Friday, December 15, 2006

The Five-Nine

The 59th Street Bridge was a wreck yesterday. I know this not because I was behind the wheel of a cab sitting in the traffic myself, but because I caught up with a bunch of my old taxi buddies yesterday while they were driving, so I got to hear all about it.

First I called Gary back. We hadn't spoken in maybe six or seven months, ever since he left the garage to do alternating 24-hour shifts with a private taxi owner for a cheap price. Gary is an actor and a playwright, in his mid-to-late fifties, completely bald, and totally sharp and edgy. We became very good friends when we drove out of the same garage but sometimes when people leave a place and you don't see them regularly, it becomes hard to keep in touch, no matter how much you like each other.

Apparently, since the last time we talked, he'd been traveling around, and had settled into teaching English at a Buddhist temple in Thailand. He left me a message telling me he was back, and when I got him on the phone last night he was sitting in a back-up on Crescent Avenue, leading in to the lower level of the bridge, and telling me about how he was saving up to go to Vietnam for four months starting in mid-January.

The entire time we were catching up, he was stuck in this traffic. At one point he said, "I can't believe this. It's so bad, cars are starting to drive on the sidewalk to get up to the front of the line."

I said, "You must be going nuts, huh?"

But Gary replied, "Actually I'm not. If I learned one thing from the monks in Thailand it was this: 'See clearly and you will always act morally.' It sounds a little simple, but I've found it really works. So like right now, I figure, I'll get in to New York when I get there, and I'll make the money I'll make, and the night will be what it is."

So Gary's doing well, getting all Zen and shit, and enjoying his life.

After talking for nearly half an hour, we hung up as he finally made it onto the bridge.

Next I called Elliott back. He picked up on the last ring, right before his voice mail got it, and said, "Hello! Good to hear from you! But I'm driving and the city's a mess. I'll call you later."

When I woke up this morning, there was a message from Elliott at 5:00 am, just getting off his shift, apologizing for not calling me back sooner.

After that, I reached Allen. Allen has a funny, childlike way about him. He's also in his fifties, is an orthodox Jew, and lives with his mother and his brother in Williamsburg. He picked up and we just said "Hello?" back and forth to each other a few times until he realized it was me. Then he said, "Melissa? It's Allen!"

"Hi Allen. I knew it was you -- I called you... How're you doing?"

Allen simply launched in and said, "Yeah, so I was thinking about your book yesterday. I got an idea for you."

"Oh yeah? What were you thinking?" I knew it was gonna be weird, whatever it was.

"You should make some of your characters into cartoons!" He said this with glee in his voice, clearly thinking it a brilliant and clever idea, but also knowing I would never do such a thing.

"What?"

"CARTOONS!"

"Uh, yeah, okay, but I don't think that would work so well with the rest of the story. You always have the weirdest ideas."

Allen didn't say anything because he was laughing too hard at his own bizarre joke.

I changed the subject. "Where are you?"

"Brooklyn. The five-nine is all screwed up. You can't get into the city. I got some jobs and then got taken back out here. Now I'm trying to get back in."

"Traffic's bad, huh?"

"It's terrible."

We talked for a few more minutes and, as we started wrapping up the conversation, Allen assured me that he would come up with some more ideas for the book. I thanked him and wished him a happy Hanukkah.

I had been off this marathon phone session for about two minutes when Diego called. Me and Diego still talk regularly, so it's much more casual with us.

"What's up Diego."

"Nothing. I'm pulling in to LaGuardia. The 59th Street Bridge is all fucked up so I took the tunnel and the second I got through, right across the street at that corner, a woman gets in and takes me to the butt-end of Astoria. I didn't even call the hotline, I just came straight here."

"Yeah, I heard the bridge was bad. Is the airport full?"

"Nah, it's not that bad." He must've parked already because I heard him going up to the coffee shop in the taxi lot and buying a pack of cigarettes. Then he said, "Yo, you ever coming back to work or what?"

"I hope I won't have to, but I might. If I don't find something else, I'll probably come back in February."

Diego said, "Well I miss you, buddy. I wanna see you soon."

We hung up while he was still at the airport.

It's true. I've been working hard on this book (almost done with Draft 2) and I really don't want to go back to the cab, at least until it's finished. If I can avoid it for a while longer, I will. But if my bank account and bills demand it, which may be sooner than I'd like, I'll have to get back behind that wheel.

In the meantime, I'm much happier keeping in touch with the streets vicariously through my cabbie pals.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hi

I'm still here. But I am not driving the cab these days, which is why I haven't been writing online. Instead, I'm hauling ass on Draft 2 of The Book. And so after each day of work on this, I'm too burned out to write something even marginally interesting here. I feel bad about it, but more than that, I feel bad about not driving the cab. It has been such a huge part of my life and identity for the past few years, it's just weird to not be doing it. I keep saying I'm simply on hiatus, but who the fuck knows? Maybe I've actually quit and I just don't know it yet.

Strangely, my life has never been more insular and sheltered than it is now, which is the total opposite of what it was when I was driving. But each day I'm reliving my experiences in the cab and writing (and rewriting) them all down. It's not the easiest thing in the world, but it's a lot more fun than actually driving. My body has never felt better either, so that's another thing that's keeping me from going back. I never fully realized how sitting in a cab for 12 hours at a time was destroying my muscles and my kidneys and my mental health.

Anyway, this is just to check in and say hello. A lot of people have written with questions for me and I've been really bad at writing back. So I'll address two of the most common questions here:

1. The book is tentatively titled "New York Hack." Very original, I know. It is slated to be published in the fall of 2007.

2. Seems a lot of people want to become cab drivers and want advice on how to go about getting their hack licenses. I can only recommend you do what I did and go to the TLC website and follow their instructions. But make sure you follow them very carefully, because if you make one little mistake, they will make you start the whole damn process over again. Good luck with that.

Monday, October 16, 2006

This blog totally sucks now

But that's because I'm writing a book, which I'll be reading from tomorrow night. You should come!

It's part of a reading series called "Writers at the Alliance" and there are two other readers, both much more accomplished than me, so it shouldn't suck.

Anyway, it's FREE, so come out if you can.

Tuesday, October 17th, 7:00 pm
at the Educational Alliance, in the Mazer Theater
197 East Broadway
(F train to East Broadway, walk two blocks to Jefferson)



Here's the official info:

HERE IS NEW YORK: THEN AND NOW
Tuesday, October 17
7:00 pm
In his foreword to "Here is New York," written in 1948, E.B. White asserted that "it is the reader's, not the author's, duty to bring New York down to date." The Alliance has enlisted three very different writers with that task, beginning with Caleb Crain who chronicles the extravagances and vanities of New York's upper class in the nineteenth century. Next, Brandon Stosuy delves into the downtown music scene of the 1970s and continues through to 2006, noting outerborough shifts along the way. Finally, Melissa Plaut, a blogging cab driver, keeps us "down to date" with her present-day account of life behind the wheel in New York City.

CALEB CRAIN has written essays and criticism for The New Yorker, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, and other publications. He is the author of American Sympathy: Men, Friendship, and Literature in the New Nation (Yale, 2001), and is at work on a history of the divorce of the nineteenth-century theatrical couple Edwin and Catharine Forrest.
See http://steamthing.com.

MELISSA PLAUT was born in 1975 and grew up in the suburbs of New York City. After college, she held a series of office jobs until, at the age of 29, she began driving a yellow cab. A year later she started writing "New York Hack," a blog about her experiences behind the wheel. Within a few months, the blog was receiving several thousand hits a day. She is currently working on a book based on "New York Hack" to be published in 2007 by Villard. See http://newyorkhack.blogspot.com/

BRANDON STOSUY, a staff writer and columnist at Pitchfork, contributes regularly to The Believer and The Village Voice and has written for Arthur, BlackBook, Bookforum, LA Weekly, Seattle Weekly, and Slate, among other publications. His Danzig-heavy meditation on Sue de Beer appears in her EMERGE monograph (Downtown Arts Projects, 2005) and an essay he co-authored with Lawrence Brose is collected in Enter at Your Own Risk: The Dangerous Art of Dennis Cooper (FDU Press, 2006). He's currently curating The Believer's 2007 Music Issue Compilation CD while finishing a discussion with Matthew Barney and essays on Wayne Koestenbaum and Gordon Lish, also for The Believer. Up Is Up, But So Is Down, his anthology of Downtown New York literature, will be published in October by NYU Press. See
http://www.amazon.com/but-So-Down-Literary-1974-1992/dp/0814740111/sr=8-1/qid=1158554986/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-2161039-3765661?ie=UTF8&s=books

Writers at the Alliance, the Educational Alliance's reading series, brings together established and emerging novelists, poets and essayists whose work, in both form and content, reflects the energy, diversity, and history of dissent which have always characterized the Lower East Side.

For more details, visit http://www.killfee.net/alliance.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

2007


When I got to work today, I was assigned a brand-new 2007 model taxi. It only had about 6400 miles on it, which probably makes it about six weeks old. It was clean and pristine and it still smelled new, and as I was pulling out of the lot, one of my fellow drivers joked and said, "Don't scratch it!"

Of course, within an hour, the bus seen above nearly took my right side mirror off. Luckily, I was able to avoid it, even though I was still a bit rusty from having not driven any kind of vehicle in a month.

It took me that first hour to warm up and get my rhythm and confidence back. But after that, everything was back to normal. The only real problem for the rest of the night was that I was constantly distracted by some gum on the sole of my shoe that kept sticking to the pedals.

Things could definitely have been worse.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Guess who's still not working?

I'm back, but it seems I've got a low level case of whatever this plague is that's been going around, the one with the incessant coughing and foggy head. It seems I caught it a few weeks ago, gave it to a few friends, got better, went away, came back, and then caught it again. So I'm avoiding the cab until next week. I wonder if those Canadian cigarettes had something to do with it.

And, on top of not feeling 100% health-wise, I'm having trouble finding the enthusiasm to get back into the swing of cab driving. Have I ever mentioned that I hate not only driving a cab, but also just driving at all? Or even being a passenger in a car? I much prefer the subway, even with all the pushing and positioning that goes on down there. It's just so much less stress. Even when I'm stuck in a tunnel in a crowded train, I'm still much more at ease than when aboveground, stuck in traffic.

My tolerance for the street was never this low until I started driving a cab. And now it appears I have some sort of visceral aversion to being strapped in to any kind of road vehicle. I've also become the worst back-seat driver that ever existed. If you knew me and owned a car, you would not want to take me anywhere at all, ever, because not only would I tell you how to drive, I would also tell you exactly which route to take and why you should take it. I would not only aggravate the shit out of you, I would bore you to tears describing traffic patterns, light times, bad intersections (and why they're bad), bridge & tunnel approaches, red-light cameras, and so on.

So, yeah, I hate to drive, but I'm real good at driving other people crazy.

Perhaps this means my next adventure should be some sort of job with the MTA or the Department of Transportation.

Or not.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Vancouver



[Updated to include photos]

So I'm in Vancouver. "On vacation," as they say. I haven't driven a cab in a few weeks. Instead, I spent that time completing the first draft of the book. Which I accomplished. And when I get back home next week, I will probably have my editor's notes for the second draft and get back to work on it. But I also plan to get back in the cab, even if it's on a minimal level.

Anyway, I arrived here in Canada yesterday and, of course, I'm experiencing a tiny bit of culture shock. It's been a little while since I left New York last, and everytime I do, there's a small transition. It's really quite beautiful here, and also incredibly quiet, to the point that it's creepy. I'm not used to it, but I can see the appeal.

So, of course, the first thing I did after leaving the airport was get into a taxi. The one we got was green and white, though there are plenty of yellow cabs around. I was a little skeptical at first that our ride would be slow and boring because this city seems so clean and pristine, but it turned out to be okay. Our driver had on flip-up shades under the brim of a tan Vancouver baseball hat. In the taxi, he sat up so completely straight that the top of his head was in constant contact with the ceiling of the car. He also had on spotless white gloves and drove with his arms at the strangest angle.

At the end of the ride, I decided I totally approved of his moves. I mean, he didn't do anything particularly special or out of the ordinary, but he definitely had that quick, efficient, get-you-there-in-one-piece-but-fast style that I have tried to perfect in my own driving.

The only other thing of note was that when I tried to buy cigarettes, they didn't have my brand. I didn't recognize most of the others either, so I resorted to treating the girl at the 7-11 like a salesperson who works on commission, asking her, "Can you recommend a good light cigarette?"

She handed me a pack of "Canadian Classics Lights" and said they were "popular." I bought them. They're alright.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Co-star


The woman pictured above was my first passenger last night.

Actually, she was my only passenger last night.

And, actually, it was all totally staged. Do you recognize her? In case you don't, she's an actress and her name is Tilda Swinton. I was recruited a few weeks back to play her cabbie as part of a project by artist Doug Aitken. He's working on a bunch of film scenes that will be projected on the facade of the Museum of Modern Art this January.

Last night was a little piece of the project and I was happy to participate, even though I don't think my presence will be too prominent in the end. Still, hopefully I'll be able to see myself on the MoMA walls it when it's all finished. There will also be a companion book that will feature, among other things, an interview with me.

Anyway, it was a totally new and fascinating experience, despite the initial waiting around that, I gathered, is the norm for any kind of film shoot. I showed up just before 3:00 pm and just sort of hung around for an hour or so while the crew got everything ready. Then Tilda pretended to hail me and I pretended to pick her up a few times. After that, the cab was rigged onto a trailer and we "drove" around the upper west side and Times Square.



I think that was my favorite part: Riding around a foot above the normal height pretending to drive a cab. It's far better than actually driving a cab. I was struck by how many people on the street gaped and gawked at us, took pictures, and yelled stupid comments. I'm so used to being sort of invisible in the cab, so this was utterly strange to me.

At one point, when we were passing FlashDancers, the Gentleman's Club, one of the doormen there called out, "A lady cab driver? Now I really don't believe it! There are no lady cab drivers in New York!"

Under normal circumstances I might have given him the finger, but I decided to hold off on that this time. The stupidest part of this guy's comment, though, was that I actually met him in my cab not too long ago. When a cab drops off its breast-hungry schmucks at FlashDancers, the doorman usually hands the driver an envelope containing a three dollar "tip," a letter written in every conceivable language encouraging cabbies to continue dropping off at this particular strip club, and a voucher or two for free entry to the club that we can give to our "favorite passengers." This very doorman, who couldn't believe a "lady cab driver" existed, had himself handed me this little package not too long ago. Clearly he has a short memory.

Overall, the night was a lot of fun. The lights were pretty, the not-actually-having-to-drive was wonderful, the people were all really great, and I think the project is going to look incredibly cool when it's finished.


At the end of the night, the director and his cast posed together for a picture.

Now I know what my next career move needs to be: Professional Fake Cab Driver.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The year in review


It's been just over a year since I started this thing, and since I'm not working this week, I figured I'd do a little yearly wrap-up/question-answering thing.

Basically, I started this blog last August after my dad gave me a digital camera for my 30th birthday. (And since so many people ask, it's a Canon Powershot SD 300).

I just turned 31 on Friday.

In the meantime, sometime around March I think, I got a book deal with Villard, an imprint of Random House.

Also in the meantime, over a million "unique visitors" (whatever that means) have looked at this blog.

I'm in the process of finishing up the first draft of said book, and these next few weeks are the final push, so I will probably be driving the cab even less while this is happening.

I've decided along the way that I'm not sure what's more difficult: driving a taxi in New York or writing a book about driving a taxi in New York.

Let's see. What else?

Even though I just renewed my hack license last month, I don't plan on driving the cab forever, or even for too much longer for that matter. But, then again, I've been saying that for almost a year already, so who knows. This job is like quicksand in that it just has a way of sucking you in, it seems.

I did my first public reading last month as part of a fundraiser for the Taxi Worker's Alliance. Despite my utter stagefright (I'm more afraid of reading in front of live actual people than I am of driving a cab at night in New York), it seemed to go pretty well and the Taxi Worker's Alliance gave me a free t-shirt. A week after this, a friend of mine took a cab home to Brooklyn and had Kevin Fitzpatrick, one of the organizers, as her cabbie. When she told him she saw him at the fundraiser, he gave her the ride for free and refused to take any money from her at all.

I will be doing another reading on October 17th at the Educational Alliance as part of a series called "Writers at the Alliance." I'm already scared to death.

Anyway -- and this is where it gets a little corny -- I just wanted to say that driving the cab these past few years, and even doing this blog for the past year, has made me feel brave enough to try anything, to embark on other adventures, and to push for a variety of new experiences in my life. That was the whole point of getting my hack license to begin with: I wanted to try something new and completely foreign to me while making a living and without having to settle and commit to some shitty "career" for the rest of my life. And it has worked out pretty well so far, all things considered.

Everyone knows I'm not in love with driving a cab -- I mean, it is indeed a love/hate relationship, but the hate definitely wins out as the more prevalent feeling. Still it's been precisely these ups and downs that have brought me the greatest amount of joy, heartbreak, and of course, aggravation, none of which I ever would have experienced to this degree doing any other job.

I'm still driving, though much less these days, as some of you have noticed. On top of trying to finish the book, I am in the process of trying to figure out what my next step will be job-wise. So, who knows, you may log on to New York Hack one day only to discover that it's the blog of an ex-cabbie turned animal welfare cop, or Red Cross worker, or Peace Corps activist, or weirdo ranch hand, or whatever else I may try my hand at in the future.

So, anyway, this is just to say happy new year! And thanks for reading.


***[UPDATE: Because there seems to be some misunderstanding here, I would like to clarify that I have not quit yet! This was not supposed to be a farewell message or anything. I'm still driving and will probably pick up more shifts once the stupid UN General Assembly is over later this month (even though it hasn't even convened yet), because I no longer have the heart for that kind of traffic (see September 2005 Archive for why). Anyway, yeah. You can't get rid of me that easily.]***

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

You're alright



There was a weird vibe out there tonight. Maybe it was the rain these past few days, or the change of season, or the noticeably earlier sunset, who knows, but there was just some sort of odd mood happening. It should go without saying by now that business was slow. It's August. Everyone who can afford to be is out of town. And those that are left are not necessarily taking cabs.

I did get a little lucky out at LaGuardia this evening. I was flagged down by a hotel doorman on East 42nd Street and, as the trunk was being loaded up with luggage, another cabbie that was parked in front of the hotel came over and told me he was "giving" me this job because he would rather go to Kennedy than LaGuardia. Sucks for him, though, because I found out not long after that the Taxi Hold Lot at Kennedy was at like a thousand percent of capacity and moving slow.

I got to LaGuardia without any traffic hassles and waited in the US Air lot, which is next to the Delta terminal (seen above). It's always a gamble to pull into the airport, and then a further gamble deciding which lot to wait in. For the first time in months it seems, I made the right choice. The lot moved relatively quickly and I was on my way back to Manhattan with a passenger within 40 minutes.

Back in the city, though, the streets were tough. Competition was fierce and the regular "civilian" drivers were moving like zombies. I had one altercation that could've been bad, but ended up being a nice moment.

I was changing lanes at the same time as this Nissan Altima on the other side of Third Avenue. The problem was, we were both trying to get into the same lane at the same time but from opposite directions. I swerved back over just in time to avoid a collision, but not in time to avoid hearing the driver of the car, a young black man, call me a motherfucker. He sneered at me and I just shook my head and shrugged my shoulders, like, "Whatever."

As we approached the next light side by side, he took another look at me and said, "Oh, I thought you were a guy." His two passengers were now staring. I just nodded my head and looked away, not knowing what he was getting at and not really wanting to get into anything.

Five minutes later, we ended up next to each other again. Smiling this time, he called over and said, "You're alright, man. You're alright!"

I don't know what brought on this change of heart, but I didn't question it. All I knew was that, somehow, I went from being a "motherfucker" to "alright" in a matter of minutes. And it was certainly a better outcome than having him take his dick out at me.

If only it was always this easy.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cow catcher



It almost seemed like the usual last-two-weeks-of-August empty-city curse might have been lifted when I got stuck in massive throngs of people walking in the traffic lanes near Penn Station, but, alas, the curse has hit, and hard. It took me 45 minutes to find my first passenger tonight, which is just frustrating. That's not supposed to happen in the beginning of the shift, and it makes the night look hopeless.

I often tell myself, All I need is the first one, and then everything will fall into place, which is usually true, but when getting that first passenger proves to be more difficult than it should be, my outlook starts to look real dark. Of course, eventually, someone deigned to get in my cab and pay me to drive them somewhere, and slowly but surely, other fares followed, but the damage was done. The night proved to be dead slow, worse than usual, and I spent a lot of time by myself between jobs.

Sometime during rush hour a man and his teenage son got in the cab. They were visitors from Canada. Shortly after getting in, the man commented on the "Passenger's Bill of Rights" posted on the partition. We laughed at how ridiculous it is, and how sad. And also what it says about how the city feels about its taxi drivers, and so on.

We also got along because, when a bunch of genius pedestrians walked in front of my cab against the light, the man suggested I invest in something called a "cow catcher." He explained that it's that slanty thing seen on the front of locomotives and they serve to move animals and objects out of the way and off the tracks. I agreed that I absolutely needed a cow catcher. Especially today when the pedestrians seemed particularly suicidal.

They told me they were visiting the man's brother and leaving tomorrow. The son had never been here before, the father hadn't been here in over 20 years. We had a pleasant ride together and when they got out, they left me a decent tip.

Anyway, when my next passenger got in, he handed me a wallet and said he found it on the backseat. I immediately knew it belonged to the Canadian man. It contained only a Canadian "Operator's License" and a credit card, nothing else.

Now, I have to admit, had this guy been a dick, I might've taken some pleasure in throwing the wallet away, but he hadn't been. So I found the 800 number on the back of the credit card and called the company. I explained what happened and gave them my number. I felt bad for the guy. There was no way he was gonna be allowed on a plane tomorrow without his ID.

A half hour later, he called and asked if I could go back to where I dropped him off and return the wallet, telling me he would make it worth my while. Those words are like magic. They just make it a lot easier to go off-duty during rush hour for a complete stranger. It's like, at least the person knows you're going to be losing time, which equals money in this business, and they don't have an unhealthy sense of entitlement, which many New Yorkers definitely seem to have when it comes to cabs. But it's also a gamble, because you never know at what rate a person values your time.

Still, at that point, it didn't really matter. This guy deserved a favor, and I was happy to do it, even if it ended up as a loss for me. I hit my off-duty light and, of course, that was the moment when a hundred people decided they absolutely needed my cab, but I was on a mission to do a good thing and be a good person for a change, so I ignored their hails.

When I finally made it back to him, I jokingly told him that I only did a little shopping with his credit card at Circuit City and Best Buy, but I hadn't maxed it out yet. He was so relieved that I came back, he just laughed. Then he handed me fifty bucks and said, "You're my favorite New Yorker ever."

The whole interaction, plus the generous reward, pretty much made my night. So, ultimately, I came out way ahead.

I'm totally gonna use that fifty bucks as a down payment on a cow catcher.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Reminder

I'll be reading from my book at the cabbie fundraiser tomorrow night at Rocky Sullivan's on Lex between 28th and 29th. The event goes from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

Also, I will be among a bunch of cabbies telling cabbie stories on WBAI tomorrow afternoon from 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm. Listen in at 99.5 FM or www.wbai.org. We will be taking calls too.


Update on how to hear the show:

You can hear the WBAI show live at www.wbai.org. About 10 minutes after the broadcast it will be up on the www.wbai.org archive under Radio Free Eireann.

The Saturday night show will also be available on www.nysoundposse.com by Sunday night.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Brooklyn


I know it's inconvenient for a lot of people, but I have to say thank goodness for MTA construction. The night was pretty slow until the L train to Brooklyn shut down at midnight, and I ended up making lucrative little circles between 14th Street and Williamsburg. It helped my earnings quite a bit.

My oddest ride of the night, however, happened earlier in the night when I picked up a 20-something-year-old woman coming out of Flashdancers, the strip club on 52nd and Broadway. She was going to Park Slope to look at an apartment and her speech was slurred in a really weird way. She didn't seem drunk, just out of it, or maybe a little crazy. Or on pills, perhaps.

Anyway, she was busy on the phone for a lot of the ride. The first call sounded like total nonsense. I only caught snippets, but they were weird enough to get stuck in my mind.

She was speaking to someone named Elizabeth and she was mad at her because she wanted to go out and party tonight. She said, "I'm tired. I'm not going out. I did my deal, and I totally need liposuction. But I'm off work tomorrow." After a brief pause, she said, "You really need to move out of your dad's house. You're seventeen. I practically raised you."

When she hung up with Elizabeth, we rode into Brooklyn in silence until she got another call. After her initial hello, she slurred, "Anyway, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.... Do you know how much I love you?"

When we pulled up to her destination, she paid the fare, but then wouldn't get out of the cab because she dropped her phone somewhere in her huge purse and couldn't find it. She turned to me and said, "You're hot," and then, "Oh, my phone! My boyfriend is gonna think I'm crazy."

She sat there for a few minutes calling out to her boyfriend on the other end of the phone, saying "Hello? Hello? Hello?" and instructing him to yell really loud so she could hear him and locate the phone. After a few tries, she finally found it.

She held it up like a prize, grinning like a chimpanzee, and then shoved it through the partition at me. She looked and sounded completely insane when she tried to get me to say hi to her boyfriend.

Not wanting to be rude, I said "Hi," but I also found myself really wanting her to get out of my cab already, so I added, "Okay, well, have a good night!" But she apparently wasn't ready to go yet. She got back on the phone with her boyfriend and just sort of continued casually chatting with him while not making any motion to leave. She was laughing and still slurring as she explained to him exactly how she lost her phone in her bag but now she found it. I'm sure he was fascinated.

At this point, the meter had been off for a while and I just wanted to get her out and get on with my night, so I repeated myself two more times, getting louder and louder so she could hear me over her own conversation.

"OKAY, have a good night!"

There was no response from her as she just kept chattering along.

"O-KAY. HAVE. A. GOOD. NIGHT."

This snapped her out of it and she seemed to remember where she was. She said, "Huh? Oh, right, yeah. Thanks cab driver!" as she got out and slammed the door.

Yeah. It wasn't only her boyfriend who thought she was crazy.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Just saying


So I'm doing my very first reading this Saturday at a fundraiser to help the Taxi Worker's Alliance in their attempt to deal with rising gas prices. I'll be reading a section from the book I've been working on. I hope some of you that are in New York can come out and lend your support.

The press release is as follows:

HELP DRIVE CABBIES BACK OUT OF POVERTY
Join us on SATURDAY, AUGUST 19, 2006
At a fundraiser to help cab drivers earn a living wage

With gas prices soaring, manhole covers blowing, and power outages knocking out traffic lights, it has never been harder to be a cab driver in NYC. Join the Taxi Worker's Alliance and NYC cabbies for a night of music, comedy, poetry, and prose.

Saturday, August 19th
Rocky Sullivan's Bar, located on Lexington Ave. at 29th Street
from 6:00 - 9:00 pm

Performances by cabbies:

John McDonagh, founder of CAB Cabbies Against Bush, doing comedy

Randy Credico, project director of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, also doing comedy

Davidson Garrett, author of King Lear of the Taxi, reading poetry

Melissa Plaut, writer of the New York Hack blog, reading an excerpt
from her upcoming book to be published by Villard in 2007

Also featuring:
Music by Moogie Klingman with a new song about cabdrivers
Kevin Fitzpatrick
Steve Smith
Seth "The Kaballagh Kabbie"
Bhairavi Desai
Jerry Hassett (Green Party)

Suggested donation is $10.00 or 3 gallons of gas.
All donations go towards the Alliance's ongoing efforts to petition the NYC administration in order to help cab drivers earn a livable wage in the face of the gas-price crisis.

ALSO:
Tune in to WBAI, 99.5 FM or wbai.org, that afternoon from 1:30 to 3:00 pm to hear NYC cabbies tell their favorite stories from behind the wheel. You can listen live at www.wbai.org.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gimme all your money


[An omen?]


[Apparently German Shepherds are licensed to drive in Brooklyn.]

It was another ghost town night. The streets were virtually empty and I imagine the heat was keeping everyone indoors. At first I thought the theme of the night was gonna be babies since I had a three-month old child in the cab followed by a four-months pregnant lady. But then that ended when an old Polish lady got in on the upper east side and proceeded to describe the three times she got mugged.

One of these times, she had stopped at the candy store on her way home as it was apparently in the process of being robbed. When she entered the store, the robber grabbed her and locked her in a closet with six other similarly terrorized people. He then stripped her of all her money and jewelry.

In her mind, the mugging was somehow related to the misfortune of owning a car in New York, saying, "If only I hadn't found that parking spot in front of the store, I would've just gone straight home and it would never have happened." She got rid of her car soon afterward.

The night went on in the usual boring fashion, but when I got back to the garage, another driver told me a story about how he was once mugged at gunpoint by three guys (he was not working at the time). Unfortunately for them -- and him, I suppose -- he only had one single pathetic little dollar on him. He was on his way to buy a can of beer. When they found the dollar, he told them, "I guess you picked the wrong guy." They took the dollar anyway.

Luckily, I was not mugged tonight, but I was mugged several years ago when I still lived in the East Village. (Note to my parents: Stop reading this right now.) I was walking alone when two guys approached me. When they got close, one of them actually said, "Gimme all your fuckin money."

I almost laughed, thinking he was kidding, since it was such a clich├ęd movie line. But then I looked down and saw the knife pointed at my stomach, and I quickly stopped smiling. I gave them what I had, which amounted to about $40, but they were thorough, and made me face a wall as they patted me down to check for any hidden cash. When they were finally satisfied they had gotten it all, they ran off, and I staggered home in a terrified daze.

The driver at the garage tonight assured me that "it will happen" again. He also informed me that hiding my night's earnings in my sock was not really very effective. But I guess I already knew that.

I wonder if, using the logic of the Polish lady, any future muggings could possibly be avoided if only I got rid of my car. And maybe the cab, too. But I bet that German Shepherd up there in the driver's seat won't be getting mugged any time soon.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I should start a blog


On Ninth Avenue tonight, two guys were walking in the middle of the street. When I pulled up behind them, one of them turned around and, instead of getting out of the way and walking on the sidewalk like a normal human being, said, "Calm yourself, you fucking CUNT."

This was so out of nowhere and so utterly uncalled for, I snapped. I was, at that point in my shift, just so sick of the abuse, sick of the idea that some idiot crossing in traffic can turn around and use some shitty sexist slur against me, and sick of the fact that it even bothered me at all. But it did. In fact, I'd rather be called an asshole, or even a motherfucker, but cunt? It hardly fits.

So, yeah, I lost my cool. Despite the fact that I had a passenger in the backseat -- a circumstance under which I usually have much more restraint, since the point here is to work and make money and not let shit get to you -- I yelled out the window a very boring and tired old "Why don't you come back here and call me a cunt to my face, you fucking retard."

The guy, of course, returned my unoriginal question with his own very unoriginal move of grabbing his balls at me. At that point I had unbuckled my seatbelt and was reaching for my camera, but just then the light turned green and I remembered I had a passenger, remembered that I was working, not playing some stupid ego game, so I pulled myself together and just drove away.

I felt pretty stupid and weird and pissed off, and I felt I had to say something to my passenger so he didn't think he was riding with some psychopath -- though, at that point, he was. I said, "Sorry about that. I'm just sick of these guys who walk in the middle of the street and then think that I'm like trying to hit them or something, and then say shit to me like I shouldn't be driving on the street they're walking on."

The guy didn't seem phased, saying only, "Oh, it's okay." Maybe he really didn't care, but I have a feeling he might have been scared of me, and I ended up feeling like a total fool. Maybe even a bit of an asshole, but definitely not a cunt.

Later on, my last job of the night, I took a middle-aged heavyset guy to Glendale, Queens. The entire ride there we talked about the rising price of gas and he explained to me in complicated detail the mechanics of our economy and how gas prices were going to exceed people's need for the stuff and eventually prices would go down, etc, etc.

After a while, he asked if I was a student. I get asked this one a lot since I look a lot younger than my 30 years. I said no. Then he asked, "Well do you do something else besides driving the cab?" I've learned over the past few years that people really like it if you're doing something else. They don't like to hear that you're just a cab driver, they want you to be working towards something.

I've started to tell people different things, but a lot of times I just give some vague, weird, embarrassed answer like, "I guess I'm trying to be a writer these days," or something like that. Sometimes I'll even tell them about the blog, but most often not.

This guy got all excited when he heard this answer. He went on and on about writing and then said, "You should use the internet to leverage that -- have you heard of blogs?"

I said yes, and was about to tell him I had one, but I couldn't really get a word in as he quickly went on to explain, again in meticulous detail, how I could start a blog and get Google advertising on it and get twenty- to thirty-thousand hits a day (not likely) and make a ton of money. By then we were in front of his house and talking with the meter off already, so I didn't really feel like getting into it and prolonging the conversation. I just let him talk himself out until finally he paid me, wished me luck, and jumped out.

I probably really should start a blog, shouldn't I.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

$150


A few months ago -- in fact, it was May 18, "Taxi Appreciation Day" -- I got a ticket by the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) for making a turn during daytime non-turning hours. I figured it wouldn't hurt to fight it, since the fine was for $150, no small amount of change, so I went down to the big TLC building in Long Island City last week and -- guess what? I lost.

I don't know why I ever thought for a second I might get out of it, since I was indeed guilty and the TLC is definitely not renowned for forgiveness, but I was determined to try nonetheless. When I got into the hearing room, the ticketing officer recognized me right away. He had seen his own picture posted on the site and amiably complained to me that he looked like he was sleeping in the shot. He wasn't. He was simply looking down, writing my ticket.

We chatted for a few minutes while the administrative judge finished up the case just before mine, and then we got sworn in. The officer gave his testimony, I gave mine, then showed the judge pictures of how there are no signs at the intersection of 49th and 2nd Ave warning drivers that, if they turn on 49th, they'll be trapped on a "Thru-Street," meaning you can't turn off until Park. This didn't really matter, I guess. I still made the turn, even though I didn't mean to break the law.

The whole thing took about ten minutes, and when we got out of the hearing room, I joked with the officer, saying "I hope I never see you again." Then I spent close to an hour waiting for the decision, and here I got to observe the unruly chaos of the TLC adjudication floor. Men streamed in and out of hearing rooms, chatted loudly on cell phones in the waiting area, and cheap lawyers in shiny suits "advised" drivers about how to plead.

Finally, my name was called over the loudspeaker and I approached the information desk. They were handing back decisions, and when I got up to the front, the woman behind the counter handed me a piece of paper and said, "Go to the cashier. Have a nice day." There was no joy in her voice, just a not-quite-polite monotone that seemed to come from repeating the same words over and over all day everyday.

The paper read as follows:

The Inspector credibly testified that, during an assignment at the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 49th Street, on May 18, 2006 at 4:02 pm, he observed the driver/respondent in a taxi approach the intersection in a westbound direction and make a left onto Lexington Avenue (southbound) from East 49th Street. He testified that a sign was posted (facing east on 49th Street onto Lexington Avenue) stating "No left turns Monday thru Friday, 10:00am - 6:00pm." He then stopped the vehicle and personally issued summons to the respondent.

In her testimony, the respondent stated that the testimony of the inspector was accurate, but that she did not intentionally violate the "no turn" rule. She testified that she did not see the sign due to the volume of traffic.

Even though the respondent may not have intended to violate the "no turn" rule, this is not a valid defense to a violation of TLC Rule 2-21B2, as set forth in this summons.

Accordingly, a violation of 2-21B2 is sustained.

I guess the judge wasn't interested in my little "lack of a sign on 2nd Avenue" defense. (Note to DOT: Put a damn sign up there already.) But my main problem with the whole thing was that I'd rather get a ticket for something I actually meant to do, rather than just for some stupid mistake I made.

I paid my $150 at the cashier and vowed to never make that stupid mistake ever again.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Neil



So things went a little better tonight. The afternoon consisted of passengers that were eager to talk about the building explosion on the upper east side (photo above of the blocked-off end of 62nd Street at Park Ave). The radio was going on about it over and over, so I was able to give everyone up-to-the-minute updates. It's funny to see so many reactions to a bizarre local news story. It seemed like most people were mildly amused by the whole thing, mainly, I think, because no one died and because the guy was clearly a lunatic.

Anyway, later in the evening I picked up a well-dressed French man going to a hotel in SoHo. We chatted for a bit and, of course, the World Cup came up. I'm not a big soccer fan or anything, but I did happen to see the final game on Sunday. The poor guy, I actually felt a little bad for him. He talked about the game with deep regret, saying, "It would've been better if it was the Germans, not the Italians."

Just to be sure, I clarified. "You mean, you would prefer to lose to Germany than to Italy."

He laughed a tiny bit and said, "Yes. That is correct."

In other World Cup news, near the end of my shift, two girls and a very drunk guy got in at Ludlow and Stanton. The girls entered the cab by the curb, but the guy entered street-side. When he got in, he took one look at me and started yelling, saying, "Oh shit! You look Italian! Are you Italian?"

Then he started singing, but the whole time, his door was wide open and cars were starting to zip by with only inches to spare. A few more seconds like that and I knew the door would be gone. But when I asked him to close it, he refused. He just sat there staring at me and yelling that I was Italian. (I'm not.)

I turned around and threatened to kick him out of the cab if he didn't calm down and close the door, but the girls persuaded me not to. Then they took a turn yelling at him to shut the door, and finally he did.

I was, by that point, considerably annoyed. The two girls were sweet, though, and began apologizing for his behavior. I was ready to let it go, but he continued yelling, and finally went to reach through the partition. As far as I'm concerned, this a big no-no. With one hand on the wheel, I reached back with the other and slammed it shut in his face. He drew his hand back in time but, unfortunately, I could still hear him. He turned to his friends and said, "This is the worst cab experience ever. Isn't it?"

They said, "No, Neil, it isn't. She's just doing her job and you're being an ass."

I was happy that they understood where I was coming from. I was also happy that it was only a short ride. Neil continued acting like a dick, singing Pearl Jam songs and demanding I put on Hot 97, until we finally reached St. Mark's and First Ave. I opened the partition and said, "That'll be $4.60." The girls apologized again, handed me a ten, and told me to keep it.

Then, as they exited on the curb side, Neil, staying true to his asshole form, got out on the street side, flinging the door open on to oncoming cars. Me and the girls yelled, but he ignored us and continued exiting as cars swerved around us up First Ave.

When my next passenger got in, he said, "Do you smoke?"

I said, "Yeah, why do you ask?"

"Oh, someone left a full pack of cigarettes on the seat."

He handed me a brand-new unopened pack of cigarettes. I was sure they were Neil's and felt gratified that he at least paid some small price for his stupidity, and that I got a little something extra out of the deal, in addition to the nice tip.

My gratification turned to disappointment, however, when I noticed the brand: Marlboro Light Menthols. I would've happily smoked just about any brand, especially when it's free, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Of course, it made perfect sense. Only a dick named Neil would buy those -- and then lose them, unopened, in a cab.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Stupid mistakes





Last night was a total bust from beginning to end. I made a number of mistakes and bad decisions, the first of which was showing up to work at all. When I got to the garage, the first thing anybody said to me was "Did you gain weight?" I'm not a big person and I don't think I'll ever manage to be overweight, but still. The question is tough to hear. No one wants to gain weight, even if it's just couple of pounds from too many burritos.

Granted, the question was asked in a well-meaning way, followed by a "No, I mean, you look good!" But the damage was done. I mean, how could someone notice if I gained a few pounds when there are a bunch of fat cabbies hanging out not 10 feet away. Anyway, I just woke up and checked myself out in the mirror but I don't seem any different. A few nights ago I wasn't anorexic enough, and now this.

Anyway, when I pulled out of the garage, something smelled funny. I couldn't tell if it was coming from my cab or just from the area I was in so I continued on over the bridge. When I got to the other side, I knew for sure it was my cab. This time it smelled like some kind of horrible toxic oil was burning. I thought maybe it was something spilled on the engine and that it would burn off after a little while, but it never did.

I checked with a few of my passengers to see if they smelled it to, in order to make sure I wasn't going crazy, and they did. But when I checked under the hood, the smell wasn't there. After about an hour, I realized it was coming from somewhere underneath the car, and it didn't seem to have any plans of going away. Now slightly dizzy, nauseous, and with a small headache, I went back to the garage to get it looked at.

I know nothing about cars, but apparently the "rear end was blown out." Or at least that's what it sounded like Lincoln, the head mechanic, said. Then I think he was playing with me because he said, "You ruined my car!" I said back, "Your car ruined my night!" But my night wasn't ruined enough yet, apparently. Walter, one of the cashiers, set me up with an SBV (stand-by vehicle), which is a back-up cab that borrows the medallions from regular cabs that are being worked on. At that point, I didn't want to work anymore -- my rhythm was gone, my head felt weird, and I had lost heart, but Walter, who is a buddy of mine, had no intention of letting me get away with that. What he did say was that he would give me a hundred dollar discount (which I'm sure he would never really do, but it's worth a try) if I mentioned him on the site. Hi Walter!

I lost over an hour of my shift to that stupid car, and when I finally got back on the streets, it was spotty business. Two hours later, I got a lady going to Queens. When I dropped her off, I got another fare deeper into Queens. And here's where the mistakes really start to stack up. It's almost as if I was a brand new driver last night, because when I finally dropped those last people off, I tried to head over to LaGuardia (mistake), but ended up getting lost and taking a long stupid way there (mistake).

When I got there, I pulled into the Delta lot (big fucking mistake), and sat there for over an hour. When I finally got to the front of the line, bad luck kicked in and I got a fare going to Far fucking Rockaway. It's called "Far Rockaway" for a reason, as it's a million miles from the city, but what it is near is Kennedy Airport. So after I dropped off, I made my biggest mistake of the night and drove into the Central Taxi Hold lot at Kennedy.

By this time it was midnight. The lot looked promising as it was only about 40% full, which is usually a good thing, but not last night. I sat there and waited. And waited. And waited. I got stared at by some disgusting, pervy cab driver, who wouldn't even stop staring after I took his photo (featured above). I sat in my cab and read a book, bought a buttered roll (that lacked much butter), talked on the phone to Allen and Diego, and smoked a ton of cigarettes.

Finally, two and a half hours later, I couldn't take it anymore. When you pull into that lot, you get trapped in a lane, with cabs parked in front of you, next to you, and behind you. But by 2:30, a bunch of the cabs in the lanes around me had given up and reversed out of there empty. The lane next to me was now clear, so, being tired, frustrated, and utterly disgusted with the piece of shit night I had been having, I gave up too.

I pulled out empty and drove straight back to the garage, but, of course, not without having to take the long way, since the Van Wyck was closed for construction. But I guess that was just a little extra bonus for me, courtesy of the Department of Transportation.

The only good thing that happened last night was that when I got back to the garage, I stood around bullshitting for a while with Merrill, Abe, and Allen. In the post-shift delirium, those guys made me laugh so hard, I think I actually may have lost those few extra pounds I had supposedly gained. So maybe the night wasn't a total bust after all.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The 3rd of July



It was a hot, glorious day when I left the garage and drove over the 59th Street Bridge into Manhattan. The only problem with this Monday afternoon was that the city was virtually empty. The usual rush hour business was nonexistent, with most people either taking the day off of work or gone out of town. The whole rhythm of the night was affected and it was just a weird pace for the entire shift. I had little clusters of passengers and then would spend up to 30 minutes driving around empty looking for work. But with the holiday, those who were left in the city decided to go out and as the night wore on, it began to look more like a weekend night than a Monday.

Of course, the later it got, the drunker everyone became. Luckily, everyone, drunk or not, seemed to be in a good mood. Two girls got in the cab outside of an Irish bar on the upper east side wanting to go to Bowery Bar on Great Jones and Bowery. After gossiping for a few minutes about some friend of theirs who they suspect has an eating disorder, they noticed me. One of them leaned up to the partition and said, "Hey, is that place any good, Bowery Bar?"

I replied, "I'm not sure. I was there once or twice a few years ago, but I don't know what it's like now. What was wrong with the bar you just left?"

"It was full of ugly guys."

"Oh."

"Yeah, they should call it McUglies, not McFaddens."

Then they grilled me for a few minutes about what it's like to be "a female cab driver," and, when I gave them my boring, routine answers, they went back to trash talking about their anorexic friend.

I guess I didn't look skinny enough to hold their interest.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Private parts


After sitting at LaGuardia for an hour this afternoon (US Air lot pictured in my mirror above), I finally got back to a very slow city. Business was thin pretty much all night. But I did manage to have one interesting/strange conversation with a man who took my cab for five blocks. It went like this:

Him: "Let me guess -- you're an artist."

Me: "An artist? No. Why do you say that?"

Him: "Well, I'm an artist and you just strike me as one. You have very meditational eyes."

Me: "Meditational eyes? What does that mean?"

Him: "I can only see your eyes in the mirror, I haven't seen the rest of your face yet, but your eyes say that something needs to come out, like off your skin. Like sweat."

Me: (confused, turning on the air conditioner)

Him: "I just feel it from you.... You know, I'm married to a priest."

Me: "A priest?"

(At this point I decide I need to stop repeating everything he says because I'm annoying myself.)

Him: "Yes. We got married in San Francisco."

Me: "That's nice. That'll be $4.20 please.

Him: (counting) "One, two, three, five. Bye!"


Don't ask, because I have no idea.


The only other thing worth mentioning concerns the little girl whose parents took the time to teach her about her "private parts" while in my cab. It came up because she started talking very loudly about her "giny," screaming the word gleefully over and over again and, I assume, either touching or pointing to it.** Her parents gently told her not to talk about such things in public. When she insisted on knowing why, they responded, "Because it's private. That's why they're called your private parts."

I privately cringed and sped to their Upper West Side destination before the conversation could move on to bowel movements or some such other "private" topic.

Oh, and one other thing. I don't think I've mentioned yet that, ever since summer started, people have been jaywalking like crazy. It's out of control and I noticed today that it's finally taking its toll when I saw no fewer than five people hobbling around on crutches. Perhaps some people have learned their lesson? As someone who's been hit by a car and spent an entire summer on crutches, all I have to say is, just wait for the light. It's so much easier than breaking your foot on a car and ruining your summer.



** A little update to prevent any confusion over how this special word is pronounced, because these things are clearly important. The closest phonetic I can come up with is jie-nee, like the word "tiny" but with a J instead of a T.
I hope I never hear this word ever again.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Heat



Since so many people leave New York for the summer, the taxi business gets slow. Which also means not as many interesting things happen in the cab. Or, at least, not my cab.

Last night, the big event had to do with my air conditioning. After driving for a short while, I noticed it was blowing out a funny smell and I was starting to feel a little lightheaded. I dropped off some tourists at the Apollo Theater on 125th Street and called Allen, an old-time driver, and told him I was having a problem.

Allen is a strange, funny, almost child-like guy. An orthodox Jew from Williamsburg by day and a human global positioning system by night, Allen knows how to get anywhere from anywhere in the five boroughs with block-by-block precision. He also has plenty of answers for any other question a younger, stupider driver like me might have, but his answers to non-directions-related questions can be hit or miss.

I got him on the phone and our conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hey, my A.C. smells weird. It's giving me a headache and making me a little dizzy. Do you know what that could be?"

Allen: "Oh I know what it is -- does it smell like coffee?"

Me: "Uhh, no. It's more chemical like."

Allen: "Okay. Does it smell like crap?"

Me: "No, it just smells sort of toxic, like I'm losing brain cells."

Allen: "Is it blowing warm air?"

Me: "No."

Allen: "Does it smell like plastic?"

Me: "Yeah, sort of. It's in that family."

Allen: "Oh, okay, yeah. It must've been the day driver ran over a plastic bag and it melted onto the pipe. You're fine. It's no big deal."

Me: "Okay. Thanks."

Allen: "I'll call you later to see what's doing."

Allen took the night off yesterday, but calling each other when we're not working is something we can't help but do. If one of us was supposed to work and didn't, we'll check in to find out how business is, to hear what the traffic is like, and basically to see what we missed. If we discover it was a slow night, we feel good for having taken the night off. If it was busy, there's a pang of regret that we missed out on it. I don't know if other cabbies do this, but I do it all the time with Allen and Diego. Last night was nothing special, so Allen should be happy to know he didn't miss much.

In light of that, I felt no regret at quitting only seven hours into the shift as the chemical fumes from the A.C. were starting to turn my head around. I returned the cab and called it a night.


Meanwhile, the driver of this cab clearly had a more eventful night than I did.

Sometimes it's just better for it to be boring.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Yes, I do own the road


I don't really have much to report. Nothing all that interesting happened tonight. There were no celebrities in my cab and not one person gave me the finger. Of course, the same old out of state drivers pulled the same old idiot moves, which is nothing new, but it made me think some introductions might need to be made. You know, like, "Connecticut, meet the gas pedal," and "Pennsylvania, meet the turn signal," and of course, "New Jersey, meet all of the above, as well as the 'end call' button on your cell phone." It almost seems like these states require their drivers to be either brain dead or a meth head in order to get a license. I'll never understand it.

Oh, and around 2:30 am there was one crazy, possibly drunk, lady in a Nissan Maxima. She pulled up alongside me at a red light and started yelling at me. My window was up so I couldn't really hear what she was saying, but it sounded like she was telling me I was disgusting. I just ignored her, but when the light changed, she veered directly into me, forcing me to swerve into the other lane to avoid getting hit by her.

I still have no idea why she did that. I did nothing to provoke her. But I was sufficiently pissed, so I, in turn, pulled the reactionary asshole move of getting in front of her at the next opportunity and slowing way down, ultimately stopping at the green light. It was late, I was tired, and since business was slowing down, I had nothing better to do. It's not my usual way of handling these things but I couldn't resist the impulse to annoy her for a minute. She was trapped behind me and leaned on the horn, which was somewhat gratifying. But eventually I got bored of that and got away from her.

That was about it by way of excitement for the night.

Earlier in the evening, I saw the best sign ever. It was on this cabbie's rear windshield:

The picture didn't come out very well so you may not be able to read it. The sign says, "Yes, I do own the road." I think I need to get one of these. I'll probably get the finger a lot more that way.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Handicap


So after a week with an ear infection, I got back to work and was greeted by the wanna-be thugs pictured above. They got mad at me because I wouldn't let them cut me off when their lane of traffic was blocked. At the next red light, they pulled up next to me and yelled, "Asshole!" Determined to try and stay cool for at least one full shift (which, for some reason, has been a lot harder these days), I just laughed and said, "That's very original."

This must've pissed them off even more because one of them said, "If you were a guy, I'd spit on you." Then they gave me my favorite finger, so I pulled out the camera. The best part of all this was, as others have done before him, the finger-giver held his pose for the camera. In fact, I almost didn't get the shot and said, "No, wait!" So they rolled the window back down and he politely held on for another second until I got the shot. Of course, afterwards he said, "You want a picture of my dick?"

I replied, "Sure, right after I get a picture of your license plate." The light finally changed and, just for the fun of it, I actually did take a shot of the plate (but not the dick). As I took the picture, I saw that the plate had the little wheelchair symbol that indicates that the driver of the car is disabled. I realized then that the symbol was probably there to warn other drivers about this guy's handicapped mental abilities. Though, on second thought, it's too bad I didn't take him up on his offer of the dick shot, because perhaps that's where his disability lies.

The shift continued on and traffic was refreshingly light. But just as I was wondering if anything interesting, other than dicks and middle fingers, would ever happen in my cab again, the guy pictured below got in.

Recognize him? I did immediately, and I don't even have cable. (It's Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, in case you weren't sure.) Much to my own surprise, I was a bit starstruck. So much so that I actually forgot to turn the meter on for about 15 blocks. He was on the phone and remained oblivious to me for the entire ride until finally, as I dropped him at his destination, I worked up the gumption to interrupt his conversation. And you know what? He was cool as hell. So many cabbies have celebrity stories where the person turns out to be a total asshole, but not Jon Stewart.

I sputtered away at him for a minute and finally told him about the blog and asked if I could take his picture. He graciously posed for me and was incredibly modest and nice. And thank goodness, because it would've been depressing if I had to write about one more dick.

Oh yeah, and he tipped well, too.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Shortcuts

I was sort of quoted in today's New York Post, in the "25 Things Every New Yorker Should Know" section.

The excerpt is here:
How to shortcut like a cabbie

Higgins of "Taxi Talk" and Melissa Plaut, editor of the cabbie-themed newyorkhack.blogspot.com, recommend a few favorite routes to save time and hit the coveted sea of greens:

Shortcut One: If there's traffic on the way to JFK Airport, take the back route through Brooklyn (Bushwick to Pennsylvania to Atlantic to Conduit Avenue).

Shortcut Two: If the goal is to cruise uptown during the day, take 10th Avenue uptown for 40 or 50 blocks, which is better than grinding it out on Eighth Avenue.

Shortcut Three: If it's after 9 p.m. and you're commuting from the West Side to the Upper East Side, try 56th Street. The green lights are like ducks in a row.

The link is here if you want to read the whole thing.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Nothing special



The Thursday night before Memorial Day weekend is always hectic. Rush hour traffic reports were truly apocalyptic, and it seemed that the congestion lasted long into the night. I stayed busy, though, which is always good. And, luckily, that was really the only semi-interesting thing that happened tonight.

It seemed like most people were in a good mood, probably due to the upcoming three-day weekend, and those who tipped at all, tipped pretty well. I spent quite a bit of time in the outer boroughs, including the Yankee Stadium area, Williamsburg, and Flatbush (on the way, I got a shot of the arch at Grand Army Plaza, shown above). The Yankee Stadium guy gave a large tip, the Williamsburg girl tipped the standard, and the Flatbush guys didn't tip at all. That's just how it breaks down sometimes.

My final passenger of the night also tipped nicely. But I deserved that one more than all the others because he let out a rancid fart the second he got in. But he turned out to be a really nice guy, so I almost didn't know who to feel bad for -- him or me. I think he might've been a little embarrassed and, on top of being a little grossed out, I was embarrassed for him.

Other than that, nothing too special really happened.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Hotline




Last night was ok. The day started off slow mainly due to all the street fairs and random parades and marches, like the one pictured above, which was proceeding up the east side of 6th Ave. Not sure what it was for, but I'm already fed up with street fair/parade season. The only reason to work on a Sunday is to have a little break from the weekday traffic hell but, come spring and summer, Saturdays and Sundays become a test of one's patience and endurance -- at least until 6:00 or 7:00 pm, when they finally clean up and give the streets back to the cars.

Business picked up after dinner time, and it was actually pretty decent for a Sunday night. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get the picture of the cop car/taxi collision that I drove past on 14th Street around midnight. Nor was I able to get a shot of the new parking spot for the police cruiser that sits on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, but this new placement came as a pleasant surprise. For the first time in many months, there was no late night traffic getting on the bridge. I guess the police department finally realized there was a better place to put their cars, one that doesn't terrorize every driver who needs to get over that bridge at night.

One funny thing I should mention is the little taxi-driver phone network that goes into operation during each shift. Last night it was in full effect. Around 11:30, Elliott called and said, "I'm at LaGuardia. It's stripped," meaning there were no cabs there. "You should get over here if you can make it. There's a huge line of people at American waiting for cabs." I was near the 59th Street Bridge at the time, but there was traffic due to construction, so I decided to skip it and stay in the city. I didn't want to risk going out there empty and arriving too late for all the action, which has happened too many times before.

Two minutes later, Diego called and said, "I just talked to Elliott. He said LaGuardia's stripped. I might head over there." I told him I wasn't going out there and we hung up. Five more minutes passed and the phone rang again, this time with Allen on the other end. "Yeah, hi. Elliott's at LaGuardia. He says it's stripped. I don't know if I'm gonna go over, but I thought I'd let you know."

There's actually a hotline we can call to get updates on the capacity of the taxi hold lots at both airports. It's supposed to be updated hourly, but LaGuardia is notorious for rarely changing their outgoing messages, especially at night. For example, I was in Astoria around 9:00 and called up to see what was doing over there. The most recent update was from 5:00 pm, a mere four hours earlier. Later, when they finally did update the message, the announcer never said what time it was, making it impossible to know how relevant the information was.

Occasionally, the message will include a number that you can call to complain about the "service." Apparently no one ever actually uses it because Diego tried once and the guy on the other end cursed him out.

Diego did end up going out to LaGuardia three times last night and got three good jobs out of it, catching the last of the wind-delayed flights. I guess I should've gone.

For updates of LaGuardia's taxi lots, call 866-296-2238.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Welcome home






So tonight was my first night back in the cab. I got into the city around 4:00 and found my first passenger on 50th and 2nd. She wanted to go to 8th St and Broadway and, seeing that 2nd Ave was all backed up, I turned right on 49th. When I hit Lex, I turned left to head downtown. But somehow, I totally overlooked the sign that was posted that said no turns allowed between 10 am and 6 pm, Monday through Friday. I mean, I guess I always knew it was there, but I was distracted and rusty and not really thinking. I just didn't see it, and was still clueless as to what I did when I got pulled over by the TLC police.

They were just standing there, actually, waiting for idiots like me to do just what I did. The TLC officer waved me to the side of the street and made my passenger get out and find another cab. When he finally told me what I did wrong, I just felt stupid. I've made this mistake once before, over a year ago, and I got a ticket for it then, too.

I handed over my license and sat there feeling annoyed with myself. After a moment, though, I realized I needed to just roll with it and not let it get to me, so I got out of the cab. I walked up to the TLC police car and started talking to him, saying, "You know, I'm sure you hear this all the time, but I really didn't see the sign. I feel pretty dumb, actually, but I haven't worked in a few weeks and I guess I'm a little out of practice."

At first he was stern and a little cold, but maybe because I was sort of smiling and laughing about the whole stupid ordeal, he seemed to loosen up and all of a sudden we were almost friends. Of course, he still gave me the ticket, but I already knew there was no getting out of it. The worst part of it is the ticket holds a $150 fine.

It needs to be said that the TLC is notorious for being extremely unfriendly and unforgiving to cab drivers. They're our built-in enemies, mainly because their job is to ticket us -- and our job is to get away with what we can without getting caught by them.

My experience this afternoon, however, was actually not that bad. Sure, giving out a $150 ticket is not necessarily a compassionate act, but the officer writing it was at least decent to me when he could've been a total dick, and that makes all the difference. I think he even felt a little bad, since I was being so casual about the whole thing, and eventually he smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and with just the tiniest tinge of guilt in his voice, said, "I'm just doing my job." This I understood, but I was just doing my job, too. Unfortunately my job is one in which I run the risk of starting my shift $150 in the hole.

The rest of the night was fine. But the ticket sort of put a little damper on things.

I guess this was my official welcome back to New York.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A lame update


After my little vacation, I was happy to be home. However, I returned to a screwy internet connection, which made it difficult for me to post, much less do anything else online. Each click led to an eternity of waiting, so I have not been able to update the blog. This was probably a good thing since I needed to get some book writing done.

But now the cable technician just left and everything seems to be back in order. My only real update at this point is that, after I left California, Acid Casualty was spotted doing a "hip hop dance" on the Venice boardwalk. I'm heartbroken that I missed it.

I'm scheduled to work tomorrow night, barring any unforseen circumstances, so there should be a proper post by Friday morning. Thanks for being patient.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

All this for $1.25


I survived the bus ride and it was actually pretty fun. I borrowed my friend's iPod and created a soundtrack to go with the scenery, which was itself quite fascinating in its repetitive suburban blandness. For an entire hour, as the bus cruised down Venice Blvd towards Downtown LA, all I saw out the window was a seemingly endless series of auto repair shops, used car dealerships, smog check stations, window-tinters, fast food chains, carpet shops, and furniture stores, plus a few check-cashing places, Western Unions, and taquerias mixed in for variety's sake.

The ride gave me a feeling I imagine many visitors to New York get: the feeling that this is a city so big, you can get lost in it. That never happens to me in New York, it seems too small and familiar, and there are always too many people around. But something about the way the sun shines so unforgivingly on everyone in LA makes this place seem huge and impersonal. The sidewalks are not constantly crowded with people, and there's something private and nice about that, if not a little isolating.

The ride was peaceful but, of course, there's always that one eccentric crazy person that is a requirement on every city bus the world over. She sat in front of me and carried on an enthusiastic conversation with herself. When she spoke, her sentences were punctuated with a short air-pump of her right fist, index finger extended to further drive her point home. Over the course of an hour, as the bus grew full and then empty again, she remained, her conversation continuing uninterrupted. Finally, as we entered downtown, she got off the bus and I was the last one on.

As we worked our way through the downtown area to Union Station, things looked familiar again. The streets were smaller, the buildings taller, and instead of selling car parts, all the storefronts were displaying baseball hats and t-shirts and socks. It looked a lot like 14th St west of Union Square, with all those random low-budget luggage and t-shirt stores. But instead of saying New York, Brooklyn, the Knicks, or Puerto Rico, all the shirts and hats here said Los Angeles, Compton, the Lakers, and Mexico. I quite liked downtown, though I didn't really get to spend a lot of time there.

Anyway, after a week of listening to non-stop drum circles and Hare Krishna chants, I left Venice and came to stay at my sister and brother-in-law's house up near Pasadena, where I am now. But before I left, I made a point of spending extra time on the boardwalk in search of Acid Casualty. I'm disappointed to say she never reappeared.

And now my trip has finally come to an end. I am leaving this afternoon and I'm eager to get home. I would like to be able to get back to work tomorrow, but that depends on how tired out I am by the flight and jet lag. If I don't drive tomorrow, I'll be back in action next week, and back to dealing with gridlock, Jersey drivers, and drunk passengers. It'll be good to be home.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Acid Casualty






My friend drove us on no fewer than five freeways in a row yesterday as we made our way to my sister's house in Altadena. She's getting a little better at the driving, though my hair has turned white from the twelve heart attacks I had on the ride.

What I didn't realize is there's no "hands-free" cell phone law in California. I couldn't believe how many people I saw driving while holding a phone to their ear. It's really fucked up. I thought this practice was bad back in New York, but it's seriously out of control here. What I don't understand is where this need to talk on the phone while driving comes from. Like, if it's important and really can't wait, then fine. But if you're just talking to your buddy or your wife or whoever about what you want for dinner or something equally mundane, then can't it wait until you're not behind the wheel of a two-ton vehicle? Seriously, what is so fucking important?

Meanwhile, now that I'm over my initial culture shock, Venice has begun to amuse me. It appears the cosmos have decided to link me somehow to the girl who haunted me on that first day, the one now known as "Acid Casualty." I ran into her again on the boardwalk on Tuesday. She had on an entirely different outfit, which consisted of a gaping-open backpack and black tight jeans that hung more than halfway down her underwearless butt. She passed me quickly at first, only stopping to turn and cackle at some random strangers nearby.

I spotted her again ten minutes later, this time going in the opposite direction. She zig-zagged up to me, laughed a little bit again and asked me for a cigarette. She was standing so close to me and sort of peering into my mouth, it seemed. I had already given out a bunch of cigarettes that afternoon so I said no, but I immediately regretted it. I should've kept her there so I could examine her blown out pupils, which also appeared to be white, in that cataracts sort of way. But it couldn't be cataracts as she's got to be no more than 23 years old, if that.

So now I'm obsessed and have been looking for her every day since, cigarettes and camera at the ready, but she's disappeared. I think I miss her.

Today I will be taking a city bus from Venice to Downtown LA. It's estimated to take an hour and a half and to cost $1.25.

Monday, May 01, 2006

California so far



I'm staying in Venice for now. So far I've gotten a Henna tattoo, had my belly button pierced, bought a huge bong in the shape of a penis, purchased an oversized painting of a peace symbol, stocked up on tie-dyed t-shirts, blasted The Doors music while rollerskating, and got my Tarot cards read.

Or not.

But all of these amenities are at my fingertips should I develop the vomitous urge to make use of any of them.

What the hell am I doing here? It's like St. Mark's Place times a thousand, but with an extra helping of hippies and hobos. Oh, and strangers actually try to, like, talk to you here. It's utterly bizarre.

The reality of my trip so far (I arrived yesterday) is that I rode shotgun from the airport to Venice with my friend who just got her driver's license all of two weeks ago. It was a huge effort resisting the impulse to knock her out and take over the wheel as she either accelerated into stopped cars or drove ever so slowly, unintentionally veering into the other lanes of the freeway.

When I wasn't screaming in fear or silently gripping the dashboard, I tried to be supportive and teach her some little things about driving, like how to change lanes without causing an accident, or the one about how green lights mean "go" as opposed to "slow down and think for a second," which is what I think they teach the students in Driver's Ed classes out here. Oh, and the rumors are true: No one honks in Los Angeles. There must be lithium in the water or something.

I also ate chicken wings on the Venice boardwalk while some hippie acid casualty with track marks on her arms and an inside-out umbrella in her hand stared vacantly at us and laughed like a hyena from the other side of the outdoor cafe's ropes.

At this point I'm just hoping to make it back to New York in two weeks without any bad tattoos, white-girl dreadlocks, or an STD.

Friday, April 28, 2006

More vindication

I have to admit I relish this moment. This one's for all the haters out there who love to generalize and say all cabbies drive like shit. Today's New York Times discusses a study that proves this so wrong. In fact, the numbers demonstrate that, if you're wearing your seatbelt, it's safer to ride in yellow cabs and livery cars than it is to ride in regular cars.


That Wild Taxi Ride Is Safer Than You Think, a Study Says
By THOMAS J. LUECK and JANON FISHER

In a city where almost everyone has a story about zigzagging through traffic in a hair-raising, white-knuckled cab ride, a new traffic safety study may come as a surprise: It finds that taxis are pretty safe.

So are livery cars, according to the study, which is based on state motor vehicle records of accidents and injuries across the city. It concludes that taxi and livery-cab drivers have crash rates one-third lower than drivers of other vehicles.

"This is one of the most important studies we've seen," said Matthew W. Daus, chairman of the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission, who said the city had not asked for the analysis by a Brooklyn consulting firm or paid for it, but was nonetheless happy to receive it.

"Our drivers get a bad rap," Mr. Daus said. "Our hats go off to them."

The study was undertaken by Bruce Schaller of Schaller Consulting, a former staff analyst for the taxi commission and New York City Transit who now works as an independent transportation consultant for several cities and transit agencies. He said that he was not paid, that he obtained his state accident records through a Freedom of Information Act request and that he pursued the analysis out of personal interest.

"The public perception is that taxicab and livery drivers are less safe than other drivers in New York City," said Mr. Schaller, citing surveys by New York City Transit showing that riders, when asked to rate "safety from accidents" on a scale of 1 to 10, give private cars a 7.6, and taxis a 5.7.

But Mr. Schaller, pointing to the strict licensing requirements of taxi and livery drivers, their knowledge of the streets and the financial risks they face by driving carelessly, said the results of the study "are not so surprising."

He said the city's own records show that the job longevity of cabbies has steadily increased since the early 1990's, to 9.2 years in 2005 from an average of 5.7 years in 1993. Drivers with more experience tend to drive more skillfully, and more safely, he said.

Some of the findings set off alarm bells about passenger safety. When cabs are involved in accidents the passengers are about twice as likely to suffer serious injuries than the passengers of private cars, the study concluded.

It documented one of the reasons: Relatively few taxi riders wear seat belts, and are under no requirement to do so by state law or city rules. Another reason for the serious injuries is the partitions in taxis, which are designed to protect drivers from passenger attacks, but can cause head and upper body injuries to passengers when the cabs crash or stop suddenly.

And if you are riding a bicycle, watch out. The study concluded that bicycles are about twice as likely to collide with a cab than other vehicles, a danger that experts attribute to the risks of "dooring," in which passengers in parked cabs throw their doors open in front of oncoming bikes.

Still, the overall findings of Mr. Schaller's report are that the safety of taxis and livery cars has improved over the years, and that it compares favorably with other vehicles by several measures.

In a calculation of accident rates per million miles on city streets, it found 4.6 crashes for cabs, 3.7 crashes for livery cars and 6.7 crashes for all vehicles, including public and private conveyances. A livery car was defined as a black car, for-hire livery or limousine carrying fewer than nine passengers.

For a Manhattan resident who takes 100 cab rides a year, Mr. Schaller found, the chance of being injured in a crash is 0.4 percent in 10 years.

On the streets of Manhattan yesterday, the findings provoked a widely varied response from riders and drivers.

"It's not true," said Philip Lee, 42, a delivery driver from Flushing, who drives into Manhattan five days a week and finds the driving habits of cabbies a constant source of irritation.

"They only care about time," he said. "They only care about money. Even at red lights, they cross. They don't care."

But Liz Loughery, a financial executive from Philadelphia who hails cabs several times a week on business trips to Manhattan, said she had no fear.

"The windows were down, and it was fast and furious," she said as she jumped out of an uptown cab yesterday on Eighth Avenue and headed into Pennsylvania Station to catch her train home. "I'm more afraid inside Penn Station."

Charles Bwuah, 50, a cabby from Newark, who has been driving a New York medallion cab for eight years, said he was not at all surprised by the study.

"You see, most people think taxi drivers don't know how to drive," he said. "But that's what they do for a living."


The link is here if you want to read it on the New York Times website.