Well, its been a whole year since I slid behind the wheel of a a real live yellow NYC Taxi. A day I shall not forget – the giddiness of being smothered in yellow frosting - the realization of a dream of sorts, and facing that fear of the unknown. Fear in not knowing what to do, and just where in America’s largest city I might end up – with zero help of any sort. Anyhow, I’ve successfully renewed my “anniversary” license, which is short for probationary, and am now valid until 2019. Hard to imagine that the first time I went to the city with my dad in 1977, and being completely inured by the looks and smells of the yellow cab, that I would one day be a part of it all. The junkiness of the industries’ fleet, and the grit and grime of the streets that I get to see. I look up to my cabbie friends I've gotten to know for sometime - Noah Forman, Edward Leavy, Erin Samuelsen and of course reading the insights of long time driver/blogger Gene Salomon.
Most people in my locale of Vermont have no idea that I do this. I think they see me in my personally owned retired yellow cab, and think I’m a nut anyways, so besides my Facebook, I don’t say much about it. Most people could care less, but to me, I’m quite content with it; deep down, I’m glad I did it, and do it. It’s an experience that cannot be taken from me. Besides London, England (which takes 3 years of intensive studying of “the knowledge” to become a taxi driver), New York is certainly the most iconic of cities when it comes to driving a taxi – although I’m smart enough to know that each city is unique in its own way with the same duties and challenges as New York.
The hardest part of driving a taxi in New York City, for me anyways, is finding my way at times. Manhattan is easy peasy for the most part, but there are times I find myself really struggling when an address outside of Manhattan is given to me. If someone wants to go to Brooklyn for instance, my initial thought is always the same: ‘Ahhhh shit”. It wouldn’t be bad if I traveled there often and knew my way around, or the fact that at times the person(s) in the backseat seem to always judge the way you’re going. And trust me, prior to even getting my hack license – I was well versed in the geography of the city. For the past 8 years I have cruised via car and bike all over the place. I’ve ridden my bicycle in all five boroughs and have an excellent working knowledge of the lay of the land. But often times, there are routes and twists and turns that are confusing – and one wrong turn, can send you into the wrong direction. It’s stressful – when that meter is running and that voice in the backseat announces angrily “where are you going”?
One of the last times I drove (I only do this on Saturday evenings btw), two guys and a girl hailed me at about 3 AM in Hells Kitchen. As I pulled the car over, the way they were standing in the middle of the street sort of with their back to me like no big deal, gave me this *feeling* that it wouldn’t be a great experience. Definitely not newbies to the city, they were certainly natives – but the way they spoke suggested to me they don’t often travel outside of their neighborhood. Mid Town Manhattan was not a place they ventured to very often, nor did they partake in ever hailing a yellow cab. Anyhow, they wanted to go to a street called Hollers Avenue in the Bronx. They offered no assistance with where it might be, and – which seems to be customary at times, assumed I would just know. No one would know, unless you live there. I mean really, how or why would anyone know where Hollers Avenue is? I looked it up on my phone and knew the area in which to go, sort of near Co-op City, so off I went. I hit the West Side Highway, to the Cross Bronx (I-95) – it seemed to me the easiest way to go and no tolls. The ride started off uneventful as I drove silently and they drunkenly conversing to each other rather loudly about their night. As I was merging onto the Cross Bronx, the smarty pants inquisition came. Now, I’ve merged here literally a thousand times, and it is ALWAYS bottled up for a short bit with I-95 truck traffic. One of the guys asks why didn’t I cross town and take the FDR? Then the girl states why didn’t I take 10th Avenue. Like they just know everything about the 6,000 miles of streets and highways in New York. Well, 10th Avenue was all post bar closing traffic with stop lights……and the FDR was showing red on google maps, plus I’d have to cross the Tri-Boro bridge which is a toll by the time I even got there. It just never ends. I was cruising at the speed limit in no time with no slow traffic at all and these people wanted to know why I was taking the most efficient way, all because of a slow merge. Anyhow – to me, this kind of stuff is what is the most aggravating. When I got to their destination in the Bronx, it was a dark and grimy street – it looked like an industrial dump right out of the 70’s/80’s - only the soft glow of street lights casting a hazy luminescence against the backdrop of old brick buildings, metal fences and barbed wire covered in spray paint tags, junk vehicles and thugs still hanging around on corners. In the distance, the yelps and whistles of night people could be heard in a land where the yellows really rarely roam. When I came to a stop and turned the meter off, there was nothing but silence except for the rear doors opening. Keep in mind, there didn’t appear to me to be any actual residence in this area that I could see, and I thought for a moment they were going to stiff me, and they spent some time whispering in the back. They kept pretending they swiped a card, but the computer system in the front tells me when a card is being swiped. They were clearly trying to pretend there was something wrong with the equipment, but there wasn’t. Dropping my affable country boy charm, I reached into the back through the partition and asked for the card, which he gave to me, and I swiped it myself. Presto – it worked. I handed him the card as it processed, and they got out. I yelled out to wait, that they needed to sign the receipt since it was over $25.00, but they didn’t care and walked away like my presence in the world was the biggest inconvenience of their life. No biggie – I still got paid. No tip though lol. Whatever.
I’m not sure I could ever do this job full time. 12 hours cooped up in a car that you can’t even adjust the seat in and fighting traffic literally all night with some of the rudest people on this earth, has a way of just kicking you in the gut. Honestly, most of the time, people are pretty friendly and rides are uneventful to the point you don’t even remember them. But sometimes, you end up with some really crazy and angry people. But at the end of the night, when you return the cab, you feel as though you really put in a days work, as you clean the cab out, remove your hack license from behind your head and hear the ticking of the engine starting to cool as it waits for the next driver to hop in. Once I’m done, I then climb in my own car and it’s off to my inlaws on Laurel Hill Place in Washington Heights to go to bed. What sucks about THAT is, there is never a parking spot and I end up parking my car in Fort George hear Highbridge Park. Lets just say, it’s not a very safe place for me to be roaming around at 5 AM and the nearly ¾ of a mile I have to walk is right out of that TV show “Naked and Afraid”. But when I get there, and when I lay my head down exhausted, I’m content with knowing I’ve traveled all over the city to places that only a taxi driver goes. Often times, when I’m back home in Vermont, I look out over the green mountains and it’s hard to imagine that that world exists – that city that really doesn’t ever stop. Some parts may sleep at times at certain hours, but make no mistake about it, the engines are always running, the booze is always in the bloodstreams, the crime is always creeping in the shadows, and that great white way is always illuminated with it’s bouncing lights.
This section of the site is not specific to my taxi travels. They are not really rants either. It is more of a space for me to simply raise awareness to topics that either inspire or frustrate me as an individual.