Thursday, July 26, 2007

Perfectly legal

I was in LA for a few days last week meeting my seven week old niece and playing with my two and a half year old nephew. I didn't do too much, but when I did go out, I drove my sister's minivan -- a big-ass Honda Odyssey complete with two baby seats and a great navigation system.

Every time I drove this thing, I had to go very very slow so that I could pay attention to the navigation system and figure out where the hell I was going. This, I'm sure, annoyed the shit of many a native LA driver. I most certainly slowed a lot of people down, and generally, when in New York and stuck behind someone like that, I myself have no sympathy.

But the most amazing thing -- and I never cease to be surprised by this no matter how much time I spend out there -- is that no one honked. Not one single person. Not even when the light was green for well over thirty seconds and I still didn't move, or when I was going 20 in a 40 trying to find the right street to turn on. Nobody got out and punched my window, no one gave me the finger. I didn't even get so much as a dirty look. It almost makes me want to move there.

Of course, the minute I got back to New York trouble found me. I landed at Kennedy Airport late Friday night and had to take a car service home. I over-thought the idea of taking a yellow cab, weighing which route would be better for me and which route would be better for the driver (basically, cheaper and more direct versus faster and more expensive) and decided I'd just use a car service based out of my neighborhood so I wouldn't have to direct him. I often find it very uncomfortable to ride in the back of a yellow cab ever since I started driving one myself.

As I waited outside the Delta terminal, there were about five or six car service drivers parked there, standing in front of the doors and soliciting people for rides to Manhattan. This, you should know, is totally illegal. It is basically poaching rides from the yellow cabs who have been waiting in the big holding lot for who knows how long, and who, when finally dispatched to the terminal, line up and wait for people to get on a line and get inside them. And the whole time, they are being monitored and controlled by a taxi dispatcher who keeps them all from cheating, competing, or otherwise causing chaos at the terminal.

These car service guys, on the other hand, are straight off the black market, completely unregulated and working hard only to hustle the unwitting out of their hard-earned bills. Car service drivers are, by law, allowed to respond only to radio calls. That's it. Picking up street hails or waiting curbside at the airport without a prior appointment is the sole domain of the yellow cab. That's what those little metal medallions -- the ones that cost about $600k last time I checked -- give us the right to do. And every time a car service driver breaks these rules, he not only breaks into our business (and therefore our incomes), he also depreciates the value of each and every medallion, making it a waste of money to buy or lease one.

Anyway, this big burly car service driver in a pink button-down shirt kept offering me a ride, saying, "Taxi? Taxi?" while I kept denying. I stood there waiting as he offered a ride to everyone who walked out the doors until, finally, I turned to him and said, "Isn't that illegal? Offering rides like that?"

He looked around at all the other gypsy drivers there and grinned, saying, "Illegal? No! It's perfectly legal."

I said, "Doesn't the TLC have rules about that? You're not supposed to solicit rides like this. You might want to check your rule book."

"TLC? Look at my license plate! It says TLC."

I replied, "I'm pretty sure you're wrong on this."

He smirked and said, "Why? You TLC?"

At this point, it was around 1:30 in the morning. I was exhausted and annoyed by this dude, and all of sudden I remembered all the times a fare that would have been mine got poached by one of these guys. They all stacked up and accumulated in my mind, and I got pissed. Don't ask me why, and I know I'll probably end up in Bellevue for this, but as I looked over at the long line of empty yellow cabs with all these tired, bored drivers inside, I decided that it made sense somehow -- that it was practically my duty to those cabbies -- to pretend that I actually did work for the Taxi & Limousine Commission.

I said, "Yes, I am. And you're lucky I'm not working right now."

Of course, he didn't take me seriously at all. And why would he? The TLC certainly doesn't do much except ticket cabbies and cash in on corporate contracts (seen a TV screen in a taxi lately?). They don't give two shits if we lose money to these guys.

He let out a huge bellow and still persisted, saying, "It's totally legal. You can't do anything!" Then he gestured to the other gypsy drivers there and said, "There's a lot of people here. What can you do? ...Nothing!" Then they all started grinning and chuckling, clearly entertained by me, and with good reason, I suppose. I did indeed look a little ridiculous , standing there in worn-out jeans and a backpack, all of five-foot-four, acting like I was some figure of authority.

But, of course, I couldn't back out of it now. I took out my phone and pretended to call some other imaginary figure from the TLC, presumably someone who could come give these guys a ticket. In reality, I called Diego.

"Hey Diego, let me ask you something: It's illegal for car services to solicit rides at the airport right?"

"Hell yeah it is. Why? What's up?"

"Okay, can you send someone over to the Delta terminal?"


I walked a few feet away and whispered, "I'm pretending to be from the TLC. I want to scare these guys away so they don't steal rides from the cabs waiting here."

Diego wasn't the slightest bit fazed. "Oh. Okay. Yeah. Those guys are such assholes." He continued, "Just last night I picked up a guy in Manhattan who got totally ripped off by a car service driver from the airport. The guy wanted to go to Weehawken [in New Jersey] from JFK and the car service driver tried to charge him $240! So the guy decided to go to the ferry terminal in Manhattan instead so he could take the boat over to Jersey. But then the driver tried to charge him $180 -- to go to the west side of Manhattan! Finally, the guy bargained him down to $80. But can you believe that shit? Eighty dollars! To go to Manhattan! You should totally call the cops on those guys for real."

In a yellow cab, a ride to Weehawken, New Jersey, from Kennedy Airport would cost about $80, plus tolls and tip. A ride to anywhere in Manhattan is a flat rate of $45, plus a $4 toll and tip.

I remembered a story Elliott told me once about a Japanese man who got totally swindled by another car service driver at the airport. He got conned into one of these gypsy's cars and told him he wanted to go to Staten Island. The driver charged him $250 and dropped him off not in Staten Island, but in the middle of midtown Manhattan. He hailed Elliott and told him what happened and was clearly very confused. Elliott took him down to the Staten Island Ferry because it was the cheapest option for him at that point, and I don't even think Elliott charged him for the ride, he felt so bad for the guy.

Anyway, I stayed on the phone chatting for a while as the car service drivers wandered around the terminal doors offering more people "taxi" rides. The line of yellow cabs remained sitting across the median unused.

Miraculously, not five minutes after I called Diego, a cop car pulled into the terminal with its lights flashing, making all the waiting cars move out. I was delighted with this lucky coincidence. It was almost as if I had actually called them, and my insane impersonation of a TLC bureaucrat was validated. Diego, too, was psyched. He said, "You should tell the cops that they were offering rides to Manhattan for $250!"

At that point, however, I didn't really feel like getting into it. I just stood there and watched as all the "perfectly legal" drivers fled from the airport doors and dove into their respective cars, like a bunch of cockroaches taking cover when the bathroom light is turned on.

I did, admittedly, have a moment of gloating as I waved at the driver in the pink shirt and called out, "It's totally legal, huh? Why don't you stick around and tell that to the cops?" He waved at me and then gave me the finger as he jumped into his Lincoln Town Car and flew out of the terminal.

I waited a few more minutes for my car service to show up and watched as a line of travelers slowly formed in front of the yellow cabs that were still sitting there. One by one, they too pulled out of the terminal, each, thankfully, with a passenger.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Amazon is being difficult

I'm getting a bunch of emails today about how my book has been delayed for a year according to Amazon. This is NOT true. The book is still coming out this fall, on August 28, 2007.

But, for whatever reason, Amazon has two pages up for my book, and one of them has all sorts of incorrect information, including a June 2008 release date. Unfortunately this is the page everyone pre-ordered from.

I've been trying to get Amazon to get rid of that stupid wrong page for weeks now, to no avail. They certainly don't make it easy to get in touch with them, and I've also asked my publisher to try and fix the problem.

So, for now, if it's not too much of a hassle, please just cancel that order and re-order it here or from the link at the right (same difference). This goes to the correct, good, not fucked up Amazon page. You could also get to it from the link on the myspace page if that strikes your fancy.

Sorry about all this. I hope you'll find the book worth it!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fun times

I had a good night.

I realized just now, as I wrote those words, that I don't think I've ever written them before. If so, I certainly don't remember it.

But tonight was great, actually. I had perfect luck and a stable mindset throughout the whole shift. And the biggest shocker? Traffic didn't totally suck.

All night long, each good ride led to the next. It started out early, when I got over the bridge and someone took me to Union Square. From there, I picked up a woman who wanted to go way up to 125th and Amsterdam. I overheard from her cell phone conversation that she'd been going on auditions all day. We made it up to her building in record time.

As I passed Columbia on my way back downtown, I got flagged by a very pregnant, thirty-something lady dressed in hospital scrubs and a stethoscope. She had a phone to her ear and, when she got in, said, "59th and Amsterdam." But then a second later, she said, "Actually 59th and 3rd." And then another second later, "Let's make that 59th and Lex."

Finally she hung up the phone and said, "I'm sorry. My husband was barking orders at me on the phone."

We didn't talk for the rest of the ride.

Downtown, a very young, probably late teen or early twenty-something blonde girl got in. She had one of those blue boots on one foot, the kind you wear on a broken part of your body instead of a cast. On our way over to 5th Avenue and 10th Street, I got to listen in to her end of a phone conversation. It went something like this:

"Yes, he was coming to propose .... Are you still at Burberry? .... Oh, for your therapist? .... Fun times, Fun times."

Then she launched into a whole tirade about how her friend Aaron got into an argument with the promoters at the club Marquee and how he had to be kept separate from Jordan. It was just starting to get juicy when I dropped her off. Sadly, I'll never know what finally happened with them. Damn.

Moving on, I took some girls from the Upper East Side to dinner in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. As we got close to the restaurant, one of them said to the other, "Oh wow, there actually are nice parts of Brooklyn."

On my way back from that, as I was approaching the Brooklyn Bridge, Diego called and said, "Laguardia's stripped," meaning the airport was empty of cabs. He went on, "All these flights were canceled, so tons of people are dying for cabs. Someone actually offered me $800 to take them to Toronto! Can you believe that?"

Apparently the intense heat and haze had caused problems with visibility or something and it grounded most of the planes in the New York area, so the airport was lucrative chaos.

I said, "Don't tell me you're on your way to Toronto right now."

"Hell no! You kidding me? That's a two-thousand dollar job. No, I got someone to midtown and then I'm racing right back. You should go."

I hopped on the BQE and sped over there. It was still stripped and I got someone going back to the city. He was coming from Atlanta and had been sitting in his plane on the runway for four hours before they finally took off for their hour-and-a-half flight. I remarked on his mood, saying, "You seem pretty happy for someone who just sat on a plane for that long."

He replied, "I've had a few drinks."

Later on, I ended up getting extra lucky when I got a job to Edison, New Jersey. It's always good money when you take someone out of town. The guy was from California and got screwed over on his hotel so he was staying at the Hilton out there.

When I dropped him off, I got out of the cab to help him with his bags. As he left and went inside, some fat middle-aged dude with a cane came up to me. He'd been standing outside the hotel, and as he approached me, he said, "Are you the driver?" I said "Yes," and then he looked around, leaned in real close, exhaled his cigarette smoke, and said, "I'm looking for a strip club around here."

Apparently he'd had a few drinks too. Sorry to disappoint, I told him I was a New York cab driver and couldn't help him in this area. He hobbled back to the sliding glass doors as I got back in my cab and hauled ass back to the civilized world.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Book update

This is a just a quick update about the book, because that's what's been consuming me and my time lately. But, as a side note, I don't really want this space to be used too much for book stuff, so I've crossed over to the dark side and created a MySpace page. This is where I will post updates, information, reviews (only if they're good, of course), and any other crap that relates to the book. Go and befriend me! The page is at

But for now I need to share something here because it's kind of big news: The book is going to be published as a hardcover after all! Fucking awesome, no? And it will still be out on August 28th so I'm getting pretty damn excited.

Anyway, now the thing will cost $21.95, which is still not too out of control and I hope you will all still consider picking up a copy. I'm not sure how this change affects the Amazon pre-orders that have already been put in, but I imagine -- and this is just a guess -- that they'll probably send out an email giving those people the option to buy the book at the new price (that is, when Amazon figures out that there is a new price). As far as I know, they don't charge your credit card until the book ships anyway, so you won't be screwed over.

Also, a few New York readings and signings will be happening in September. The first is at the Barnes & Noble in Greenwich Village, on 8th Street and 6th Avenue, right across the street from Gray's Papaya, where I've eaten many a late-night cabbie dinner of hot dogs and papaya juice with my buddy Diego. It's also across the avenue from the McDonald's in which I've peed on many desperate occasions. Plus, there's a "taxi relief" stand just up the next block. So it's a pretty good spot for my first official book reading.

The event will take place on September 11th at 7:30 PM. Definitely not the happiest day in the world, but it was what the store had available, and who am I to be picky? Plus, in a way it almost makes sense since it will be the third anniversary of my very first shift in the cab back in 2004. (I got my license a week and a half earlier but I was too chicken-shit to start right away.) So this B&N reading will be a cool confluence of events that relate to my career as a cab driver.

There will be another reading the following Tuesday, September 18th, also at 7:30. That one will be at the Barnes & Noble in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It's my home borough so hopefully all the Brooklynites will show up and represent!

Meanwhile, I plan to work tomorrow night if Richard has a cab for me, so I should be back to bitching about traffic and jaywalkers and gas prices by Wednesday.