Wednesday, May 31, 2006


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, 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


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.