Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Empathetic Solidarity

I always keep a bag on the side to collect cans and bottles of value to give to people laboring after them on the streets. Some of what I collect is from my own consumption, but much of it I gather from my building's recycling bins in the basement every time I go downstairs to dump the remaining recyclables that aren't of street value. It's easier to do when the bags in the bin aren't completely commingled and full, but these people have not the anytime access to the bins that I do. It doesn't take a lot out of my time and it makes me feel a little more connected with the fact that though I complain about my meager income driving a cab, much of the world's population labors many more hours than even I do, for much less compensation, and with many more mouths to feed. I got the picture from this article, which I understand and agree with on one hand, but being innovative and a lynchpin doesn't always guarantee financial comfort.

People often approach me with the same mentality as the author of this article, asking me "what I'd like to do when I grow up?" If my answer's anthropology, they say I need school. What better school than taxi driving, nitwit? My other answers include writer, artist, farmer, tour guide, paramedic, ambulance driver, etc.. "In that order?," they ask while laughing. It's not ridiculous to have many different pursuits in life, so don't ridicule me. Instead, why don't you try shifting your whole paradigm and look at it from a standpoint of appreciation for people's hard work, regardless of how 'entrepreneurial' they may be in your eyes, especially if their work is an important one that helps keep society (or the world in general) in balance, or at least moving?

New York runs on cabs and needs competent cabbies, or am I wrong? Perhaps I am wrong after all. That is why I'll soon be joining the exodus of bright minds from this industry. Back to the subject of recycling. We need to recycle our rubbish or else face a non-sustainable future, right? So instead of labeling these people as lazy or not resourceful, why not support their efforts to eke out a living by making it a little easier for them? I encourage you to start having a bag set aside for cans and bottles of value to them. You can tell by looking on the can or bottle itself. In New York, for example, it must say 'NY' and the value in cents.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Garage Panoramas

January 21: first snow since late October. Climate trans-myoo-tey-shuh n?
Glamorous life of a cabbie. Back seat nap at the garage while queued pre-shift.

Restroom at the garage. Fit for livestock but at least they have one, right?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Meaningful Juxtapositions

semi-wild felines of the taxi garage
(fed regularly by some of the drivers themselves),
juxtaposed with my old trusty "China Truck Bike,"
with matching background rust (named after 80s Beijing traffic)

my previous employer (in Perth Amboy, NJ)
stopped by to visit but no one was there (a sunday).
still enjoyed juxtaposing speedy yellow with the truck I used to drive
back in 2006, before I got a hack license.
only other job I've had since moving here was bike messaging in Manhattan,
when I was fresh from Florida. It's been a long road, literally.
always delivering something or someone.
even down south I was an organic produce delivery van driver.
adventurous young tourist couple caught trespassing
with 'deplorable intentions' of exploring abandoned, overgrown buildings
at Brooklyn's Navy Yard. i was pedaling home along Flushing Avenue's bike lane
when all of a sudden this patrol car made a crazy u-turn (nearly hitting me)
and drove down the wrong side of the street.
i stayed to watch the cops make them climb back over the tall fence.
her bright red coat and their leisurely approach
(instead of swiftly subtracting street visibility)
is what sadly gave them away

Friday, January 27, 2012

Healthy Eating as of Late

egg sunny side up, whole garlic chopped, baby carrots, mixed greens,
sliced cucumber, dried arbol (hot red pepper), and a mug of joe for dinner

cheerios and wheat puffs in greek nonfat yogurt (not milk)
with brown pear chunks and a generous sprinkling of ground flax seed
for breakfast (past dinnertime for most westerners)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

This Past Tuesday's Shift

Dished out $110 for the 12 hour lease and pulled out of the lot with 7L71 at half past 2. First thing I heard was a Russian spokesman on WBAI: "truly speaking nobody cares" (on selling Syria arms to quell its people). I'm thinking, "Russia has 140 million minds (hearts). That's a lot of indifference." 49% of food stamp recipients in the U.S. are white and NYC janitors make absurd amounts of money (thanks Newt). Nothing like late night news via taxicab radio.

My first fare's a blond mid-age Brit. She requests the Manhattan Bridge from Delancey and Ludlow to Myrtle and Nostrand. I'd a taken the Williamsburg to Lee, but I do as I'm told. "Stop at the deli, I need to get milk. Do you need anything? Please don't leave me here in this neighborhood." No thanks (and you haven't paid me yet so why would I take off?). $17 for a 14.30.

Marcy to Union and my next fare is an semi-awkward peer from Bedford's hip strip to 1 River Place (off W42 in Manhattan). We talk about music. Grunge was his thing back in 8th grade. Same here. Says he can only listen to Punk if it's harder than the pop sort. I play him some Casualties and he's down. $24 for a 19.90 [by credit card (take 5% off total)].

Been eating mad healthy last few days so I treat myself to a couple slices of cheese at the original 99 cent Pizza on Ninth behind the bus terminal (owned and operated by a crew of Bangladeshi harlequins). I down the last of 15 antibiotic pills from last week's ear crisis with a can of root beer and spend the next 45 minutes frantically searching a fare (ironic time for a lull in business as 4 am comes and goes).

A girl jumps in at Essex and Rivington, headed to Blissville (via BQE, McGuinness, and the G-point bridge). On her way to work. She didn't know the neighborhood's historic name. "Someone must've been happy when they named it." Actually it's named after mid-19th century developer Neziah Bliss and its only landmarks are the enormous tombstones at Cavalry. $15 for a 13.90 [meager tip (minus 5%) for an immaculate ride and free history lesson].

Over to Bedford's trusty hip strip again and I catch one to FIT. He's actually going to the Chase bank nearest 29th and Ninth. Online with his phone, he changes the destination twice and still isn't sure. Without saying a word I simply drive him to the branch on 27th and Seven (one I'm familiar with). $18 for a 15.10 (minus 5%).

At Eighth and 23rd I catch fare #4. He's just going to Penn Station, but our mutually spastic mannerisms jive well and feed of each others' high strings. We're there in 15 seconds and he gives me a fiver for 3.80. Then up on Eighth and 56th I find a good listener to hear out my rants while I drive him over the upper level to Astoria. He agrees this taxi life stuff sounds rough. Sixteen in cash for a 12.70. I don't rant for tips, believe me.

Back into the city and zig zag the east side and bingo at Third and 33rd. This one ain't cut and dried though. A drunk, fabulously flamboyant Irishman has lured three drunk Mexicans out into the street from a bar and kitchen he'd patronized while they were wrapping up their shift.

It took them a good three minutes to figure out who was going and where. I dropped 3 of them off at Queens Boulevard and 46th. The fourth one, who had been sitting front seat with his head dangling out of the window, was to continue all the way home to the beach neighborhood of Rockaway Park and pay the full fare for all of them. I bluntly asked why the well-to-do guero hadn't chipped in. He looked me in the eyes, and in spanish, with as sober a tone as he could muster, told me not to worry cause his brother's a cabbie and for that reason he couldn't wrong one if he wanted to. He then asked if he could take a nap. Como no? Claro que si!

As he snored through his thick drool (his repeated attempts to puke had all failed) on the door, I carefully (so as not to stir his stomach) made a right on Woodhaven and drove straight down to the ocean with the heat blasting to make up for the open window (see photo above). With the $1.80 toll it came out to 51.70. I waited 5 minutes while he went inside to get more cash. He paid $60, in all singles, and apologized for being a busboy. I felt bad for taking his hard earned cash, but I'm not the one who decided to get too drunk to take the A train home. Actually, it's a hell of a long way (end of the line) no matter how you slice it.

Just then the sun had risen (it was 7 am). I stopped for coffee and a donut and watched seagulls pass overhead while the radio announced that last night a 50 year old man in Ozone Park (just beyond the bay from there and one neighborhood over from mine) had lit a firecracker that ruptured his gut and killed him. Having been up since 10 am Monday morning, the surrealism of it all had me smirking like De Niro. Typical for sunrise on any shift consisting of those hours.

I drove back just the way I came and found a fare from Woodside back out to Kennedy. Three courteous men from Bangladesh (two of them cabdrivers) to catch an Emirates Airlines flight. $38 for a 33. Getting there was a breeze, but coming back would've been a standstill, so I stayed at the holding lot and took a two hour nap in the back seat. I was dispatched to the same terminal (4) I'd dropped off at. An East Asian lady and her curious, wide-eyed son of about 7 (who watched my every facial gesture and wheel maneuver) were on their way to the Sheraton near Times Square. The radio reported heavy traffic on the bridge so I took the tunnel and crossed at 42 with no delay. Meter read 50.30 and she asked me if $52 cash would be sufficient. I politely pointed out that 20% was customary for a good service. She added $2 to make it 54 and I got out to handle the luggage again, trying to not to show dismay. I assumed she simply wasn't used to proper tipping a la New York.

At that point it was 11:30 am and my friend Lluvia (Rain) boarded the front seat for a one hour copiloting tour. She had come to perform in an acrobatic show and was leaving for Oakland in the afternoon. We had three short, friendly, central Manhattan fares totaling $37. One of those actually only tipped 20 cents and another gave $20 cash for an 11.80 fare, which more than made up for it.

Remainder of afternoon:
Chelsea to East Village: $9 (minus 5%) for 7.40
Stuytown Loop to NYU Hospital: $6 for 4.60
Same spot (the driveway) to 7 World Trade (via FDR): $15 (minus 5%) for 13.80
TriBeCa to Chelsea: $10 (minus 5%) for 8.60
Back to Boerum Hill (Brooklyn) without a fare to end the shift.
Jimmy (the taxi garage cashier) said I'm dressed like a lumberjack. Between him, the lot attendants, the morning cashier and dispatcher: -$4 in tips. Gas is $44 (for 150 miles). MTA state surcharge is $8 (16 trips). Even though my total overhead (expenses) was $20 more than my net profit, I still made $150 clean cash "in the pocket" for me (minus self employment income taxes) for 1o hours of driving and a 2 hour nap. Not bad today, though I doubt Mitt, Newt, or any of those guys want my job.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ode to Overly Sentimental Self via Glory

One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite films. I'm not into war or movies about war. I'm not all that into religion either. I am however into deep, soulful group humming, clapping and chanting with humility, appreciation, and fearless conviction in the face of oppression.

Monday, January 23, 2012


He's not always the easiest person to get along with, especially in his Libran moments. Me being a Leo, we aren't all that similar, aside from the fact that neither of us are easy (and we've both always loved justice, authenticity, punk, and Jamaican music).

For some reason though, he's always felt like a mirror reflection. His tribulations and trials are my own. His name is Daniel Robleto (el agricultor luchador) and he's been my best friend since 1997. I have no contact with 96% of the friends I had in my childhood prior to that. Even now I don't really keep in touch with most of my friends, including Lil' D. It's not that I'm pick and choosy about who I spend my time with. I'm picky about how, which translates into who.

Most of the time I prefer to be on my own, though not alone. I need having people around me. I'm just allergic to boondoggle, flapdoodle, small talk, and "hanging out". Each moment and word must have purpose and meaning if I am to feel comfortable in a social setting. Lately some of the only people I've spent time with, besides my passengers, have been like-minded cabdrivers (like Gejza Simansky the Slovak guru on wheels). Below we're pictured taking a coffee break in Chelsea.

Another way I've kept from being anti-social are unique copiloting sessions, as seen in the bottom-most photograph (with copilot Arni Eddie, northern California's top dog). Once you've ridden around front seat and on-duty for part or all of one shift, I promote you to the level of trusted confidant, or at least copilot licensee. If it's the latter, don't take it personal. Leos are known not to place their trust easily. We rely only on ourselves. We nearly never ask for help because we don't think we need it. We can, however, reveal a lot of light in the world if we learn to delegate tasks. That's why as copilot you'll have plenty of opportunities to participate in taxi operations, minus driving.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Call of Action

Forgive me everyone for posting these. I assume the readers of this blog expect juicy stories from the job and tales of travel funded by the bare bones income. Perhaps some artwork and photography here and there. Certainly not political rants about worker mistreatment. Though I'm astounded by how many passengers know absolutely nothing of the hardships endured by their yellow donkeys daily. And just in case a fellow driver or two are tuned in, it's good place to get the word out. This is upcoming. It's similar to the one last month, but at a different garage (depot, base, horse stable, whatever you wanna call it).

Monday 1.23.12 @ 15:00 in front of All Taxi Management
41-25 36th St. (LIC). 7 train to 33rd/Rawson.

Demand an end to lease overcharges before the city decides on a fare raise. A raise means nothing if the leases aren't controlled first.

Garages/Brokerages recently picketed: Midtown Operating Corp (twice), Checker Management, SLS Jet Management, Stan 55 Operating Corp, Ronart Leasing Corp, Tunnel Management. Not where you work? We're coming there too!

Brokers are finally under investigation. Keep the pressure to win! Some brokers are now charging close to 60k for a 25k car. Since '04 fare raise they've overcharged in the name of Tax Stamp, Vehicle Expenses, Additional Driver Fee, and Loan Guarantee. Some even charge a shameless $1 service fee to issue drivers our own credit card check. The brokers are now lobbying to make their high interest car payments and lease overcharges permanent and higher still. They're crying that next to their garage pals, they're poor. Nobody in the industry knows poor like the cabbies themselves. Both the garages and brokers are crying that unless TLC raises the lease, they'll go bankrupt and the industry will collapse. Stop the lies! Stop the greed! Raise the fare! Lower the lease! NYTWA's Campaign against lease overcharges is picking up speed! NYTWA pressured TLC to establish a Lease Caps Enforcement Unit, which has been summonsing garages and brokers (one garage was summonsed for 150k and a broker for 80k). Four NYTWA members filed a class action lawsuit in civil court and NYTWA protests outside garages are drawing media attention to the plight of overcharges and high leases. Now let's build the January 23rd demonstration and keep up the pressure!

In Solidarity, Bhairavi Desai

Monday, January 16, 2012

Acute Otitis of the Left Ear

Ain't been sick in a long time. I keep my immune system chirping with raw garlic, a glass-half-full approach, plenty of water, constructive arguments (bottling them kills cells), a minimum of sarcasm, a dash of aerobics whenever inspired (be my jog pal), and an Emergen-C packet here and there. I don't touch antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, and I'm not easily convinced.

However, at least two counterproductive habits have finally caught up with me. I go on using the same disposable ear plugs for weeks and store them on dirty surfaces. I often penetrate my precious labyrinths with cotton swabs in attempts to scoop up wax. I don't need to delve into why these and other peculiar hang-ups like nicotine and too much coffee work against all I do to build integrity and empathy (the cornerstones of character). Well anyhow, something's bothered my left ear for a over a week now. It started with just a tickle and an inability to hear clearly out of that side. I left it alone for a few days and the symptoms quietly persisted. While driving the cab I managed to resuscitate sound wave conductivity on that crucial window side often used to negotiate traffic by holding my nose and blowing pressure through it.

Yesterday afternoon, as I arrived home from another twelve hour tour, the pain hit me. It was roaring throbbingly and all sound had ceased to have any chance of passage. Worried about something spreading into other, more serious members of my cephalopod, I gave in and relinquished a quite possibly lucrative Martin Luther King Junior Day in the taxicab for an extremely rare visit to the doctor and an even rarer antibiotic stupor in bed. The pain is gone and I'll be back behind the wheel tonight (earliest hours of Tuesday.) In case you were wondering, cabbies in NYC are independent contractors. Sounds profound, but unfortunately it means we have no access to medical insurance or any other benefits. Luckily, I was recommended a great doctor (Diogenes Almonte, MD) who only took $50 for the visit and treated me as if I were his own son. Another $50 at the pharmacy for the darned pills and the Neomycin ear juice.

I'll leave you with my favorite MLK, Jr. quote ever: "If a person is called to be a taxi driver, they should hack even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. They should hack so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great taxi driver who did their job well."

(Please note that the quote was originally about street sweepers. I've altered it to reflect my own profession. After all, he was only implying that every job is just as valuable a piece to the whole.)

hack 2 (hæk) verb
12. informal ( US ) ( intr ) to drive a taxi

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ce Mai Faci

A warm salute to my Romanian colleagues. The article that came with this picture is short and sweet. I happened across it while searching Cadmium Yellow. I have a strong association with that color (and the smell of coffee). My grandparents happen to be from Iasi (pronounced Yahsh) and Bacau [baˈkəw]. Both towns happen to be in northeastern Romania.