta Water, downstreet from office fall evenings before heading out to opera or the baseball game. New Yorkers in 2409 will still be loud, direct, and pushy, but warm, generous, and involved in world happenings."

Last (undigested) Morsels: Adjudicating on the fly. Avenues 100 ft wide interlaced with 155 streets (60 ft across).Lenape: “the real people” (the ancient ones). Lenapehoking (Land of the Lenape).Mesingholikan (deity for negotiating a justified hunt). Sachem (tribal chief). Intimately familiar with all surroundings. Spirit guardianship. Parochial but profound sense of community. Extrapolations (of conditions for people). Historiographies. A WILLINGNESS TO BE SURPRISED. Don’t take yourself too seriously (nor too unseriously). Play the game, but don’t forget it’s only that. Maximum Entropy Algorithm. Carry respect and conscience as true wealth. Global ecological economy. Connected by a thousand invisible cords.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bury Me Standing Too

I just finished reading this book on an ethnicity whose history, lifestyle, philosophy, and physiognomy I have long felt a particular intrigue and even semblance to. This book details the vast spectrum of idiosyncrasies privy to this people, through the eyes of an outsider who spent years among them. I will not go into all of what I learned, except for a short sampling of morsels.

The term "Gypsy" is old Greek for "Egyptian", and though they may have spent time there (along their centuries long journey), their origin (and that of their idiom) is somewhere in the vicinity of Rajasthan (India). Misunderstandings concerning them are abundant the world over, not to mention their perpetually unmentioned mistreatment in the hands of reluctant host cultures. The names they are known by are as varied as the regions they inhabit, some of which can be easily confused with other meanings. For example, "Roma" has nothing to do with Italy's capital city. "Romani" has nothing to do with the eastern European country that ironically happens to be home to the highest concentrations of them (only because they had at one point been imported as slaves). Rom, Dom, Lom, Sinti, Gitano, Tsigani, Ziguener, Manush, and Kale are a few of the titles they wear.

Call it romanticizing, but I have an internal propensity towards sharing in the traditional Gypsy male's custom of wearing the same single suit, all the time, regardless of occasion or weather, until it falls to pieces and has to be replaced.... or even the bright color mosaic of the female Gypsy. I desire as much a knack for multilingual fluency (3 is not enough) and declamatory accordion skills (add flute and xylophone) as I have for photographic memory of cartographic layouts and the sophisticated contents of city blocks and rural roadsides.

I wish to be passionately free of meaningless materialism and permanent, sedentary anchorage. I want to be an adjunct Bulibasha, though I'm allergic to Biznitsa (money not earned through manual sweat). As a ubiquitous cabdriver, I by default have a reputation for dishonesty, though I've done everything possible to live honorably. I'm wanted and detained for my talents, not crimes, though those talents are often mistaken for crimes. I assign value and priority to all events equally, though serially (per moment). I can't stay still and I can't follow someone else's orders if they oppose my principles. I have all the markings of a zingaro. The only thing I'm terrified of is being shiftless, a trait that frequently creeps up on us members of the Leo sign, though it might be least expected of us.

It fascinates me that the Rom and the Jews have shared a guilt of showing too much initiative (of the wrong kinds). This book points out several similarities and dissimilarities among these two and other groups as well: "labored on their own in the jobs that no one else could or would do and sold their goods and skills door-to-door. But this for the moment is where the parallel between Gypsies and Jews as migrant middlemen ends. Far from the start of a brilliant career, their situation in the Balkans came more to resemble that of American blacks."

I can feel the ear bursting clamor of wandering musicians, the clairvoyant hustle of free and spirited tradesmen, the scraped subsistence of mudlarks, and the solemn silence of segregated servants. The preening of and being preened by the intimacy of a tightly knit community.

Limitation can force one to be resourceful. One of my favorite quotes in the book was: "The Masai of east Africa are said to believe that all cattle belong to them; the Roma of eastern Slovakia, it seems, feel the same way about potatoes." Foppish, raucous, and fecunditious were a few of the new words I learned in this book. Not that I'll remember them for long. If you don't read this book, perhaps at least watch 'Latcho Drom', which may not answer many questions, but may uplift your spirit when watched with an open mind. As a passenger in my cab once said, "I hope that extensive genealogies become less expensive so that we may collectively rid ourselves of our ingrown xenophobias." My wish for such a drop in cost for that service goes a small step further. So I may put to rest the mystery behind my Romanian roots, slightly darker skin tone than Ashkenazis in my family, and my pre-Romanian ancestry.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nilo Tabrizy

One morning last month I drove a young lady from Chelsea to Central Park South. It was rush hour, the only segment of my 12 hour shift in which seldom words are exchanged between my passengers and I. Traffic is frantic. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes shifting lanes without notice. Horns blaring in synch with brake lights. Pedestrian kamikazes sprinting at every angle and dozen other things all happening at once.

Regardless of whether my passengers are, I certainly am on a race against time. It's a 120 minute window of opportunity to make up for the other, sometimes drastically less lucrative hours of the shift. All of my energy and attention is absorbed by an effort to connect point A with B as quickly as safely possible and then find point A again (new fare). The stress is punctuated by the endless stream of people hailing my cab as I weave towards point B. Silly, pointless questions share my brain with its two only other ingredients: adrenaline and a throbbing hippocampus. "Where were all of you a couple hours ago when I couldn't find a single fare?" and "do I look like Adolf Hitler to all you Nazis?"

Every now and then, however, I'll make the extra effort to open up lines of communication with a passenger who I absolutely can't help but feel intrigued by. At the brief pause of a red light I'll look up at the mirror or turn my head and ask "what big plans do you have in store for today?"

On that particular morning it was Nilo Tabrizy. In the final minute of the ride I learned that she's a photojournalism student at Columbia University who interviews people on the street, keeps a blog, and has been to much of the world. I offered myself as a subject for any of her future projects and received a call from her about a week later. This is what came out of it:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Yesterday I confused the voice of Phil Hendrie with that of Keith Olbermann on the am dial. Some cabbies will tell you that the best thing about their shift is eccentric late night and weekend radio programs.

Some passengers will get in at Third and Atlantic in downtown Brooklyn and tell you they're going by the Williamsburg Bridge. McDonough and Patchen to be exact. That's deep in Bed-Stuy. Nowhere near the bridge. You'd be taking them the wrong way if you knew no better. About half way down Lafayette they say, "oh, you must live in Brooklyn since you know where you're going." That's also why you know they're bluffing. But you also understand that they're only trying to avoid a refusal. All of Brooklyn ought to be as fair game as Manhattan to all yellow hacks. Let's get that through our thick skulls.

Dear Taxi TV: is it really necessary to play the Smurfs movie ad thrice a fare? That's about 90 times a shift. Dear Gas Station TV: is it really necessary to play M.I.A.'s NY lottery song half a dozen times while I fill up my tank? That's 36 times per an average cabbie's week. I already have a scar tissue lump on my scalp from running into a low basement staircase ceiling in order to avoid a parking ticket after helping a passenger carry several suitcases in from the trunk. I had allowed him to substitute my cab as a residential moving company. No good deed goes unpunished. Like the girl who hopped in on the Lower East Side, going to Carol Gardens at 02:00. As always, I took the quickest route. But repairs on the Brooklyn Bridge have half of it shut down late at night. Since it was my first time using the temporary contra-flow, I had to double check the proper ramps on either side. Sure enough, the traffic agents standing there glared at me with disgust instead of answering my inquiries. Isn't that what they're there for? Why all the unconditional hate?

Friday, July 22, 2011




Monday, July 18, 2011

Congratulations to Japan

and its soccer team for winning the world cup in Frankfurt yesterday. Dare I say "Women's", as if we all say "Men's" when IT comes around. Speaking of which 2014 in Brazil will be won by Colombia. Let's at least qualify, OK? We haven't been in the World Cup since 1994, when defender Andres Escobar was offed for accidently scoring an auto-goal. This should be an easy commute across the Amazonian border anyhow.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


For better or for worse, I love you New York. You and your people, your noise, your character, diversity, and density.

All of you out there can keep your suburbs. I don't need them. Just leave me my five little boroughs. And some rural farmland not too far off.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Congratulations to South Sudan

For your newly gained independence. May your people maintain freer spirits than (even) my Sears, Roebuck, and Co one speed bicycle (aka China truck bike). May your resources be tended to with care and distributed altruistically. May your neighbors grow to appreciate your proximity as one of mutual aid and fair trade. May your water be untainted, your fields alive with sustenance, and your minds free from worry, filled instead with wonder. May this be a catapult for Tibet, Palestine, Kurdistan, and the handful of other nationless nations.

Obviously, no land truly belongs to anyone, as we are all borrowing all of it from the universe, in order to complete our corrections. But since I will never stop being a geography dweeb, I will mention that before today, the largest countries in Africa were (in this order) Sudan, Algeria, DR of Congo (f.k.a. Zaire), and Libya. Now Algeria is largest, followed by D.R. Congo, Libya, and then Sudan (the remaining northern half). The new "South Sudan" is just over a half million squared kilometers with eight and a quarter million people, and Juba as its capital.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Oral Histories

A few months ago two historians contacted me about a project they were embarking on as postgraduate students at New York University. Margaret and Samantha wanted to interview a few of Gotham's cabbies for an oral history exhibit. I felt humbled, honored, and delighted to participate. They also happened to be interested in using some of my taxi-related journal art. As any overly self-conscious person would tell you, I've listened to my interview and found it to be slightly on the dorky side, especially in comparison to all the other interviews. I have a similar feeling about the chosen journal images. I almost chose not to bother sharing these links with anyone I know, but I decided that would be taking the human agency right out of your hands (ears and eyes), so I'll let you form your own opinions. Besides, the other cabbies involved in this project deserve exposure, on behalf of the thousands of other cabbies whose voice can't be heard (unless you get in their cab).

This is the page in which they explain the gist of the project:

This is their digital exhibit: Not Just A Job

The journal bits they chose to include and a list of the 8 chosen cabdrivers:

My own personal oral history can be heard on this page:

Within the context of a bigger picture:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Efren Ramirez Castrillon

I met him last year aboard a random city bus in a country foreign to us both. He was on his way to compete in the world masters mountain running championship on the Polish-Slovak border, while I was merely meandering across borders in search of life's meaning.

What we had in common was that we were both Colombian, spoke no Polish, and we were both chasing our dreams with a bare minimum of funding. He seemed a lot worse off, less privileged, and after a far more specific goal than I.

Therefore, I did everything possible to help him make it to the event, considering the odds he was up against, between language barriers, geographical disorientation, only a couple hours left to cover a hundred kilometers, and a severe lack of financial backing.

The genuine humility and relentless determination in his character made an unforgettable impression on me. We've kept in touch ever since, by the grace of gmail chat and $2 calling cards. He resides in the little town of Pitalito, in the department of Huila (Colombia). He was recently granted a 5 year visa by the U.S., in order to compete in the 2011 World Masters Athletics Championships in Sacramento, California. This will be his first ever visit to this country, and his dream is to use this trip as a stepping stone to participate in future marathons like the big urban ones of New York and Boston.... which offer the winner a hefty sum, which Efren would undoubtedly share with his impoverished neighbors and relatives.

I've gone ahead and purchased his airfare from here, since it's cheaper that way (ironically). He will spend the first three days of July with us in New York and then fly to the west coast on our independence day, to represent Colombia in the WMA Championships. If you know anyone in Sacramento who would be willing to host him for a couple of nights, please get in touch with me as soon as possible. He will have a week off between races, in which I've arranged for him to bus into the Bay Area and explore San Francisco by foot (while training). Again, if you know someone in San Fiasco who speaks fluent Spanish and would really like to show him around, by all means.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Historic Time for Taxi Drivers!


We've reached an agreement with the Mayor's Office and TLC for some amazing victories if bill S-5825 passes (Outer Boro Plan). Together, this will economically secure Taxi Drivers and create landmark change within the industry.

Here is what we get:

  • Greater enforcement against illegal pick-ups. NYC will establish first-ever "anti-illegal street hails enforcement unit" to protect Manhattan and the Airports for yellow cab drivers! Unit will be double enforcement at the Airports along with Port Authority. TLC will establish further anti-illegal street hail enforcement: through use of GPS and other technologies, facility to tow licensed AND unlicensed (state plates) plates, and right to repossess cars that are taking our fares.
  • Turn rights. NYTWA will work with TLC and Department of Transportation on turn rights for taxis (the same as buses)
  • Protection against lease cap overcharges. TLC will form first-ever "lease cap violations" enforcement unit to police garages and brokers who overcharge drivers and pass new rules to protect our incomes from high leases.
  • Gradual introduction of new medallions. TLC agrees to slowly phase in new vehicles: new medallions will be issued 500 at a time over three years - not all at once! For first-time, TLC will also conduct a study on the impact of the new vehicles on drivers' incomes, before issuing more medallions.
  • Health fund. TLC and NYTWA will create a Task Force to create the first-ever Taxi Driver Health and Wellness Fund.
  • Lower Credit Card fees. TLC will reduce credit card transaction fees from 5% down to 4% and will explore reducing debit card fees even lower.

Sound good? Then we urgently need you to Call Albany to Secure These Victories for All Drivers! NYS Senate: 518-455-2800 (Give them your address to be connected to your state Senator directly). Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos: 518-455-3171. Tell them you are a NYC taxi driver and you support bill number S-5825. Please vote YES. Also, we still need the TDPA bill to move in the Senate, so be sure to Call the Chairman of the Senate Codes Committee, Stephen M. Saland (518-455-2411). Ask him to pass the Taxi Driver Protection Act! We're fighting for first-time rights and higher income if the new law passes, giving street hail rights to liveries only in areas underserved by us in the outer boroughs. After 10 years of illegal pick-ups, we have secured Manhattan and the airports for ourselves! Also, we will still have protected exclusive street hail rights in five parts of each of the outer boroughs where our presence is already established.

This is why we are now in support of the bill!

In Solidarity,

Bhairavi Desai


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Smiles and Sorrow

One is the moving enterprise of a friend in Philadelphia whom I love and deeply admire. One of his vans happens to be of that cadmium yellow hue I tend to associate with my personal work ethic: honesty, efficiency, simplicity, and resourcefulness. These happen to be precisely what my friend embodies.

The other is what some taxis looked like after the twin towers rained down on lower Manhattan. It's easy to maintain the qualities mentioned above, until it is made apparent that people of power choose not to play by the same rules. Even worse is when something seriously fishy is going on and the rules start not even making any sense anymore.

Monday, May 16, 2011


One of the only worthwhile blurbs I've ever heard come out of the taxi television screen that nags incessantly with ads behind my head 12 hours a day is the moment they announce three 'super foods' one should eat. I quickly jot these down and stop by at my local produce stand to seek them out after my shift. The last six mentioned were kale, butternut squash, greek yogurt, quinoa, spinach, and cherries. I've ended, once-and-for-all, my deathly fear of cooking. I've always chopped, peeled, and washed dishes on behalf of whoever decided to cook, but I nearly never ventured beyond that. The past few weeks I've been steaming and sauteing dinner for myself quite often. I'm still afraid of offering to share it with others, since I doubt it entices taste buds. I 'eat to live' much more so than I 'live to eat', and I have a new habit of grinding flax and dumping it on my food, along with generous amounts of cayenne powder. By the way, I think beets are my current, hard-to-beat favorite. I steam them with the skin and stems still on. I've heard beet greens are packed with even more nutrients than the beets themselves. That makes the common practice of tossing them out quite preposterous.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sounds and Sights

Thanks to my friend Adi Gold for serendipitously digging up the link below. What a fascinating audio burbuja floating across the sky over my dear apple at http://youarelistening.to/newyork and for the visual aspect, plug into my flickr account. I've got new pictures of Frolic Farm in Upstate NY, where I volunteered recently, as well as a few shots from recent shifts in the cab. Soon I'll post a life update via gmail, blog, and flickr. And if you drive a taxi in NYC, don't forget to check in at tipsforcabdrivers.blogspot.com for the latest relevant information. The old photograph above is of Second Avenue in 1861.

Friday, May 13, 2011

In Vex

Gaddafi made this 'his' nation's flag back in '77. It has since been the world's only national flag composed of only one color and no insignia.

A transitional council was formed earlier this year, in wake of civil war, adopting this flag, which was previously used in Libyan history. It might not be widely accepted as the official current flag, but that's the downside of vexillology, no? Sadly it is the study of how everyone is divided.

Malawi's on nearly the opposite side of the African continent from Libya, with seemingly nothing in common, except that now their flags have identical colors, though distributed differently, and each flag boasts one of two heavenly bodies most influential upon our planet.

Holly Morris, the best presenter on adventure travel show 'Globe Trekker', was exploring neighboring Zambia on public television today. I love her 'pro-woman' approach to everything, the fact that she's down with hitch-hiking, and that one of her guests on that episode (or hosts rather) was a female mining truck operator. This on the same day many Saudi women call for nationwide action against it being illegal for non-males to obtain a driver license.

This drunk Texan motorist, who drove his Ford Grand Marquis into a batch of cyclists during a race in Mexico back in '08, was indeed a man. Though I guess this is not relevant, since the reason Saudi officials refuse to allow women to drive is mostly to keep them from leading independent lives. Then again, what do I know? At least intoxication was behind this guy's horrible act. The guy in the next picture did a similar thing, but with a lot more damage. His move was intentional and entirely sober.

Ricardo Neis got tired of waiting in his car while a monthly critical mass ride of bicyclists made their way through the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre a couple of months ago. Watch what he did about it. There's a lot of hate directed at bikes everywhere, every day, but this one tops them all. Be safe out there people. And may Libyans get a rest from the bloodshed and destruction around them. And may Saudi women be granted the right to drive. And may bicycles gain the respect they've always deserved.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yellow Scapegoats

Reposted from the NY Taxi Workers Alliance Website: NYTWA's Response to Proposed Suspensions for 2 Refusals in 2 Years:
For Immediate Release: February 24, 2011
Statement by Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director, New York Taxi Workers Alliance, union of 15,000 yellow cab drivers

”First of all, let's understand the numbers: 2,341 out of 750,000 fares a year is 0.003%. Secondly, these are complaints - not convictions.

Refusals are an economic problem that need an economic solution, the TLC's proposal just scapegoats and punishes drivers instead. In the end, it tells us that the city is not actually serious about solving the issue for the sake of the rider and of course, never for the sake of the driver. And really, if the city can make more money off of more refusals and there are record-high number of license holders to fill the ranks of suspended drivers - why would they really try to address it? The easy road is to scapegoat, punish and give the public a false satisfaction. Telling taxi drivers who labor 12-hour shifts, 6 to 7 days a week, without guaranteed income, benefits or protection, that they'll be out of work for 30 days if they refuse a fare a year for two years is adding insult to injury. Of course, this is on top of the Mayor's plan to give away our fares in the outer boroughs to a new second tier taxi and bringing us more competition in Manhattan and the airports. The real solution is to address the real economics of the industry - lower the lease, change the fares.”

Monday, February 14, 2011

Geography Nerds Not Dead

What do Uzbekistan and Liechtenstein have in common? They are the only two "doubly landlocked" countries in the world. What do Bolivia and Tibet have in common? Well, they do seem to be kindred spirits of some sort. However, I'm aiming at a more remote answer. Both once had a coastline. One lost it to Chile in the late 1800s and the other was its own empire in the 9th century, currently under occupation.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

China Truck Bike

Been in L.A. for a month. Bonding with paternal relatives. Learned how to fix a few things at the Bicycle Kitchen off Melrose. Great crew there. Community atmosphere. Replaced the brakes on my purple mountain bike and the seat post on dad's white beach cruiser. Even brought in my rusty old "China Truck Bike" that I salvaged from under a tree in Florida and hauled across the continent. That is my favorite bicycle in the whole wide world. I bought it like 10 years ago for ten bucks at a yard sale and when I moved to New York five years ago, I left it in the hands of my bike-loving network of friends, who promised to keep it in communal circulation and working order.

I've been back to visit thrice and twice I've found its tires flat and its frame decaying in the Floridian elements. It's since been restored to its original might, without compromising its old, beat up, commie aesthetic.

I have other little tales to tell of this visit to L.A. and of our way here. I hope to let them out in smaller chunks and therefore more often. Like once a day. That's after I've caught up on a backlog of updates from eastern Europe in September. I've come as far as Budapest. Next is Belgrade. Then Bucharest and onward.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

From Gene to Sully

My favorite taxi blogger in New York has written about his recent interview with the Village Voice. He has an important point, which they ironically chose to edit out. In his own words:

"It's that these things are dangerous. How so? They are distracting and irritating to the driver. As if driving a cab in the streets of New York City wasn't distracting and irritating enough without them!

The analogy I make to passengers in my cab when this subject comes up, and it comes up often, is
how would you like it if, when you were flying in an airplane, there was a television nine inches behind the head of your pilot, the volume of which was under the control of the passengers? For that matter, how would you like it if this thing was nine inches behind the head of your bus driver? Well, guess what, statistically riding in a taxi is more dangerous than riding in either a plane or a bus.

The main justification for the existence of the city agency known as the Taxi and Limousine Commission is to ensure the safety of the passengers. That is priority number one. So to add an unnecessary and unwanted element into the environment of the taxicab which is distracting and irritating to the driver is utterly contrary to its mandate.

And it needs to be changed.

Thanks Eugene for pointing that out. Thought I'd help you spread the word. By the way, what attracts me to this post the most is that I have always regarded our profession, in a city like ours, to be akin to aviation. It's the same feeling I got from Captain Sully, the airline pilot who landed in the Hudson River, when he expressed that if pilots don't earn competitive wages, the industry will eventually lose the best and safest of them to lesser experienced ones. Same goes for taxi drivers in New York. We have as many reflexes as they have controls in their cockpit.

photo above thanks to zimbio.com

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Euro Part V: Budapest

On September 2nd at 7 a.m. I boarded a bus and traveled southeast for three hours, from one Danube capital of 1.7 million to another. Goodbye Wien (Vienna). Hello Budapest.

Hungarians have a very different name for their country than we do. Their language and history is quite different than that of most their neighbors. But they are no less human in their hospitality. In fact, as in my case, they can be more so.

It had all begun 900 miles beforehand. I had been in London for three days and was crouched in a squat position on the sidewalk, awaiting a shuttle bus to Luton Airport. Three Hungarians approached, stood beside me waiting, and we eventually exchanged a few friendly words. Two of them were college sweethearts, on their way home from visiting one's older sister, who'd become a Londoner. I was flying to southern Poland to trace some roots and make my way down to Istanbul by land. We were chitchatting the whole ride to the airport and I was invited to call them when I got to Budapest.

Fast forward a week. On the bus ride from Austria to Hungary I made friends with yet another Magyar. Andras was coming home after not having seen his family for two years, since he had gone to study and work in France. He happened to be headed to the same part of town as I. He had 3.5 enormous suitcases under the bus and no idea how he'd handle them alone. Meanwhile, I had no idea how to utilize the local mass transit and for the first time I could not rely on just maps and asking people because for the first time I was in a place where my trilingual connection to three distinct cosmopolitan language families rendered itself useless. You can guess the symbiosis that came next. He went the extra mile though, and took it upon himself to call the young Hungarian couple I'd met in London to arrange for us all to meet at a mutually convenient landmark. I got a kick out of standing there, utterly dumbfounded, while they shot back and forth in ultra-rapid Ugric. I call that a savings account withdrawal of the karmic kind.

Tibor and Brigi met up with Andras and I on their college campus. They took me around to see their city by foot, trolley, and car. Buda first, then Pest. The three of us chipped in to help a stranded Croat get home, but we also smelled something fishy. In the evening we had an authentic local meal and walked it off through a shopping mall. One particular store used a blown-up photograph of a classic NY street scene with a yellow cab and a patty wagon to attract people (among the pictures below).

My new friends saw me off at 11 pm. I caught a southbound, overnight train to Beograd, the Serbian capital, also on the Danube, and also 1.7 million strong. I had to share the odorous little unit with a slew of obnoxiously drunk Slovak college kids on their way to an Albanian vacation. Serbia was not originally on my plan, but I had met two brothers from the town of Pancevo who had couch-surfed with the same host as I, at the same time, in Barcelona the previous month. They had urged me to make the slight detour on my path from Hungary to Romania. It was a hard offer to resist. Why not add a country? It just so happens to be the least expensive one, in the least expensive quadrant of Europe. More on that later.