In any occupation, there is a great Broadway acting moment for all of us, when we first delve into the first day of work. The hopeful smiles, the faux kindness, the curiosity - that desire to not look like a fool or great attempts to impress a boss/co-worker etc., when deep down, we know we will likely fall to complacency at some point. Like a rude cashier....they weren't like that on day one or two or three - I imagine they were like "Hi, did you find everything today!?". Anyhow, for those who have found this site as a hopeful or first time licensed NYC hack, I'll share with you my first evening shift. Lord knows, there isn't a lot out there to read/see. I remember looking around just trying to see if someone out there would write something on how to operate a meter. Info was scant, at best.
I'm not going to pretend though, for even a New York minute, that I am anything other than a complete and total newbie noob - as green as a cab is yellow. I won't on here, and I won't in person. There is no 'on the job' training. There does not exist any practical practice. For many cabbies, they have no personal car to practice with. You basically just "go"....out into the streets and hope for the best until you sort of figure things out. Going to JFK? Well, it might be a cabbies first time too. Everyone is new at one point.
So, once you get your hack license - that is, passing your drug test, proving your identity and driving history, attending taxi school, a criminal background check and finally, the 6 hour NYC taxi test - your next stop is to choose a garage. There are a zillion to choose from. I chose Team Systems - it's also apparently called Metro Taxi, then again, their website calls it Team Taxi - I dunno, I chose it because it was a grimy looking sea of Crown Victoria cars and that the garage looked like it had been there since New York was called New Amsterdam. Plus, they had a website, which more than any others, sort of makes you feel halfway okay about calling or visiting the place.
I called the garage - and spoke to Mike - one of the managers and dispatchers there, and explained I was new and wanted to try my hand at hacking. Mike was polite, and told me no problem and to stop in to see the General Manager, Joe Hennessey - and he would bring me through the process. So - that is what I did. Joe, as I later learned on my own, is a WW2 vet and a veteran taxi driver from the 60's. This is a man who can tell you where the cracks are on a sidewalk in this city. He was very polite to me - and, if I may opine - was everything I imagined a NYC Taxi Garage Manager would be. Kind of hard and gritty, but with a soft spot for his drivers and the industry in general. His office looked like it hadn't seen a vacuum or dust rag since the day he first sat down; right out of any taxi sort of movie/show. He was great to deal with - we chatted as he entered my info from the forms I filled, checked my DMV license, and shared some stories with me. Plus, since my regular day job is much like one of his daughters, we both chatted a bit about that, as well as a personal story of a former police officer he was great friends with, who used to drive taxi at the garage that was killed in the line of duty. He gave me a quick tour, and told me what to do when I come in to start my first shift whenever I wanted. I like guys like Joe, and I have a lot of respect for them.
So, that was on a Friday, and the next day, I thought I would try my hand at a Saturday night shift. All this work and running around was finally at it's end - now it was up to me. Either I do it, or I don't. There are two shifts in NYC. 5AM to 5PM, and 5PM to 5AM. I went early at around 2:30 in the afternoon and spoke with Mike the dispatcher. Basically, you just hand Mike your hack license, he enters it, and while you wait in a driver's room, he will call you when a cab is available. Before hand, he asked another driver to give 'the new fella' a lesson on how to run the meter. I had not a clue how to run it, or the TLC computer's system, but the driver gave me a 5 minute crash course. How to sign in, how to sign off if I go 'off duty' for a break, etc etc. I was still sort of clueless - it's easy if you've done it for a long time, but for a new guy, well, it's a lot to digest - and like anything, was mostly forgotten.
About 10 minutes later, Mike called my name and handed me a key to a car, and I paid the lease rate of $134 for a Saturday night (as opposed to $109 for Sunday day shift. I gave him $135 with a buck tip, which I now regret, I think my first night out I should have given him more, but I just didn't know any better. Sorry Mike! So - with a trip card in hand, a key to car # 363, I strolled around the parking lot looking for the car, which was Medallion 4M15 - a 2011 Crown Victoria. I entered it's cavernous front seat, and with a moment of unease and some pride, placed my hack license in the bracket for passengers to see. That moment was the culmination of this entire process. I was an official NYC Taxi Driver. Probably hard to understand for someone not into it. Anyhow, the car was perfect for me. It had 167,000 miles on it and looked like a battle ship roped in port after the Pearl Harbor invasion. The seat was squished nearly to the floor and the back rest had some kind of board behind it for support, which would later kill my back. Gas gauge was busted, engine light was on - but yee haw, that baby had some bite to it. I was completely nervous, but I signed into the system, entering my hack license #, and rolled out of the garage to head over the Queensboro Bridge to Manhattan. But first, I needed to get my backpack out of my car, and take a pic of my first steed:
So...where does one go when they are behind the wheel of a yellow taxi? Manhattan. All yellow cabs point there noses westward to Manhattan. That's where the money is. The #1 reason a person takes a taxi is because they can afford to. Cabs are expensive. Mid-town and lower Manhattan is one of the few places that ONLY a yellow taxi can legally pick up hails (Same with airports). Black cars can't. Green Boro Taxi's can't, Uber can't either. That's why in Manhattan all you see is yellow taxi's and that no one wants to drive someone into deep Brooklyn...because the ride back you will likely be empty. Personally, I don't understand it, I'll go anywhere (plus, you're required to). In a yellow taxi, the money is going up and down the Manhattan grid. A taxi driver will likely roll up 6th Avenue a dozen times a day at least. Tourists, financiers, wealthy Manhattanites - they are all there.
So, as I head over the Queensboro Bridge, a wave of excitement and real fear washes over me as Manhattan looms nearer and nearer. "Oh My God". "Holy Shit". "Oh Holy Shit". "OMG Holy Shitttttt"....were my exact thoughts as the buildings became bigger, and bigger, and bigger. I come off the bridge with a plan to head to Columbus Circle, when I see an elderly woman waving at me - so I'm like ' whoa '.....I have to stop for this woman. Ohhhhh Sheeeeeetttttttttt. I pull over, and she and another older woman climb in. They give me the address, which was right around the area and was easy enough. Oh God of Taxi's thank you! I pressed the 'Hired' button on the meter. My first fare. The women were very nice and chatted with me, and she asked out of nowhere - "Where are you from, because you're definitely not from New York". So I told them, to which she asked how long I had been driving a taxi. I looked at my watch and answered her with a smile "About 8 minutes". After explaining that I meant that literally, they were astounded apparently, and extremely nice to me, and wished me the best of luck. The fact I lived in Vermont but chose to do this was something they thought was fascinating. So my first fare. Whew! I was on Lexington Ave at 93rd Street when I dropped them off, and right across 93rd was two women with a gaggle of kids with balloons waving me over, so I picked them up.
After dropping them off on York Avenue, I had fare after fare after fare. For the first three, I was screwing up the meter, because I wasn't ending it properly. I FINALLY figured it out on my own, after three fares (two that were upset because they couldn't pay via credit card). Basically, on the Centrodyne Silent 620 meter, you hit 'Hired"....then when done, hit "Time Off", then......THEN.....hit "Hired" one more time, which prompts the passenger on their on board screen to choose Cash or Credit. The computer system would then tell you what the passenger is doing....choosing a payment option, swiping the card...etc. So, it was NON STOP passengers until about 7:00 pm, and I pulled over to take a break on 55th Street and 9th Avenue.
As you can see in the above pic, my roof light illuminating the medallion number was on. I hadn't yet figured out how to turn the thing off when traveling empty. What this means is, is the car is available, and if someone wants a ride, I have to give it to them. Which, of course, happened. A young African American man approached me and politely asked if I was available, to which I naturally told him I was. What I learned later in the shift, was to turn the roof light off (it turns off automatically when the meter is in the 'Hired' position), was on the computer system, you need to follow prompts to 'Logoff' - and look for the reason why, such as personal, relief time, or to travel home (garage). If the roof light is off, you can refuse passengers. If it's on, you're on the hook.
So, I have always been fairly confident running/driving the streets of Manhattan. But it is a totally different experience when driving a taxi. First off, when cruising for fares, you need to be alert and looking for people hailing you. Secondly, it needs to be understood that people who are hailing you, know where they want to go, and for the most part - already have mapped it out in their minds. When they get in, they automatically assume you're going to be a human mapquest and just know exactly what they are thinking in less than a second. Of course, for newbies like me, we don't - and they have little appreciation for the difficulties this presents. Like any town - no one, and I mean NO ONE is going to be a geography pro without a lot of practice. I could take a 40 year taxi veteran and plop him/her in my hometown in Vermont, and it will take them weeks if not months to really know the landscape. I had one woman get fairly upset with me with an address. I was near Washington Square Park, and this long gray haired hippy woman climbs in and says she wants to go to 7th Avenue and 14th Street. Piece of cake right? Well, as I started, she immediately says in a rude and condescending tone - 'What are you doing?! I want to go up Greene Street". Well, um....what and where is Greene Street? Come on man, there are 6000 miles of roads in NYC. Anyhow, she has me turning here, there, and I am completely discombobulated. I don't even know where north is anymore, and feeling a little stressed out, because she is giving me a major attitude. Finally, getting to 6th Avenue, I head north. As I approach 14th Street, I see it is jammed up with traffic. So, like the new idiot I am, I turned left onto 13th Street....realizing immediately once I turned (and with her announcement at the same time), that I won't be able to turn north onto 7th Avenue since it runs south. Grrrrrrrr, I'm such an amateur! Anyhow, I immediately stopped the meter and apologized. She was pretty irritated, but she did say she understood that my intentions were good.
Once she got out, I stopped for three huge African American guys, who climbed in speaking French. They were buzzing on booze - but also spoke broken English and were being playfully fun. They said they were visiting New York and were having fun at some of the gay bars and wanted to know where the good ones were, to which I told them I hadn't any idea. They gave me an address to go to in the Village and along the way were swearing like sailors to which one kept playfully apologizing to me for - sticking his head through the open partition window. Once I got to their address, they asked me to go along with them, to which I declined. I am pretty sure they weren't serious.
As night fell, no matter where I would cruise for fares, I seemed to end up in those pockets of streets that are not on the grid - the Lower East Side, Bleeker Street...places like that - where the night life is. Nothing but intoxicated people climbed in and out. Booze breath emanated throughout the cab's interior; it's a scent I don't particularly enjoy. I actually don't have a lot of tolerance for drunks, but eh - I understand this was all part of the 'cabbie' experience. Some were pleasant, some were quiet, and only a couple were indifferent. Finally at 11:00 pm, I saw a space in front of 255 East Houston Street near a hydrant to take a break.
After taking a break for about an hour, watching the zombies urinate in doorways, hooting and hollering at everyone - I decided to brave the streets again. At that point, I had made approximately 18 fares or so, and went way beyond the breaking even point of my lease; I was in the black. I was still feeling less than confident about the lower streets, but eh....google maps is a huge help. Of course, the TLC does not allow the use of hand held electronics when driving, but you can while stopped, to at least give you an IDEA where you're going. For instant, at one point I was way uptown at the upper crust of Harlem at 148th Street and Broadway. A group of young people got in and wanted to go to Ludlow Street. Yeah, like any everyday average New Yorker knows right where THAT is. Got to check google. Honestly don't know how drivers did this job before these electronic maps. Wow. But of course 'New Yorkers" - and yes, that includes the boys and girls from everywhere but NYC, are pros and have little to no patience for error. I had this one older guy with a foreign accent go on a rant about drivers. I picked him up on South End Blvd., very well dressed and reeked of cologne. He wanted to go to 14th Street somewhere and says to me out of nowhere when we were almost there, that he appreciated having 'an American driver'. He said he liked my smooth accelerations, and was critical of 'non-Americans' driving performance and their lack of knowledge. He was very critical of drivers not knowing the geography well enough - comparing NYC cabbies with London cabbies. I did admit to him that despite my being American and familiar with NYC, that I was pretty challenged with lower streets. What I didn't tell him, was hey....if I make $100 profit after steering this yellow car around NYC taking crap from drunks for 12 HOURS, I will be lucky - so more training...?...ha, yeah right. Enjoy your prime rib dinner; I ate a bag of Bugles and a Dr. Pepper.
At 2:30 I did my last fare. An extremely intoxicated Mexican man that I picked up somewhere near Prince Street. I could barely understand his slurred spanish, and he wanted to go to 2nd Avenue and 103rd Street, which is East or Spanish Harlem - 'El Barrio'. Finally, an address I can deal with. So it was a nice cruise up Third Avenue, a turn onto 104th, and then down 2nd to 103. Once there, the passenger was completely knocked out. Yelling and clapping did nothing. He was slumped in the back seat, so I had to get out to shake him gently to wake up. He owed me $18.50, but after fiddle farting around with him, I ended up getting $18 out of him; I just wanted him out of my life at that point, because I had to get this car back to the garage. After saying adios to him, I kept that roof light off, and steered my amazing yellow horse south on 2nd Avenue for about 2 miles to the Queensboro Bridge, and went to fill the car up. After filling up, I pulled into the garage lot to park, and started the logoff routine. When you logoff the system, you will choose 'End of Shift', which then prints your fares, and credit card totals with tips. Don't forget your hack license that is behind your head that you posted at the start of your shift! Bring that receipt (and remember, credit card fares over $25 have to have their own separate receipts that are SIGNED!) to the cashier, who then pays you in cash. And that is it. Your shift is done. Congratulations, you're a NYC cab driver. Whether one shift or a thousand - a NYC Taxi Driver - better be proud of it.
And for your viewing pleasure, I made a video driving across the Queensboro Bridge - to the tune of the TV Show "Taxi" theme.
And that's....a wrap.
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.