Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Anyone there?

I don't know if anyone still reads this blog -- and I'm sure some people will be pissed because all I do on it now is promote my book or whatever -- but it would be a shame if I didn't come here to announce that the paperback of HACK was released today. There's even a picture of my face on the cover (not my idea, but I didn't have too much of a choice). Anyway, I'm pretty proud of it, and I hope you will all enjoy it if you never got around to getting the hardcover.

I guess while I'm here, I'll give a little update. If you're reading this, you're aware that I don't really write on this blog anymore. And there's a reason for that. Or a lot of reasons, actually. One is that I don't drive the cab as much anymore -- I'm burned out. There are so many things I love about being a cabbie -- primarily the people and the adventure, the unpredictability of each shift, and the endlessly fun game of discovering unusual places in New York -- but there are also a few things I could never come to terms with, like traffic and accidents and all the abuse that is so regularly heaped on New York's cabbies. This is why I stay away when I'm not desperate for cash.

But that's the other beauty of cab-driving: you can pick up a shift when you need some fast money, and chances are, you'll make a few dollars. Which is why I drive every now and then, but not very often.

The thing is, I never thought about any of this as a forever sort of deal. I knew when I started this adventure that I would drive the cab until I didn't want to anymore, and the same goes for the blog.

I keep my hack license current for the same reasons I keep the blog online, because who the fuck knows what will happen? Maybe one day I'll need to go back to driving as my main source of income. And maybe one day I'll again have something I want to put out there via blogspot -- and hopefully when that happens, like now, there will be someone left somewhere that gives a shit.

That all being said, I can still bring one small dispatch from the taxi world, via my old-time cabbie buddy Bob. I was walking down Bushwick Avenue Friday night (because, didn't I mention? I'm a hooker now)(just kidding), when I heard my name being called from across the street. It was Bob, sitting in the front seat of his cab, having just dropped off somewhere in the neighborhood and on his way back to where the hipsters are.

He went off-duty and we talked for over an hour. He told me that the gas prices are killing everyone -- taking away another $15 to $20 a night, bringing the fees up to near $200. He also told me that business is dead-slow now too, so everyone's doubly fucked. But he's still hustling, sometimes taking breaks to do some Yoga mid-shift (smart guy -- I need to learn from him) and doing his best to stay healthy. Another friend of ours isn't doing so well -- he got cancer and can't make it back to work. Also, Billy, the guy who used to pee himself, is apparently off the streets for good. Some sad shit, right there.

While sitting in his cab, he pointed out some relatively new apartment buildings on Bushwick Ave and said, "See those buildings there? Back in the '80s this used to be a giant abandoned lot filled with homeless people. It was like a tent city. And around the corner, on Johnson and Morgan, there's a traffic island there that used to be the biggest open-air drug market in the city."

These areas, for those who don't live in the city, have been deeply gentrified and are now brimming with artists, hipsters, post-grads, and nouveau yuppies.

Bob continued, a little mystified, "It's crazy how this neighborhood has changed."

I love seeing the city through Bob's eyes, along with some of the other old-time drivers.

Another buddy of mine from the garage -- who shall not be named to protect his marriage -- sends me picture messages practically every day of girls showing him their tits in the back, and sometimes the front, of his cab. What the fuck man? Why didn't that shit ever happen to ME?

Anyway, that's about it. I hope you're all doing great.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Strike Two

From today's New York Times:

October 23, 2007
Something Money Can’t Buy

Like all labor disputes, the one-day strike by taxi drivers yesterday turned on tangible matters, in this case credit card machines, global positioning systems and the like. But it was also about an intangible, something that cabbies often feel they are denied. It is called respect. It is called dignity.

“It’s 100 percent about respect,” said Jahangir Alam, one of a couple of hundred drivers who rallied in protest yesterday outside the Lower Manhattan offices of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. “There’s no respect for cab drivers. As a driver, you have no control. It’s like I’m a slave.”

Mr. Alam’s feelings were shared by others at the afternoon rally. Again and again, the two words — dignity and respect — came up in conversations and in labor leaders’ speeches.

“They never go to the drivers to ask what we want,” John McDonagh said of city officials. Mr. McDonagh said that he has driven a cab on and off since 1977. He gives the job a rest now and again, he said, “to reclaim my humanity.”

It will be left to others to decide whether the strike was the unqualified success claimed by its organizers or the dismal bust preferred by City Hall. Either way, New York’s technophilic mayor seems unlikely to change his mind about the new gizmos that he wants in taxis.

It was hard to see how effective any work stoppage of preset length could be; most New Yorkers can survive without taxis for 24 hours and not break into cold sweats. The drivers were also not helped by the de facto strikebreaker role that City Hall played.

To help maximize taxi availability, it allowed drivers who worked yesterday to charge special rates that gave them more money than usual. Those rates amounted to “a bribe” for scabs, said Graham Hodges, a history professor at Colgate University who was once a cabby himself and recently wrote “Taxi! A Social History of the New York City Cabdriver” (Johns Hopkins University Press).

“The people who do this job are desperate,” Professor Hodges said. When an incentive like yesterday’s special fares comes along, “you don’t have to be a Marxist to understand that that will breed strikebreakers.”

Obscured by the to-ing and fro-ing over the new machines is a more basic point, namely that many drivers feel like serfs, and maligned serfs at that.

Recent immigrants for the most part, they perform a tough, lonely duty that few native Americans want to do anymore — even those Americans who are perpetually out of work. “These people work like sharecroppers,” said Edward G. Rogoff, a Baruch College professor who has studied the taxi industry. “They take the risk. They do all the worst work, and relatively speaking, they don’t get much reward for it.”

What they get instead is a steady diet of being portrayed in corners of the press as nothing but fare gougers. They are the butt of lame David Letterman jokes. They run into the borderline racism of a tabloid column that referred contemptuously last week to a generic “crazed, Tagalog-speaking cabbie.” They put up with slanderous labels like one slapped on them in 1998 by the Giuliani administration, which called them “taxi terrorists” for daring to assert their right to protest city policies.

They endure brain-numbing innovations that only City Hall suits can devise, like those maddening Elmo messages of a few years ago, the ones that screamed at passengers to buckle up and take their belongings.

Now we have a new requirement that drivers accept a credit card system that forces them to pay an unheard-of 5 percent fee on each transaction.

They must also install, at considerable expense, G.P.S. technology that is in no way designed to help them navigate city streets. What it can do, in the spirit of Elmo, is blare enough commercials all day long to make anyone batty. If these devices malfunction, as some inevitably will, drivers must get them fixed fast or find themselves effectively forced off the road.

Granted, some cabbies are their own worst enemies. They could win a lot of friends by paying more attention to passengers and ditching their cellphones, which far too many of them use while driving, in violation of city rules.

But a more fundamental concern yesterday was those two little words. They kept surfacing, as they did in a speech at the rally by Ed Ott, executive director of the New York City Central Labor Council. “This is never about money,” he said. For the drivers, he said, “we demand dignity and respect.”

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hi! How've you been?

I've been hesitant to post here lately, mainly because I've been too busy for the past two months promoting the book (which is, of course, available for purchase using the handy little Amazon link to the right, hardy har har). And I certainly don't want to let anyone down, but I have to say, if blogging paid the bills, I'd probably do it a lot more. Writing this blog has indeed given me so much, but the truth is that for the past year or so, the book advance and some overdue settlement money from a long-ago accident are what's helped me get by, with some supplemented income from driving a cab. Call me selfish, but this is the way it is. I live in New York, for fuck's sake.

Still, I've been extremely lucky. For the past two months, I've been doing non-stop interviews to get the word out about my book. I was really happy that people were so interested, but it was weird and exhausting running around like that, answering the same questions over and over and over. Eventually, I got used to it. Plus, it was easier than driving a taxi! In fact, it wasn't totally unlike those long shifts when every single passenger that got in my backseat quizzed the shit out of me with the same exact list of questions ("How'd you get into this? Where'd you grow up? How old are you? What's it like to drive a taxi? What's next?").

What's funny is that I was being asked about driving a taxi so much that I had no time to actually drive a taxi. The side-effect of all this, however, was that after a little while, I needed a little break from thinking about, talking about, and -- yes -- writing about the damn taxi business. Which is another part of why I neglected this blog so badly.

Of course, I still find the job fascinating, and I find myself always coming back to it, no matter how hard I might try to get away. In fact, I just finished reading a great book about the history of the taxi industry in New York. I highly recommend it -- it's called "Taxi! A Social History of the New York City Cabdriver" by Graham Russell Gao Hodges. It really put me in my place, in a good way.

But, despite my obvious addiction to all things taxi, I'm finally working up the nerve to move on to other things. This whole thing, driving a cab in New York, started in the spirit of seeking out adventure. There was no intention to start a blog or write a book or do a hundred interviews and somehow become the spokesperson for an industry I only entered three years ago. And there was never any intention to make a career out of it and do it forever. I want to hang on to that original mindset for the next thing I do and not worry about all the other stuff, because then it feels like a trap.

Of course, I'm still working on deciding exactly what my next step will be, but I'm so excited by the idea of embarking on a brand new adventure. I've got a few ideas that I'm kicking around, but I'm not ready to talk about anything just yet.

And lastly, I haven't totally quit driving a cab. I don't think I ever will, to be perfectly honest. Now that the journalists are bored of me, I can pull a normal shift again if I need the cash. Which will be soon. And then there will be something to blog about.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The best night ever

I had an amazing night on Tuesday. So many people came out and the store sold out of my book! The whole thing was pretty damn special. A few cabbies came out, one regular passenger was in attendance, lots of friends and family, and even a bunch of people I didn't know showed up. The room was packed, all the chairs were filled, and there were crowds of people standing in the aisles! It was probably one of the best nights of my life so far.

And I get to do it again next week! If you missed this event, or liked it so much that you want more, come see me read a whole different section of the book next Tuesday, September 18th, at 7:30 at the Barnes & Noble in Park Slope, Brooklyn (267 7th Avenue). Brooklyn people: Come out and represent!

In the meantime, something else amazing happened on Tuesday: I had the honor of reading an essay of mine on NPR's "All Things Considered." You can read it -- and listen to it -- by clicking here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Come celebrate with me!

Please come celebrate with me tomorrow night! I'll be reading from the book at Barnes & Noble in Greenwich Village, located directly across the street from my favorite late-night cabbie hot dog place, Gray's Papaya.

There will be a party immediately following, from 8 to 10, at a place appropriately called Happy Ending. It's at 302 Broome Street, between Forsyth and Eldridge, near the Delancey F and Essex J/M/Z trains. There will be drink specials.

I'll also be reading again next Tuesday, September 18th at the B&N in Park Slope, Brooklyn (7th Ave). It'll be all different material, so it'll be worth it to come to both if you can.

I hope you can all make it!

Thursday, September 06, 2007


There's a taxi strike going on in New York right now. Some cabbies are indeed working, but there are plenty who are off the streets until tomorrow at 5:00 AM. I hope, at the very least, that all the media attention helps our cause a tiny bit.

I'm reprinting here the op-ed I wrote that was published in the City section of last Sunday's New York Times.

September 2, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor

An Unwanted Passenger
By Melissa Plaut

DRIVING a taxi in New York City can be a grueling, thankless job. It is also a unionless job. But on Wednesday, many of the city’s 44,000 licensed cabdrivers are planning to go on strike for 48 hours to protest the new global positioning systems being installed in the city’s 13,000 yellow cabs.

While the Taxi and Limousine Commission supports these devices and has mandated that they be up and running in the city’s entire fleet by January, many cabdrivers — myself included — see this new technology as one big expensive headache. Perhaps the commission should listen to cabdrivers before pushing a device that we’d be better off without.

The device has no navigational abilities. The monitor, which is set into the partition separating the driver from the passenger, cannot be seen or accessed from the front of the cab. It does not give directions or plot routes. All it does is keep track of where you are — both on- and off-duty — and this information is then stored in the commission’s databases.

Officials at the commission say the primary purpose of the devices is to track lost property and make sure cabbies aren’t taking passengers from point A to point B by way of point Z. Sadly, there are some bad cabdrivers out there who take visitors for a “ride,” but in reality, we have much more to fear from our passengers than they have to fear from us.

However, for me and many of my fellow drivers, privacy issues aside, it’s all about money. With prices ranging from around $3,250 to $4,000 to lease and install each unit, the initial costs alone are enough to drive some cabbies out of business. For private owner/operators, this could kill their year.

The costs continue to pile up after the devices are installed. The test drivers who already have the touch-screens have reported finding the monitors covered in spray paint, stickers, soda and scratches.

Even without vandalism, the technology is likely to break down. New computers are often plagued with bugs, and sometimes, as every cellphone user knows, satellites can lose their signals. Because these G.P.S. devices will be linked to the taximeters, when the screen is vandalized, the computer breaks down or the satellite connection is unavailable, the meter won’t work. The driver will be forced to go off-duty and bring the car in for repairs. In a business where lost time equals lost pay, this is unacceptable.

One fleet already using the system recently lost its satellite signal, putting about 250 cabs out of commission for nearly three hours until the problem was resolved. This translated not only into fewer available cabs on the streets, but also lower incomes for those already beleaguered cabbies.

For drivers like me who lease our cabs from privately owned fleets, there isn’t the burden of paying for installation or repairs upfront, but the costs may still be passed on to us in the form of “surcharges” or “tax fees.” However the extra costs will be labeled, it boils down to the same thing: our expenses go up; our income goes down.

The only potential benefit for passengers I can see in these machines is the credit card slide. Matthew Daus, chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, is happy to tell anyone who will listen that our tips are better as a result of this, but I beg to differ. Drivers have to pay a hefty 5 percent transaction fee while most stores and restaurants are charged an average base rate of about 2 percent. So those “bigger tips,” if they exist at all, simply don’t cover the costs. And since most cabs already have the ability to take credit cards, what’s the point of installing a whole new system?

The bottom line is, once we’ve installed the G.P.S. device, paid for its maintenance, ponied up for repairs and shelled out the transaction fees, what most cabbies will be left with is, in effect, a pay cut. The fare increase in 2004 just barely caught our incomes up with inflation, bringing us to just this side of a livable wage. We should not have to pay that back now.

By turning a deaf ear to the opinions and expertise of taxi drivers, the commission has approved a design for an impractical and costly device that ultimately does not provide any useful “service enhancements” to the public. So when cabdrivers go on strike this week, we can only hope that New Yorkers will stand with us in solidarity.

There are plenty of other reasons and arguments that I didn't have the room to include. Yesterday's Metro NY newspaper was one of only a few to hint at the relationship between the companies providing the systems and the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC):
One of the firms providing the devices is owned by Ron Sherman, president of an association of garage owners. That firm’s vice president is Jed Appelbaum, a former TLC commissioner.
Hmph. Interesting.

Another NYC cabbie blogger, G.S. over at Cabs Are For Kissing, has this to say, among other things:
I think it was in 1979 that a city ordinance turned all taxi drivers into "independent contractors". This meant that if you worked out of a fleet garage you were no longer an employee, you were "self-employed" (and the fleets were no longer responsible for any benefits). Instead of paying drivers by percentages of the money they booked plus tips, the drivers now had to pay the garage a leasing fee for the use of the taxi for 12 hours, plus pay for the gas. There was no cap set on what the garages could charge (until recently, which is a good thing), so the only limit the garage owners had on their fees was by attrition of drivers. Busy nights when there were more drivers available meant higher leasing fees. And a cab driver found himself working six hours before breaking even.

Now here is the part that I consider to be a fundamental injustice: although the city made all taxi drivers "independent contractors" it retained the right to tell us what we can charge for our services. This is a blatant hypocrisy. How can anyone be an independent contractor when he can't charge what the market will bear for his services? How "independent" is that?

So it's phony. Taxi drivers are not independent contractors at all. We are actually employees who get no benefits.

But wait. It gets worse.

One would think that if the city government is going to create a taxi system that is unorganizable and then is going to mandate what we can charge for our services, a sense of fair play would ensure that the drivers are able to make a decent living. And be very diligent in increasing the rate of fare at timely intervals to keep up with inflation.

But the history over the last 29 years shows that the opposite is the case. We went from 1980 to 1987 (7 years) without a rate increase. We went from 1990 to 1996 (six years) without a rate increase. We went from 1996 to 2004 (8 years) without a rate increase. And during those years I was told very frequently by passengers in my cab that taxis in New York are much cheaper than in any other city they travelled to, reports that were verified repeatedly through all these years by industry journals and the NY Times.

What the city keeps saying is that we have to pay the 2004 rate increase back now. Apparently they only gave it to us to pay for these stupid, useless machines that we don't want.

This new technology could've been really cool, but it is being implemented in the worst and most expensive way. A good navigational GPS device costs about $500. Why do we have to pay $4000 for a system that doesn't even help us find our way when we're lost?

The taxi industry in New York is so fucked up, it's depressing. But the saddest thing of all, in my opinion, is discovering just how much the city disdains its cab drivers. Mayor Bloomberg talks about us with the utmost condescension, like we're all simple fools who know not what we do. It's offensive.

Rather than paying attention to what we have to say, he's been painting this work stoppage as our effort to "hurt" the city and its residents. We are not terrorists -- though sometimes we may drive like we are! No, rather, we are people who work under third-world sweatshop conditions in one of the richest, most sophisticated cities on the planet. But our billionaire mayor has always held a low opinion of New York's working people, so why should we expect any support from him now?

If the city displayed any faith in us at all and actually tried to improve our working conditions, our morale -- and our driving -- would also improve, and then there would be no need for such derision and no need for a strike.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Hack" + a shitty gold sedan

The book finally went on sale yesterday!!! Of course, I went to the store and bought myself a copy for good luck. I'm so psyched.

In the meantime, there was a big USA Today story about me and the book. It can be read here.

You can buy the book by clicking the Amazon link on the right of this page, or go to your local bookstore.

Thank you everybody! The past few days have been amazing, and it wouldn't have happened without the readers of this blog.

In other news, I pulled a shift Monday night (yes, I worked the night before my book went on sale) and this asshole in a shitty gold sedan (seen in the pic below) cut off all of Second Avenue, from right to left, so he could turn east, forcing about six drivers to stop short and almost causing a series of accidents. I figured I'd post his pic for old time's sake. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Human Computer

As part of maintaining a hack license, every three years cabbies have to attend a 6-hour defensive driving course. With September 11th being -- among other things -- the third anniversary of me becoming a cabbie, I recently took the class at my old taxi school, LaGuardia Community College's Taxi and For-Hire Vehicle Driver Institute.

Of course, six hours is a long time to sit in a classroom and I wasn't looking forward to it, but when I got there at 9:00 AM, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I knew the teacher. His name was Jim and he briefly had a great taxi blog of his own a while back but he took it offline for reasons unknown. Jim was a good, lively teacher, but that didn't make the day of traffic questionnaires and outdated videos go by any quicker. The boringness was only made worse by the fact that the classroom they had assigned us on this hot day in August was too small and the 20 or so guys (plus me) had to pack in there like sardines. Needless to say, the room smelled pretty ripe by 4:00 PM.

Over the course of the day we discussed such topics as the speed limit and why it matters, the effects alcohol has on the reflexes, and whether or not we thought of ourselves as good drivers. We also watched a couple of movies about road rage.

But really, the shining moment of the day was meeting a big Russian cabbie who called himself "The Human Computer." This guy had been driving a cab for ten years and his unique gift was that, if you told him your date of birth, he could instantly calculate which day of the week you were born on.

On one of the breaks, he took the opportunity to show us all a laminated New York Times article about himself that he'd brought along, and then he demonstrated his talent on each person in the room. When he got to me, he said in his thick Russian accent, "September 1st, 1975? --Have a happy Monday!"

Then he continued, "Now you tell me the birthday of your first, second, and third husbands, and I tell you which day they have." When I answered that I wasn't married, he said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I have very bad news for you: All good things must come to an end!"

Eventually, the million hour class came to its own end and I drove home with the knowledge that cars are dangerous weapons and I was born on a Monday.

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!