Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why Uber Has Turned Out To Be The Best Thing That's Ever Happened To The NYC Yellow Taxi Driver

Passengers in my cab are always surprised when I tell them there is no taxi drivers’ union in New York City. It is assumed that with all these cabs everywhere you look there must certainly be a union, but there is not. There is a taxi drivers’ advocacy group, the Taxi Workers Alliance, whose leader, Bhairavi Desai, often appears in the media and at meetings of the Taxi and Limousine Commission to try to present the viewpoint of the drivers, but the Taxi Workers Alliance has no clout. This was painfully evident in September of 2007 when Ms. Desai called for a two-day work stoppage to protest the imposition of the high-tech “system” (GPS monitoring, credit card readers, and back seat television screens) upon the taxi industry in New York City. Her call was widely ignored by the drivers who instead opted to avail themselves of the inducement of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to pay her no mind and instead make a bundle on those days because he was allowing drivers to accept multiple passengers and charge by zones.

Although I did observe the work stoppage myself, I was not at all surprised that it fell on its face. The template upon which the taxi industry in New York operates was conceived in 1937, a time of enormous labor unrest in the United States. Intentionally or not, it has turned out to be union-proof. The number of yellow cab medallions was fixed at 11,787; about half of them were owned by numerous taxi fleets scattered around the city and the other half by independent owner-drivers, one taxi for each owner-driver. So with dozens of taxi garages and thousands of independent drivers scattered all over the city, there was no central location where drivers would ever congregate and no place to put a picket line. Attempts to unionize failed and, boy, the weakness that was the result of that failure has been evident ever since.

Just compare the difference in the way taxi drivers and members of the Transit Workers Union (subways and buses) are dealt with by the city when a strike, or even a temporary work stoppage, is threatened. Mayor Bloomberg, as mentioned, simply bribed the taxi drivers to continue working on those two days. In May of 1998 there actually was a one-day work stoppage by taxi drivers, a labor miracle engineered by Ms. Desai, in response to Mayor Guiliani’s sudden imposition of unpopular new rules upon the industry. For that one remarkable day there were virtually no yellow cabs on the streets of the city. The mayor went on television that evening and with a smile on his face said, “The streets were nice and empty today. They should do it more often.” He refused to negotiate and then for the next two years taxi drivers were continuously being pulled over by the police and ticketed for such offenses as wearing sandals or having an entry missing from their trip sheets. Some felt this was not a coincidence.

But should the president of the Transit Workers Union even be overheard at the gym using the word “deadline” in regard to the expiration of contracts with the city, the attitude from the mayor’s office is along the lines of, “Come on over, we can work it out, let’s do lunch.” Negotiations are conducted and deals are made. Why? Because the TWU is a very strong union - it can call a strike for real and cause great trouble not only for the citizens of the city but for the mayor, who will be blamed for letting it happen. That is clout. That is leverage. That is what taxi drivers have never had.

As a result they have been taken utterly for granted by owners of taxi fleets and city officials alike. Due to a steady influx of immigrant labor, garage owners have never had to particularly worry about not having enough cabbies to drive their vehicles, regardless of the working conditions these drivers were required to tolerate. And any newly-elected mayor or recently-appointed Taxi and Limousine Commission chairman soon learned that they can impose any rules they want on taxi drivers and there will be no meaningful opposition to their decrees.

The examples of this could fill a book (hey, there’s an idea!) but I’m going to give you just three, to illustrate the point.

1) After the recession hit in 2008, taxi garages were overflowing with drivers looking for work. Since it’s more convenient and more profitable for fleet owners to lease their cabs out on a weekly, rather than a daily basis, drivers were told they had no choice but to take the weekly deal. This meant a six-day work week for either a day shift (5 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or a night shift (5 p.m. to 5 a.m.). Should a personal situation or an illness or a Hurricane Sandy come along and you needed a few days off, tough, you still had to pay the full weekly lease if you wanted to continue to drive one of that fleet’s cabs.

2) The high-tech “system” was mandated by the Bloomberg administration to be in use in all taxis in January of 2008. It consists of three components: credit card readers, GPS tracking, and a television monitor in the back seat. I will leave the pros and cons of the credit card readers and the GPS tracking for another day - let’s just talk about the television monitor. Here is a glittering example, the gold standard, if you will, of just how taken for granted the taxi drivers have been. When you sit down in the back seat of a New York taxicab, a TV monitor is staring you in the face. When the driver turns on the meter it activates the TV and the canned entertainment begins. Of late this consists of clips taken from talk shows, interspersed with commercials and public-service announcements. What this means to the taxi driver is that for approximately sixty-five percent of his twelve-hour shift (the average percentage of time the meter is on) he will be forced to endure listening to the same jokes and babble over and over and over and over again. Was any kind of survey ever done of how the drivers felt about this? Of course not. Are the drivers even given a piece of the advertising revenue the Taxi TV generates? Uh, why even ask?

Aside from all this, there is a safety issue, as well. The monitor is about twenty-four inches from the driver’s head, so the noise it emits is inescapable. And to make it worse, the volume can be turned up to make it suddenly BLASTING with a quick tap-tap-tap of the passenger’s finger. Now, quite aside from the obvious annoyance this would be to the person who has to put up with it for two-thirds of his or her work day, has it occurred to no one that it is also a distraction to the driver and it therefore makes a ride in a taxi less safe than it would be if the thing simply wasn’t there at all? If anyone would dispute that point, I would invite them to answer this question: how would you like it if that monitor was twenty-four inches behind the head of your airline pilot as he’s bringing your plane in for a landing? Do you think that would be approved by the FAA? Of course not! But in a taxi, it’s okay?

3) And then there is the Nissan NV200 minivan, the so-called “Taxi of Tomorrow”. Forget about the fact that the car is not a hybrid. Forget about the peculiar and troubling deal that Mayor Bloomberg entered the city into which squelches competition in the marketplace by awarding Nissan an exclusive ten-year contract to be the sole manufacturer of all taxicabs in New York City. Let’s just talk about the feature of this vehicle which makes it so horrible that I told the manager of my garage, after driving it for only two shifts, that if he had no other types of cabs to offer me, I will quit: it comes from the manufacturer with a solid Plexiglas partition which cannot be opened. Why is this so bad? Because, although there is an intercom which permits a sentence or two to come through, it nevertheless reduces the chance of an actual conversation between the passenger and the driver to nearly zero. Like hair salons and bars, the taxicab is a business setting in which there is a potential for real human contact. For a driver like myself, this is the essence of the job, and for many New Yorkers - and for nearly all tourists - contact with taxi drivers is an important part of the “New York experience”. The partition which cannot be opened kills that, and it kills tips, too, as a consequence of the enforced disconnection from the driver.

So into this environment enters Uber, the new kid in town. After some initial wrangling the dust settles down and Uber creates a foothold in the taxi community. Its popularity with customers grows. The owners of car services are very worried because the Uber business model of getting a taxi via an app is superior to having to call for one on the phone and wait for it to show up, if it shows up at all. But the fleet owners of the yellow cabs are not worried because the business model of going out on the street and waving your hand is still superior, or at least as good as, ordering a cab via an app. So even with Uber in town, business was going along as usual… until last summer.

That’s when things began to change. And this was the huge, unforeseen consequence which is turning the New York taxi industry upside down: the drivers of the yellow cabs began to defect to Uber. Like weary soldiers who disappear from their units in the middle of the night, the drivers are deserting the fleets, and there is no sign at this point that they will be coming back. At my own garage at least twenty-five percent of the fleet’s two hundred taxis have been standing empty on most days since July.

This is a disaster scenario for the garage owners. It is quite an expensive operation to keep a fleet of taxis on the streets of New York. The owners' only source of revenue is what they receive from the leasing fees of drivers, so if too many cabs stand empty for too long, the fleet owners will be facing bankruptcy. And to make matters worse, the medallion, which had been trading in the vicinity of a million dollars, is in free-fall. It has lost over twenty percent of its value since the drivers began to shift to Uber, and right now it would be difficult, if not impossible, to sell one because potential buyers as well as lenders are shying away. There is no longer confidence in what the future may hold for the value of the medallion nor does anyone know what the bottom will be. This means that even if a fleet owner wanted to liquidate some of his medallions to help cover expenses while he rides the crisis out, he cannot. And the city, too, has suffered. The sale of 2,000 new medallions, which was included in Mayor Bloomberg’s final budget and was expected to bring in a billion dollars, has been suspended indefinitely.

What does this all mean for the drivers of the yellow cabs? It means hallelujah, leverage has arrived at last. It has arrived not through feeble threats of strikes or work stoppages, but through competition for the services of drivers. Now, for the first time ever, fleet owners and city officials will have no choice but to give serious consideration to how their actions affect the lives of the drivers. If they are wise, they will realize it’s not only a matter of whether or not a cabbie can make more money driving for Uber, although that is, of course, an important issue. It’s also about the working conditions of the drivers - the twelve-hour shifts, the six-day work week, the Taxi TV, the removal of choice in the vehicles they can drive, and so on.

Hey, Taxi and Limousine Commission - do you want the drivers to return?

How about doing some surveys?

Find out what's really needed and wanted from the drivers.

And then give them some good reasons to come back.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Running The Gamut, Number Three

One of the great things about driving a taxi in New York City - perhaps the greatest thing - is that on any given day you may run the gamut: that is, you may pick up people who are able representatives of both the top and the bottom of the social spectrum. Your first passenger may be a nun who works for God and your second a street hooker who works for Jake the Snake, her pimp; your third an assistant district attorney and the fourth the guy he’s sending to prison. And so it goes - the parade of humanity enters and exits through your doors. It’s magnificent, really.

(Note: I’ve written two other posts on this subject, “Running The Gamut”, and “Running the Gamut, Number Two”. If you’d like to read them please mouse on over to the subject index on the right and click on running the gamut. I’d link them up right here but I’m having some technical problems with Blogger, which hosts this site, and am unable to do so at the moment.)

So, in this episode of Running the Gamut, we’re going to zero in on a specialized zone of activity in New York City, the world of baseball. For those of you who may live in a part of the planet where baseball is not played, let me fill you in on the basics:

- baseball is the number one sport in the United States. It is played on many levels, but the ultimate goal of any player is to make it to the top level, which is called the Major League.

- the first Major League game was played in 1871.

- there are thirty teams in the Major League, spanning across the country in most of our principal cities. The season goes from April until the end of September, with the three-tiered playoff games continuing until the end of October. The regular season consists of 162 games for each team.

- in New York City there are two baseball teams, the Yankees and the Mets. The Yankees came into existence in 1903 and have long been the premiere team of the sport. Many of baseball’s iconic players (such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle) were Yankees. They have won 27 championships, far more than any other franchise. Their home is Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The Mets have been around since 1962. They have won two championships in their 52 years. They play in Citi Field in Queens.

On August 7th, a Thursday, I started my shift at 5:30 pm, as I normally do. My first passengers were two ladies - one middle-aged, the other a twenty-something - going from Columbus Circle down to Penn Station. They were both wearing the pinstriped jerseys of the Yankees - the familiar, interlocking “NY” on the front and, I noticed, the number 2 on the backs of both of them. The Yankees had played a game that afternoon so I knew without even needing to ask where they were coming from. A conversation began.

Yes, they told me, they’d been at the game, adding that there was some kind of delay on the subway, which was why they were in my cab - and they had only twenty minutes to catch a train to New Jersey. Could we make it? I told them to relax, I’d get them to Penn Station on time. And we were on our way.

I soon discovered that they were mother and daughter, both big Yankee fans, that they go to at least one Yankee game together every year (“it’s a tradition”), that the game they’d just attended was the only game for them this year, and that, hooray, the Yankees had won. Still, the mother said, they were “greatly disappointed”.

“Why?” I asked (of course). I mean, the Yankees won, you’re supposed to be happy.

“Because Jeter didn’t play!” they both answered, almost in unison.

“Oh, gee, that’s too bad,” I said, completely understanding their dismay.

Again, for the benefit of those readers who may not know baseball, allow me to tell you why this fellow named Jeter not playing in that game would be such a letdown to my passengers. Derek Jeter has been a star player - the captain of the team, actually - for the Yankees for the last twenty years. During his tenure the Yankees have won five championships and gone to the playoffs 17 times. On a personal level he has broken so many statistical records that they seem endless. He ranks sixth on the all-time hits list. (That means that, going back to 1871, only five players have had more hits than he.) And off the field he has been the very epitome of what we would hope a star athlete to be. Hard-working, generous, respectful, always upbeat, never involved in a controversy, never a bad word said against him - he is truly a role model not only for America’s youth, but for everybody. All around the country he is regarded as the “face of baseball”. People are naming their children (and their pets) after him. And now, at the age of 40, he has announced that this season will be his last. Fans of opposing teams are crowding into their own stadiums to get one last look at him when the Yankees come to town and are giving him standing ovations when he comes to bat. He is the superstar of the world of baseball.

So this was why my passengers were so disappointed even though the Yankees won the game. Being devoted Yankee fans and fans of Jeter in particular - the number 2 on their jerseys is his number - they, too, had wanted to see him play one last time. But, alas, he’d been given the day off, something that happens from time to time during the course of the long, long season.

Nevertheless, my passengers were in good spirits as we approached the entrance to Penn Station at 34th Street and 7th Avenue, despite the presence above us of a gigantic Nike billboard featuring a thirty-foot image of Derek Jeter acknowledging the adoration of his fans.

“Re2pect” was the only text accompanying the image.

As mother and daughter left my cab with smiles on their faces and five minutes to spare, my eyes wandered to the shop directly on my right. It was a Modell’s Sporting Goods store, one of many in the city, where they sell mostly apparel for fans. The entire window displayed t-shirts, jerseys, hats, buttons, and every other imaginable form of commemoration featuring, guess who?

Yes, it has been a Derek Jeter year in New York City, if not the entire country. “We need our heroes,” I thought, as I pulled out into the quagmire of traffic on 7th Avenue. And indeed we do. In this age of super-cynicism, is it not something of importance to have a counterbalance to the liars, the cheats, the pretenders, and the thieves who show up for a free meal at every opportunity? It is important. Let the good guys win every once in a while.

I slogged along in the evening rush for the next few hours. At 6:50 three out-of-towners went from 77th and York down to the Astor Place Theatre in the East Village to see Blue Man Group, a nice twenty-dollar run on the FDR Drive. Then there was a short ride over to Alphabet City. On my next one, from the Bowery down to the intersection of Allen and Chrystie, I found myself sitting in a bumper to bumper jam-up on 2nd Avenue. Looking around at the environment, I noticed one of those gigantic double-decker tourist buses just to the left of me which was decorated with - well, will you look who’s here again? - fifteen-foot-high Derek Jeter action images on all sides. “Jesus,” I thought, “this guy is everywhere.”

The next few fares took me to the West Village, up again to the Upper East Side, down to 60th and 5th, and then, at 8:30, to 22nd and 8th in Chelsea. 8:30 is around the time for my ritualistic coffee break, so I parked at 6th Avenue, went into the Starbucks at the corner, got my tall Pike (no room for milk), returned to the cab, dug through my bag to retrieve my carrot muffin sliced into bite-sized pieces the night before, and began munching away in happiness. Ah, that feeling of the hot coffee meeting the muffin… bliss.

Okay, back to work. My next fare was a chatty fellow going from the popular Eataly restaurant and market on 23rd and 5th all the way up to 157th and St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem - $28.50 on the meter and a $5 tip - a great ride. After that it was 73rd and Columbus down to 15th and 5th, followed by 14th and 4th down to Gold Street in the Financial District. The night was wearing on, and I was doing pretty well, both in spirit and in money.

At 11:12 a twenty-something woman beat out another twenty-something woman in a rush to get to my cab at 27th and Park - it can get quite busy in certain sections of Manhattan at around that time on a Thursday night - and directed me to drive to LaGuardia Place and Houston Street on the southern boundary of Greenwich Village. When I arrived there eight minutes later I pulled over on Houston at the intersection but had to wait a bit for her to swipe her credit card - it took several swipes to register - and then to gather her stuff together and open the door. As she did so a particularly attractive young lady standing a short distance away noticed that my cab was becoming available and began moving quickly toward me with her hand in the air. Seeing the hail, I remained at the curb instead of pulling out onto the street. She hustled up, opened the door, got in, and said, “Someone else is coming”, with a concerned look on her face. About five seconds went by until the person we were waiting for came jogging toward the cab, being pursued by three or four shouting females who were basically begging him to pose for a picture with them. He stopped at the opened door of my taxi and stood with the girls for a few moments, flashing a very familiar smile while they snapped away and thanked him profusely.

And then Derek Jeter got into my cab.

“It’s number 2,” I said, sort of half to myself and half to them, and a bit in shock.

“Hiya buddy,” said Derek Jeter.

“I can’t get away from you!” I exclaimed (in jest).

“I’m following you, buddy!” Derek replied, smiling.

Their destination was a street in the West Village, so this was to be a short ride, only five minutes or so. Immediately I knew I had a problem, and a sort of panic set in. Derek Jeter has descended upon my cab from outer space and is all mine for five minutes. I knew from his friendliness upon entering that he would be open to conversation - but what should I talk to him about? One thing I’ve learned about major celebrities is that you try not to talk to them about the thing for which they’re famous. When I had Paul Simon in my cab, for instance, did I speak a word to him about his music? No. We had a memorable conversation about baseball, actually. (That story is in my book, by the way.) So here was the Crown Prince of Baseball sitting in my cab. If not baseball, what should the topic be? The answer hit me with the impact of a Randy Johnson fastball.

I had heard several months ago what Derek plans to do after he retires from baseball and, when I heard it, it really grabbed my attention. It’s not what you would expect. You’d think it would be broadcasting, managing a baseball team, or even becoming the owner of one. Something along those lines. But no. He plans to publish books. Derek Jeter, book publisher - doesn’t that open up a side to him we never knew existed? Amazing. So our five minutes together were spent primarily discussing books.

Out of respect - or should I say “re2pect” - for the confidentiality of a private conversation, I will not say more than that. But I will say this:

1. One of the fears some people have upon meeting a celebrity they’ve admired from a distance for many years is that the guy or gal will turn out to be a jerk in person. There should be no such fear regarding Derek Jeter. He wears it well, as was said of Jackie Kennedy. Derek Jeter is a nice guy, a caring person. There’s a kind of goodness that radiates from him.

2. Many people, when I tell them I had a certain celebrity in my cab, want to know about the tip. “How much did he tip you?” they ask. Well, I won’t say that, either, but I will say that Derek has surpassed Leonardo di Caprio as the best celebrity tipper I’ve ever had in my cab, a mark that had stood for 18 years. (That story’s in my book, too.) So there’s another record broken by Derek Jeter!

3. He likes to call you “buddy”. Aside from how he greeted me, I’ve heard this as well from a couple of different sources. Apparently everyone is Derek’s buddy. With this in mind, I found a fantasy had elbowed its way into my universe…

"Derek Jeter At The Pearly Gates"

There had been much excitement when the word spread around Heaven that Derek Jeter would be arriving the next day. Angels, spirits, and souls of all types left their clouds at the break of dawn to ensure they would be there in time to catch a glimpse of the Face of Baseball and give him a warm, heavenly welcome. At the appointed hour, amid a chorus of trumpets and harps, Derek arrived at the Pearly Gates and was greeted with great joy by none other than Saint Peter himself. After the speeches were over and a choir of children sang “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”, Saint Peter pulled Derek over to the side and said, “Come with me, Derek, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.” At once the clouds parted, thunder roared, and Derek found that he was standing alone with his host in some kind of divine baseball field. A bright figure appeared from the dugout and floated toward them. “Derek,” whispered Saint Peter, “I’d like you to meet God.”

God: “Derek Jeter! What a pleasure to meet you at last!”

Derek: “Hiya buddy, how ya doin'?”

God and Derek exchanged pleasantries for a couple of minutes until an angel suddenly appeared to escort Derek to his next engagement and drove him off in a golf cart.

“Wow,” Saint Peter said to God as they disappeared from sight, “Derek Jeter!”

“Look,” said God, beaming - “I got his autograph!”

And so did I - on my trip sheet…

Back to work, I must admit I was on Cloud Nine. My Derek Jeter experience had elevated my emotional tone up to a steady flow of enthusiasm which carried over to the rest of the passengers in my cab for the remainder of the shift. Each new arrival soon learned that, “Hey, guess who I had in my cab just a little while ago? Derek Jeter!” What amazed me, however - and this is such a New York City phenomenon - was that of the eight more fares who rode with me until I quit at four in the morning, half of them had never heard of him!

A pleasant thirtyish woman in Brooklyn, going from Grand Street in Williamsburg to Dean Street in Crown Heights, was happy that I was happy, but she was from Germany - no baseball. A fellow coming from a gay club in Hell’s Kitchen en route to Astoria thought it was interesting, but he was from Indonesia - no baseball. A kid who was actually wearing a Yankee cap took me from 73rd and 5th Avenue down to the Lower East Side and barely grunted in reaction to my Jeter announcement, but he was from the Twilight Zone - no baseball. And then, to top it off, I had a young lady from Japan, where the entire country is addicted to baseball, admit to me that she didn’t know who Jeter was, although she did know who Matsui and Ichiro are, Japanese stars who have both played on the Yankees.

“I am sorry,” she said, “I’m a street performer and I’m drunk!”

Well, that’s New York City for you. A city so huge and so diverse - bursting at the seams with all kinds of people from every corner of the world - that such a thing could be possible. If a superstar of baseball had played for twenty years on a team in any other city in the country it would be inconceivable that virtually anyone living in that city would not know him well. But in New York this can be so.

So I had run the gamut of the world of baseball, from the adoring mother and daughter who were so disappointed because they didn’t get to see Jeter play, to the object of their affection himself. Imagine if they’d stowed away in the rear compartment of the taxi - merely six hours later they could have met him in person! I wish I knew who they were so I could tell them that! But it was my very last passenger who made me realize that I had also run a gamut of another kind.

I was driving up Amsterdam Avenue just a few minutes before four o’clock, en route to a gas station at Broadway and 130th Street, when I spotted a figure in the shadows about a block ahead at 113th Street who apparently was trying to hail me. As I got closer I could see that he was crouched over a walker, appeared to be in pain or at least in some discomfort, and that the entrance to the emergency room of St. Luke’s Hospital was just down the street. I pulled over and stopped.

He was a gaunt man, quite small, I think Hispanic, and I judged him to be about 40 years old. He thanked me for stopping - there aren’t many taxis around at this hour - and asked if I could help him get into the cab. He was quite frail, barely able to lift his leg high enough to make it into the rear compartment, and was, in fact, coming from St. Luke’s. Taking care that he didn’t slip and fall, I held his arm and guided him in, then placed his walker in the back. As we drove off he told me about his condition, a spinal injury which had left him crippled. I sensed no self-pity or blame, it was just the way it was and he was carrying on. His destination was a mere ten blocks up the road to a project complex at La Salle Street. When we got there he paid me the $5.50 fare in cash, no tip, and asked for a receipt, so he could be reimbursed. He put the receipt in his pocket and we began the reverse process of extricating him from the taxi. That took a minute and then he thanked me for my help and began moving toward his building in his walker, an inch at a time.

I was done for the night and drove a few blocks over to Broadway and the gas station. After filling up, I had some time to reflect on the events of the evening, particularly this last ride. That frail man had sat in the same seat where Derek Jeter had been sitting only a few hours earlier. Both were about the same age. Aside from his fame and charisma, Jeter is a physical specimen, taller and more impressive in person than I had realized. If you had no idea who he was and saw him walking down the street, you might well have thought he could be a professional athlete. My last passenger, by contrast, was at the bottom of that scale.

New York, the City of the Human Condition.

We carry on.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Farewell, Sweet Prince

Why rushest thou so, Robin Williams?

Come on back. You can wear that silly-looking hat, that would be fine with me.(Actually I thought it looked kind of cool.)

And how great it would be to hear your Francis McDormand again!

Why rushest thou so?

I loved you - didn't you know?

Come on back.

Robin Williams was in my cab on September 7, 2008.  I'm proud to say that twenty minutes of his life were spent with me. The story of that ride can be found in the post called "Feathers In My Bald Spot", Sept. '08 in the archives.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

We Create Our Own Karma

The Mark on East 77th Street is a posh, boutique hotel which caters to the well-moneyed and well-connected American Aristocracy of the Upper East Side, and to the Flying Cosmopolitans, mostly Europeans, along with at spattering of celebrities (I’ve picked up two from there - Jane Seymour and, quite recently, Eliot Spitzer). I always have my eye on the place as I drive by as there’s a watering hole at street level from which emerge potential passengers. And of course I’m always looking for that next passenger.

It was there at the Mark that I was waved down by a doorman one night not all that long ago at around eleven o’clock and a rather stunningly beautiful, ebony woman entered my taxi. She was exquisitely well put together: tall, thin, angular features, exotic-looking jewelry, what looked like perfect hair, and an outfit that even I, a fashion moron, could tell was smart and chic, if not elegant. She just had to be a model, I thought, if not a supermodel.

She gave me her destination, Williamsburg in Brooklyn, a twenty-minute ride, and after a brief discussion about the route we would be taking, I thought our conversation was already pretty much over. I’ve found fashion models tend to be rather aloof, so used to men fawning over them that they see us as men-objects, not really people, an interesting reversal on the way we are said to think about them. And also, I must admit, a woman who is perhaps too beautiful can be intimidating to a man simply by her appearance. Those of us who suffer from a deficiency in swaggering confidence see the “ten” as a goal that is automatically out of reach, a no-game condition. We assume we would have to be on a comparable level of good looks as she, or wealthy enough to make her overlook our deficiencies. So we shy away, just on assumption. I’m no different.

After five minutes of silence, however, she surprised me by initiating a conversation. What would it cost, she wanted to know, to take a taxi to Trenton, New Jersey, at six in the morning? And would I be interested?

I told her it would be ridiculously expensive because Trenton is about sixty miles away and it would take an hour and a half to get there if the roads were clear, which might be the case at 6 a.m., but would certainly not be the case on the way back. Hell, you could sit at a bridge or tunnel for an hour in the morning rush, so that had to be taken into consideration on what the price of the ride would be. Off the top of my head I told her I would charge three hundred dollars - a stupid amount of money to spend. And besides, I couldn’t do it. My shift ends at five.

She had a problem, she said. She was a model (you see, I knew it!) and she had to be in Trenton at eight in the morning for a shoot. And here it was, 11 p.m., and she hadn’t yet figured out how to get there. She didn’t even know where Trenton was.

Well, I guess she wasn’t a supermodel after all, not that it mattered. (Assumingly supermodels have managers who handle these logistical problems and, clearly, she didn’t.) So taking on the role of transportation consultant, I told her if I were her I’d take a train, then grab a cab in Trenton.

This sounded like a good idea.

-- Which train?

-- New Jersey Transit.

-- Which train station, Grand Central or Penn?

-- Penn.

-- I’ll take a taxi from Brooklyn to Penn Station, she added.

-- You can always catch a cab on Roebling Street, I said.

Problem solved.

Her smile lit up the cab.

As often happens when people communicate with each other, the level of affinity between us rose and further communication came more easily. I found out she was from Haiti, so we discussed the situation there after the earthquake; she asked me some questions about taxi-driving in New York City; she said something about her sister; we had an amusing argument about the best pizza in the city (take your pick, I say, New York is a pizza paradise). It was nothing more than friendly chit-chat, but friendly chit-chat gives you a sense of the other person and in this case it showed me a sincere, open individual whom I liked for the way she was, quite aside from her beauty.

We arrived at her place, an apartment house on North 7th Street, and she paid the fare with a card, giving me an above-average tip. As she thanked me for the ride and began to leave, I realized something: I myself would be in Penn Station at about the same time as she. I was taking commuter trains home in those days and the earliest one, the one I always caught, left at 6:10. So I told her that she and I might see each other again in Penn Station, wouldn’t that be crazy?

Now she might have responded with a sign of suspicion at my having said that - what is this guy, a stalker? - but she didn’t. Instead she smiled pleasantly, giving me the impression that she thought that if we did happen to run into each other again in Penn Station it wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Not that I had any ideas about this woman. I would have said the same thing to anyone whom I perceived to be a good-natured human being.

She waved goodbye and disappeared into her building.

My shift proceeded as usual. A couple of rides to Brooklyn, a steady passenger from the NY Post to his home in Rego Park, a period of half an hour when I could find no one, and a sampling of tourists, drunks, and bankers working late. At 4:30 I gave up looking for a last-ride airport ride and headed to the Hess Station on West 45th to gas up. My night was over. By 5:10 I was waiting on the line at the taxi garage to turn in the rate card and keys and get paid for the credit card transactions of the night. At 5:35 I was out of there and began walking to Penn Station. At 5:55 I arrived.

I had fifteen minutes to kill before my train departed. I’d almost forgotten about the model who was going to Trenton but then it hit me and, only because she’d been nice, I started to walk over toward the waiting room near the 8th Avenue entrance, which is shared by New Jersey Transit and Amtrak, to look for her - just to say hi because I thought it would be such a unique thing to see somebody twice like that. The station starts to get busy at around 6 a.m., with lots of early trains departing to Washington, Boston, and Savannah, so I had to zig-zag my way around dozens of moving bodies until I finally made it to the waiting room. There are approximately a hundred seats in there, about half of which were occupied.

I looked around.

No, no, no… maybe she left already… maybe she found another way to get there, after all… no, not there.

It already began to bother me that I would never know.

I looked again.

And there she was, sitting there, just a couple of rows away from where I was standing! I must have scanned right over her the first time I looked. Wow! I walked over.

-- Hey, hi, remember me?

-- Oh, yes, hello!

Big smile.

-- So I see you got here all right.

-- Yes, there were taxis on Roebling Street, just like you said. Thank you so much.

-- Oh, you’re welcome. When does your train leave?

She looked at me blankly. That was odd. I looked over at the departure board. There was the Trenton train, Track 2, 6:02, ALL ABOARD. I looked at the clock. It was 6:00! Why was she still sitting there?

-- Oh my God, your train is leaving in two minutes!

-- It is?

I thought maybe this whole train thing was new to her. She obviously didn’t understand how it worked - you look at the board, when it says to get on, you go to the track… she was from Haiti, maybe she didn’t understand the meaning of the words on the board…

-- Come on, you’re going to miss your train! Follow me!

She jumped up. Fortunately I knew exactly where Track 2 was located, not far from the waiting room. She followed me through the mishmash of travelers and in twenty seconds we were standing at the doorway leading to the stairway that takes you down to Track 2.

I opened the door for her.

-- Go on, you can still make it!

-- Oh, thank you!

-- You’re welcome! Go!

She ran down the stairs and for the second time disappeared from my sight. I looked at the clock. 6:01. She made the train.

I had to move a bit quickly now to catch my own train - wouldn’t that be ironic if I missed my own train - but I got there with five minutes to spare which for me, knowing exactly where things are and exactly how much time it takes for me to get to them, was an eternity. After my train pulled out and I did some paperwork regarding the night’s business, I had some time to reflect upon what had just happened.

I thought at first that I had done it, that I had been the watchful angel, so to speak. And to some degree, yes, I had. But really, she had done it. She didn’t have to be open and friendly to a random stranger, her taxi driver. She could have been cold and uncommunicative. But it was the way she was, her good nature, that made me feel it would not offend her if I suddenly showed up and said hello.

We create our own karma.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Two Announcements

Book Signing And Reading

The Checker Car Club of America will be having its annual convention in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, this weekend. On Friday, June 20th, there will be over 40 Checkers, some going back to the 1920s, on display at a free public event from 3 p.m. to sunset.

On Saturday, for a fee of $25, you can also participate in an assortment of activities intended to rehabilitate your love for the iconic Checker taxicab (remember the jump seats?) as well as dine at a banquet starting at 7 p.m. where, now hear this, you can get the book Confessions Of A New York Taxi Driver signed by its author and listen to the guy read a story or two from his book.

I mean, wow!

For more information go to

If you’re interested in the Saturday events and the banquet, contact George Laszlo, the convention’s director, at 201-206-0990.

p.s. This will be the first time the convention’s going to be held in New York in 20 years. No telling when it will be here again.

On The Radio Tomorrow

I will be the guest for the full hour on a weekly show called “The World Of Work” with host Shep Cohen on public radio WDVR FM 89.7, this Friday, June 20th, from 4 to 5 p.m.

WDVR broadcasts in the central and southern parts of New Jersey as well as the Philadelphia area. We’ll be discussing my book, the world of the taxi driver, and God knows what else.

For more information about the station and its broadcast range, go to

I hope you’ll be able to tune in. Should be interesting.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

On The Radio Tomorrow In NYC

I am thrilled to announce that I will be a guest on The Leonard Lopate Show tomorrow (Monday, May 19).

Here are the details:
it’s on the public radio station WNYC - 93.9 on the FM dial, 820 on the AM dial - live from noon to 2:00 pm, and is rebroadcast from midnight to 2:00 am. My segment will run from 1:30 to 1:50. You can also hear it on your computer or device at Or you could access it anytime in the future at

This is going to be a special treat for me because Leonard Lopate’s voice has been a passenger in my taxi for quite some time. I listen to the rebroadcast every night that I’m behind the wheel. The wide variety of types of people who appear on his program, his well-informed questions, and his good-natured humor have made him one of the most respected talk show hosts in the USA. And he’s been on the air since 1977 - the same year I started driving a cab!

I hope you’ll be able to catch the show tomorrow or, if not, by clicking onto the link above for the show's archives.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Miracle On 10th Avenue

We live lives of small unanswered injustices.

You come home from the supermarket and notice that you were overcharged a dollar and a half for the tomatoes. It’s not right, you know, but you also know it’s not worth the trouble of going back to the store to get your money back. So you forget about it.

Or you are looking over the monthly bank statement and see you have been charged an “administrative fee” of ten dollars because your balance dipped below the minimum of $1,500 for one lousy day during the month. “Bastards” you mutter to yourself and consider changing banks. But then you think of the hassle that would be and you forget about it.

Or you are driving down a tight one-way street in your city and you pause to allow a car attempting to pull out from the curb to get in front of you. You didn’t have to stop, but it seemed the neighborly thing to do. Then the car proceeds at a snail’s pace - at half the speed you’d been driving - and he makes the light at the end of the block while you do not. While serving your thirty-second sentence at the red light, you envision the perpetrator’s car engulfed in flames as you pass by on the avenue. But there is no burning car, the fantasy dissolves, and you forget about it.

And so it goes. It gets to the point that we just accept as a fact of life that this is the way it is. “Shit happens” has been adopted unwittingly as our collective philosophy. We wait patiently for the next glob of it to hit us in the nose and barely flinch when it does.

At a little before ten o’clock in the evening of January 12th of this year, a Sunday, I picked up a passenger at the corner of 36th Street and 10th Avenue whose destination was 56th, a straight run up the avenue. My fare was a middle-aged fellow of no special description, and other than the hellos and his telling me where he wanted to go, we didn’t seem to have much to say to each other. So I just drove up 10th Avenue at my normal speed, thirty miles per hour, without much regard to him or to the environment.

But then, as I approached 49th Street, it happened: a sudden outrageous menace appeared from out of nowhere in the middle of the avenue, arms waving, eyes crazed, and marching unevenly toward me. It was a twenty-something guy, maybe six feet tall, 180 pounds, and obviously completely out of his mind.

As a veteran driver, I knew immediately what the situation was here. This guy had been watching football games in a bar the entire day, was utterly intoxicated, and now he wanted to go home, or somewhere, and wasn’t able to get a cab. He couldn’t imagine why cabs weren’t stopping for him - what’s wrong with all these fuckin’ cabs? - so he was taking the offensive. Instead of waving at the yellow metal boxes from the side of the road and hoping one of them would pick him up, he was going right out there onto 10th Avenue to grab one with his bare hands.

Instinctively I hit the brakes and slowed to about ten miles per hour, the idea being to navigate around the guy without running him over. But as I moved gently to the left and approached him, I could see that he had me in his cross-hairs and was zeroing in for an attack. His right arm flew wildly around and came crashing into my side-view mirror, bending it backward.

Startled, I pulled more to the left, passed him, and then paused for a moment in the middle of the road, almost at a standstill.

“Damn!” I screamed out.

“Jesus!” my passenger chimed in, “what an idiot!”

I looked at my mirror. It was bent back on its hinges, not broken, so no real harm had been done. I looked at the jerk who was now just a bit behind me. He was still on his feet, still in marauder mode, and looking for the next cab coming up the avenue.

I decided it was just another incident from the theater of the absurd and was about to step on the pedal and continue on up the avenue when an amazing thing happened. No, not “an amazing thing” - a miracle! Something on the left side, over near the curb, caught my eye.

A cop!

Yes, a cop was stepping out of his patrol car onto the street, his face contorted with anger. He’d seen what had just happened and was moving out into the avenue toward the guy.

I was ecstatic. “Look at that! A cop is going after the guy! Oh my God, this never happens!" I squealed to my passenger, who turned out to be an out-of-town fellow and perhaps did not fully appreciate the wonderfulness of the moment.

“This never happens!” I squealed again for emphasis, and smiled triumphantly. I began accelerating and looked back again at the arm-waving lunatic, only to see that my dream-come-true had gotten even better: he was trying to run away from the cop! And a second cop, looking as enraged as the first one, had emerged from the cruiser and was joining in the chase.

“Oh my God,” I laughed ecstatically, “do you see this? He’s trying to run away from the cops! Oh, this is fantastic!” I felt no embarrassmet at expressing myself with such delight at the the sight of a human being being pursued by two angry men armed with pistols. It was just too perfect.

My passenger looked at me with an expression on his face that seemed to say, “Oh, so this is the New York City I’ve heard so much about.”

But “Wow!” was all he said, through a smile of his own.

I stepped on the gas. Of course, there was no hope for the guy. He had no chance of outrunning the cops and would very likely be spending the night in jail and eventually doing some community service (hopefully cleaning taxis).

After dropping off my passenger, who by then had seemed almost as elated as I had been at having witnessed such an event, I decided to circle back to 49th Street to see what was now going on. And not to my surprise there were about a half-dozen police cars in the intersection, lights all ablaze.

It was the cherry on the cake I’d been hoping to see. No doubt the Side-View Mirror Marauder was now in the custody of a small regiment of quite unfriendly officers of the law.

I drove on in search of my next passenger, but while doing so I had a few minutes to reflect. Now, I am not particularly a Believer, but I must say the only logical explanation here can be that this was from God. Yes, God, that fellow up in the sky with the sardonic sense of humor who has been ignoring all these minor and sometimes major transgressions against me for all these years without any thought of meting out even a semblance, I mean just a little token would be nice, of a some justice. It was as if Big Guy was throwing me a bone, at last.

Hey, thanks God.


Please click here to Help Find Harry.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Help Find Harry

This post is quite different from what you would expect to find here.

A few weeks ago you may have heard about a story which ran across the USA on national news stations such as CNN and Fox News, as well as receiving extensive coverage in the national print media. It was about a 32 year-old American who went missing in Mexico on January 25th and has not been heard from since. He was embarking on an adventure of riding his motorcycle from the USA, down through Central America, and winding up in Brazil for the World Cup. While traveling through a part of Mexico which is currently in conflict between drug cartels and anti-drug cartel vigilantes, he disappeared.

His name is Harry Devert. I know Harry personally. His mother, Ann Devert, has been a friend of mine since 1967. In fact, her name is mentioned on the last page of my book in acknowledgment of the help she gave me while I was writing it. Here is a picture I took of Harry and Ann at a college reunion in 2008...

Ann and friends have set up an amazing Facebook page to utilize social media by sharing information, gathering support, and keeping the attention of governmental agencies in both the United States and Mexico on Harry's disappearance as well as the disappearances of others who have gone missing in Mexico.

Here is the link:

There is high drama taking place within the pages of this website. It actually reads like a novel. One of the things that has been learned since it was launched is that there is a distinct possiblity that Harry is alive and is being held against his will. Sources of information can appear from places you might never have imagined. And that is why I am asking for your help.

What I'm asking you to do is to visit the site, see what I mean when I tell you it's riveting, and then invite everyone on your friends list to visit the site as well and ask them to invite all of their friends and for their friends to invite their friends, etc, etc.

You may ask, what can I do since I don't know anyone in Mexico? Well, the friend of your friend might know something that could be of immense value.

I've been writing this blog since 2006. I have never asked readers to do anything for me as a favor, such as signing a petition or giving your support to one cause or another.

But I am asking you to do this for me now.

Please do this.

Thank you.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

On Early Morning TV Sunday, Feb. 23

I have done a pre-recorded interview which will be aired on television in the New York City region on NBC's The Debrief With David Ushery at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23.

What's that, you say you'll be asleep at 5:30 in the morning and you're damn well not getting up to watch it? Well, so you won't feel guilty, that's what DVRs are there for!

OR if you have no DVR or are somewhere else in the world other than in the New York City region, you could do a search using these words: "nyc-cabbie-writes-book nbc" and presto you'll be able to see just the video of the five minute interview without the rest of the show.

I am happy with this interview. We did it on Thursday on the street outside the famous 30 Rock building in Midtown. The host, David Ushery, was more than accomodating by showing my book to the camera, mentioning my blog, and asking his questions in a lively manner. His show, which I've seen in the past, is done in an interesting and unique format. He walks around a newsroom and speaks with reporters about newsworthy events of the past week. You get boots-on-the-ground, insightful commentary from those close to the stories. Plus there are interviews, such as my own, with New Yorkers who've done something noteworthy. (If I don't say so myself!)

So I recommend watching the whole program if you can.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Kissing Hail

It’s quite common in New York City to see people kissing each other on the sidewalk, like this:

What’s not common is to see someone hailing a cab while kissing someone. Imagine one of the people in these pictures waving an arm in an attempt to communicate to a taxi driver that his services are required while maintaining the kiss. In Chapter 16 of my book this is referred to as “The Kissing Hail”. It’s a thing of beauty, requiring balance, agility, peripheral vision, upper body strength, and a need to make a train.

I saw one recently in Tribeca at around 10 p.m. as I was driving up Hudson Street in search of my next passenger. I was impressed not only with the inventiveness of the hailer, a young man with an attractive young lady wrapped around him, but with my own ability to see it coming. You see, an alert taxi driver sees people kissing on the sidewalk not only as an urban sideshow, but as a business opportunity.

It comes in two forms:

1. There’s the First Time We’ve Done This kissing. Usually (but not always) seen quite late at night - say, after 11 - it’s what happens after two people have either been out on a date or have met in a bar, have taken a liking to each other, and are bringing the attraction to its next logical step. They will often be propped up against the side of a building, perhaps just off the sidewalk a bit, in an attempt to create their own little space. There’s no separating them. An explosion could go off on the other side of the street and they would continue to stare into each other’s eyes, run their hands gently across each other’s faces, kiss passionately, come up for air, and do it again.

There is no business opportunity here. Just keep driving.

2. But then there’s the Until We Meet Again kissing. Again, two people are embraced in a passionate kiss, but there are subtle differences. They are usually close to the curb. There is no gazing into each others eyes. There are no exploratory caresses. There’s just the tight embrace and the prolonged kiss, as if to say, “I want you to remember that I love you, you mean a lot to me, sorry we now have to part, we’ll be back together again soon.”

When a cabbie sees this, slow down. One of them is about to hail you.

What happened on Hudson Street was that I was cruising along, looking for my next one, but caught a red light at Franklin. As I waited for the light to change I couldn’t help but notice the two people going at each other with some vigor. After fifteen seconds or so of careful observation, I decided they were Until We Meet Again kissers. I was pretty sure one or both would be wanting a taxi, but I had a problem. There was construction taking up half the road and I wouldn’t be able to stop and wait for them to cease osculation without blocking cars behind me. I would have to keep moving when my light turned green.

As more seconds ticked by, tension grew. The light on the Franklin Street side turned yellow. Then red. My light turned green. Damn, why don’t these two stop kissing each other already? I mean, come on, enough! I inched my cab forward, keeping an eye on them. Slowly, slowly, until I heard a car behind me start leaning on his horn (a New York City tradition). And then, just as I was about to step on the gas and forget about them, it happened…

…the Kissing Hail!

Yes, without parting bodies, without unlocking lips, without even looking at the vehicles approaching on Hudson Street, the guy’s hand went out behind his back and started waving! I hit the brakes, pulled over, and brought the cab to an abrupt stop. The cars behind me expressed their displeasure and one driver gave me a little scowl as he squeezed around me, but I didn’t care. This was business. Like a fisherman reeling in his line, I awaited the arrival of my catch.

The young gentleman walked his girlfriend to the cab, gave her a final kiss, and she climbed in. “Make sure she gets home safely,” he said, not so much really a communication to me but a gesture meant to give her one last assurance of his caring about her before they parted for the evening. I thought it was a nice touch.

And off we went on a long ride out to Queens.

The hail was so extraordinary that I felt I should acknowledge its brilliance, even though it wasn’t she who had performed it. So I told her about “The Kissing Hail” and how rare it is to see one and how it’s in a book that I just happen to have on my dashboard and here take a look at page 323 and why yes as a matter of fact I wrote it myself.

My passenger was kind enough to overlook my need for attention and we engaged in one of those conversations that can occur sometimes in a taxicab by which at the end of the ride you feel that you’ve made a new friend.

There’s something about the randomness of that, like the randomness of life itself, that I find so appealing. It’s the reason I’ve stuck with this profession for so many years, if truth be told.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Time Magazine Article and Promotional Video

I've had an article published in the online edition of Time Magazine.

Click here.

It's called "The Art of Hailing a Cab". In it I offer sage advice as to the proper way of executing this vital form of urban communication. Here you will also find the official "International Taxi-Hailing Point System" which puts in ink how points are awarded for scoring hails, from 1.0 at the bottom to 6.0 - the "perfect hail" - at the very top. Like ice skating.

It's actually an abbreviated version of a section of Chapter 16, "Taxi!", from my book. Of course you'll have to buy the book to read the whole thing.

So there's the obligatory plug.

Directly below the article is a promotional one-minute video which the folks at Time were nice enough to allow us to include. This was created by Scooter McCrae, the video wizard at HarperCollins, who rode around with me for six hours one night. Six hours of filming reduced to a one-minute video - that's show biz.

Hope you'll enjoy watching it.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

On The Radio Tomorrow

I will be interviewed by long-time radio personality Joan Hamburg tomorrow, Sunday, Feb. 2, at "11:30ish" in the morning. The interview was actually recorded last Thursday so what will be broadcast is taped and perhaps edited a little. It's about 10 - 15 minutes in length. They couldn't give me an exact time for the airing of my segment, so if you'd like to hear it I suggest tuning in before 11:30.

The Joan Hamburg Show broadcasts on WOR, 710 on the AM dial, in the New York City area. It's also syndicated nationally by the WOR Radio Network in a special weekend "Best Of" program. So if you're not in the NYC region, check for the position on the AM dial for WOR in your own part of the country. A good google search should do it.

We discussed my book, of course, but Joan is a big consumer advisor and asked a few questions about something that is often on the minds of many taxi passengers: what the hell are those surcharges on the right side of the meter all about?

Page One!

To my (and everyone else's) astonishment, the New York Post, in addition to a two-page spread in the January 19th Sunday paper, put a lead-in to the article, with my picture on Page One!

I am now one of very few people in this world who can claim to have had his picture published on the first page of the New York Post without being either a terrorist, a murderer, a politician, Lindsay Lohan, or dead. Plus I took advantage of the very rare opportunity, while purchasing several copies at a local deli, of holding the paper up to the fellow behind the counter and asking, "Does this guy look familiar?" One must seize upon opportunity when it is offered.

The article was written by Susannah Cahalan, the best-selling author of one of the most riveting books I've ever read, Brain On Fire which I recommend to you heartily. My thanks to Ms. Cahalan, to Sunday news editor Paul McPolin, and to night desk editor Mike Hechtman.

Click here for the online version of the article.

Having now acquired a taste for the Page One Experience, or perhaps just being on a hot streak, the mass circulation free morning newspaper, Metro New York, ran an article about the book on Monday, Jan. 20, and put the story, with a picture of moi, on... Page One!

Click here!

And then, on Thursday, Jan. 23, the other mass circulation free morning paper, AM New York, ran yet another article on, uh... Page One!

Click here for that, if you can stand even more self-aggrandizement.

Hotter than a firecracker!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Media Appearances

With the U.S. publication of Confessions Of A New York Taxi Driver approaching on January 28, I will occasionally be deviating from the kind of content I usually publish here to make announcements of promotions of the book in various media.

The first of which is:

There will be a book review in the book section of the NY Post this coming Sunday, Jan. 19. I’m still not sure exactly what this will consist of, but since a Post photographer came over to Columbus Circle on Tuesday to snap some shots of moi in my cab, I’m expecting it to have a picture or two and be more than just a blurb. So please pick up a copy of the Post on Sunday if you can and check it out.

And on either Saturday, Feb. 1, or Sunday, Feb. 2 - the date is not yet certain - sometime between 10 a.m. and 12 noon on one of those days - (that’s a bit vague, isn’t it?) - I will be interviewed on the Joan Hamburg radio program. That’s WOR-710 (710 on the AM dial) here in the New York area. I'll give more precise information when I have it. Of course.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

More Speed Of Particle Flow

I picked up a twenty-something fellow a few nights ago in Chelsea who was on his way to 57th Street and 3rd Avenue in Midtown. For five minutes there were no words spoken between us except for my “hello” and his announcement of his destination. And then, this:

“Are you the Eugene Salomon who wrote the book Confessions Of A New York Taxi Driver?” I thought one of my ego gratification wet dreams had finally come true - I’ve gotten someone who’s already read my book as a passenger in my cab.

“Yes, I am,” I replied as I geared up mentally for some serious adulation. Surely he was about to tell me that not only had he read the book, he loved the book; no, no - he adored the book, he couldn’t put it down, he’d told all his friends about it! It would be as if he’d just read The Shining and the next day there was Steven King somehow sitting in his living room. Incredible!

“You read it?” I inquired, buoyantly.

But no, he had not.

Deflated, I asked him how, then, did he know about the book and me? His answer was something that is really a sign of the times: he’d looked at my name on my hack license and silently did a search on his device while we were driving across 23rd Street. And there it was.

It was another example of the world we live in today. (See the post
Speed Of Particle Flow”.) Fascinating, but kind of disturbing at the same time. Now you can sit in a cab and know whatever’s on the web about your driver without him knowing that you know. But putting aside this dubious aspect of this ability, it turned out to be the means for a lively conversation and a great ride. I told my passenger, whose name is Mark, all about the book and how it came to be. And as a reward for his interest, he is now the proud owner of one of these:

yes, a Confessions Of A New York Taxi Driver air freshener!

This is the brainchild of Victoria, my publicist at HarperCollins, who sent them out to media around the country with an advanced copy of the book to attract attention and hopefully get lots of reviews. (The scent is apple, as in “The Big Apple”. Cute.)

Publication in the U.S. will be on January 28th, so Mark will have to wait until then to get his copy - he sent me an email the next day saying that he’s pre-ordered it.

Thank you, sir!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

New Do

As you can see, a makeover has occurred. How do you like it?

Please take a look around. Aside from the new colors and the header with the picture of that taxi driver who might be me, there's now a subject index on the right-hand side. If you scroll down below the links to the taxi driver blogs and the archives, you will find there links to the subject matters of every post I've ever written - from bagels to baseball, pissing to pedestrians, morons to manners, and let's not forget dogs, drunks, insects, lunatics, remarkable people, and evil jockeys. So browsing around will now be much easier to do.

This subject index is something I've been wanting to add for quite some time but was too tech challenged to do it myself. The credit for that, and for the whole makeover, goes to the team at HarperCollins360 - thank you to Jean Marie, Victoria, and Michelle - who might be upset with me if I didn't mention that my book, Confessions Of A New York Taxi Driver, will be published in the USA on January 28th, and that you will be able to order it by clicking on the link to the book on the right.

A bit of news there.

Hope you like the new look!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Public Lewd Versus Private Lewd

Quite often during the course of a ride a taxi driver gets to learn - either by being a fly on the wall or through direct conversation - something about a passenger’s interesting story that is still in progress. But then the ride ends, the passenger departs, and the driver is left wondering how the hell it will all turn out.

But of course he never gets to know this.

Well, almost never.

Recently I had a fare with a passenger who had a wild story that she was right smack dab in the middle of. And I did find out how it all turned out…

It started on a Tuesday evening around 8 p.m. when a nice-looking, twenty-something female hailed me in the East Village and said she wanted to go to Garden City. Now, two things were good here: first, I know where that is. It’s a town on Long Island quite near to where I grew up, about a forty-minute ride from Manhattan. And secondly, since it’s an OT (“out-of-town”) job, it’s lucrative.


I did some math and came up with $100 as a fair price - mostly fair to me as it’s more than an hour and twenty minutes of my time is worth. She agreed and we were on our way.

“So where in Garden City are we going?” I inquired.

“It’s a lawyer’s office. They’re waiting for me.”

Wow - intriguing! Anyone would have been curious to know what this was all about, but it would have been inappropriate for me to ask. After all, it was none of my business. I was merely providing a service here. If she wanted to tell me about it, she would. If not, not. So we drove on in silence through the Midtown Tunnel and out onto the Long Island Expressway while she stared out the window and I looked the highway.

But it was sitting there in the air between us.

Five more minutes of silence and it was really bothering me. This was so unusual. Could she be a lawyer herself and was going all the way out there to sign some document or something? I suppose, but, looking at her in the mirror, she didn’t have that sort of cocky professional demeanor that lawyers often have, even the female ones. She seemed worried about something, which might be expected if one were in some kind of trouble and the urgency of the situation required a hundred dollar cab ride and lawyers waiting for you in Garden City.

And there was that other thing, too - there was the distinct possibility that I could drive her all the way out there, drop her off, and then realize that not only would I never find out how it had turned out, I would never even know what it had been about. And I knew it was something, and that it just had to be a good one. It just had to be!

So I decided to put aside my professionalism and delve. I told her I was a writer, that I had a blog, even a book, and I knew it was none of my business but I just couldn’t help but be curious to know what was going on, if she didn’t mind. Now she could have just said, sorry, it’s a personal matter that she couldn’t talk about, or some such, but instead she was quite forthright, perhaps even glad to get it off her chest, and told me the story.

It concerned lewd behavior.

Definition: lewd adj. obscene; bawdy; indecent.
(Macmillan Dictionary for Students)

She was a kid from Vermont, whom we shall call Gloria. Her journey to New York City had begun a couple of years earlier when she took a job at a tech start-up company in Vermont and got to know the owner of the company, whom we shall call Jeff. Jeff was a nice young man who owned a particularly cool dog, whom we shall call Arthur. Gloria took an avid interest in Arthur, often dog-sitting for him, and so, in addition to their relationship in the workplace, they had become friendly outside of that environment.

Eventually Gloria left Jeff and Arthur for greener pastures in the Big Apple, taking a new job in a similar tech start-up. Within a year, however, Jeff, seeking greener pastures himself, moved his company to New York City and the two of them began seeing each other again. One night at about 1 a.m. they were seeing each other in Jeff’s car, parked in the busy-at-night Meat Packing District. And as often happens when nice young men and women find themselves alone in a car, they were soon in each other’s arms.

And legs.

Or at least that’s what the cops who saw them thought. In actuality what they had seen was Gloria straddling Jeff in a passionate embrace while kissing. Due to their position, however, it looked like outright public fornication, even though both were fully clothed.

There was a time in New York City when such behavior, even when it really had been outright public fornication, would have been handled with a blast of a siren and some flashing red lights. And then some chuckles as the miscreants scrambled to put their clothes back on. But that was then and this was now, an era when even minor sins must be handled with the full weight of the law, lest the pillars of civilization come tumbling down.

They were ordered out of the car, placed under arrest, handcuffed, charged with “public lewdness”, and driven to the precinct on West 20th Street, about half a mile from the scene of the crime.

Gloria was already shocked and humiliated, but her ordeal had just begun. At the precinct, after being separated from Jeff, she was handcuffed to a pole for two hours. Then she was transferred in a van to another precinct on West 54th Street and placed in a cell by herself. This cell had no running water other than a toilet which, if she used it, would make her fully visible to anyone who walked by. She was spoken to rudely by the police personnel. She was not allowed to call anyone. And for breakfast she was fed an orange soda and a Happy Meal (a taste of station house irony, there). Finally she was arraigned and released the next afternoon at 2 p.m. So making out in Jeff’s car had resulted in thirteen hours of incarceration and a sample of what it’s like to lose one’s freedom and be at the mercy of the police department.

That had been five weeks ago. And now she was in a taxicab heading to Garden City. The reason for the trip, I learned, was that a hearing before a judge was to take place the next day and at the last minute Gloria decided it might be a good idea to hire a private attorney rather than take her chances with a free public defender. It had suddenly dawned on her that a conviction of Public Lewdness might not look great on her resume. Or on the internet. And that getting a dismissal was worth the expense. So she called a friend who recommended her own family’s attorney, but she would have to go out to Garden City immediately to pay $1,500 for the service in advance.

So that’s what it was all about.

We found the attorney’s place, an office building on the periphery of the Roosevelt Field Mall, without too much trouble. I was about to head back to the city when Gloria realized she might have a problem getting back to the city herself, so she asked me to wait. Half an hour later she emerged and off we went to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, where she lived. The charge for the taxi ride came to $162, including the waiting time and the tip.

As she departed I told her I was dying to know how this story ended and gave her my card with my email address, asking her to drop me a line. She promised that she would, but I doubted I would ever hear from her. People who take your card rarely get back to you, even if they were sincere at the time. So I was delighted when her email arrived in my inbox a few weeks later.

What had happened? She and Jeff, who used a free public defender, were “put through the system” by their lawyers. Behind closed doors a deal was made by which they agreed to plead guilty to the charge of Public Lewdness and perform six hours of community service, picking up leaves and things in Tompkins Square Park on a Saturday at eight in the morning. They were given what’s called an “A.C.O.D.” (Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal), which means that after six months of “good behavior” the whole thing would be taken off their records, as if it never happened.

So it turned out to be a case of “all’s well that ends well”. No stocks or pillories in the town square. No rotten tomatoes being thrown at one by the outraged citizenry. No scarlet letters.

“Was it worth the expense of driving all the way out there and hiring your own attorney?” I asked.

“A complete waste of money,” Gloria replied. “But at least I get to feel that I’ve contributed to the economy.”

Indeed she did - my economy. That $162 certainly helped make my night.

But my night turned out to be not over regarding the subject of Lewd Behavior. As if being watched over by the gods of Lewd themselves on a break from a Bacchanalian ritual, I was shown that when it comes to this kind of activity there are right ways and there are wrong ways to go about it.

At three in the morning I was hailed by a young lady in tight clothing coming from the Penthouse Club at 45th Street and 11th Avenue who was heading out to Astoria in Queens. She was pleasant and conversational and I soon found out what I already knew: that she was a - what’s the right word? Dancer? Entertainer? Performer? Oh, all right, she was a stripper, okay? Which of course means that she’d just spent the entire evening strutting around naked, or almost naked, and sitting on men’s laps whom she didn’t even know in exchange for money.

Uh, I believe that would be defined as “lewd” according to Mr. Macmillan.

What I didn’t know, but found out from her, was that she didn’t live in Astoria. She was on her way to the apartment of one of the laps she’d been sitting on in the Penthouse Club where, I assumed, some further lewd behavior was about to take place.

So what have we learned? Sit on your lover’s lap in a car, you go to jail and pay a lawyer fifteen hundred bucks to get you off. Sit on a stranger’s lap in the Penthouse Club and he pays you fifteen hundred bucks to come over to his place to get him off.

It’s all about location.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

An Almost Non-Human Sound

Something occurred a couple of Sundays ago - at nine-thirty in the evening - of short duration - but one of those things you realize almost immediately you will never forget.

It was a sound.

I had picked up two guys and a girl, thirty-somethings, at 72nd Street and 5th Avenue, and we headed across Central Park toward their destination of 84th and Amsterdam on the Upper West Side. The ride was mundane - they spoke among themselves - about food, I think - until we were cruising across West 83rd, a one-way street, halfway between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.

Then there was something there in the middle of that block, an obstruction that brought us to a temporary halt. A police car just ahead of us, with its lights flashing but no siren, was driving slowly around a rental truck that was just sitting there, as if it had chosen the middle of the street to be its parking space. Not knowing if I should follow the cops around the truck, I stopped and we paused for a few moments.

Suddenly there was a howl - actually three or four staccato screams, each about three seconds in length - coming from the area just in front of the rental truck, but out of my sight.

Right away I knew this sound was different than any I’d encountered before - it just didn’t fit into any of the categories of types of sounds on my experiential track. First of all, the loudness of it. It had to have been made by a large male human being for its low pitched wavelength to have been created, but it sounded almost non-human, more like an animal.

Then, the abruptness of it. There had been relative silence on the street just moments before it began - and then, bam! - out of nowhere, this howling.

Also there was an involuntary quality to these screams. Almost always when people make loud noises you know they have some control of the sound that is emanating from their bodies. But this noise was out of the control of the person making it, as if it were being squeezed out of his body, like toothpaste from a tube.

“That is the sound of something not good,” I said to my passengers, who had ceased conversation and were also trying to figure out what could be causing it. Then the girl in the back made a statement that answered the question. You know how when the truth is indicated all the nuances fall into place and you know, yeah, that’s it, that’s what it is. Whether the recognition is of something that is good or bad, there is a release of mental energy when the confusion is resolved, a feeling of relief when the correct item is indicated.

“Someone is being tasered,” she said.

Sure enough, as we slowly drove around the rental truck, we could see that three or four cops had pinned a large man face down on the sidewalk and were putting cuffs on him. I stopped the cab momentarily to comprehend what I was seeing and thought of taking out my camera, but then decided against it, thinking - who knows? - the cops may be offended and decide to write me a ticket for blocking traffic, or whatever.

I moved along, wondering if the police had been justified in using such force. Of course I had no way of knowing, as I hadn’t observed what had come before. My passengers, not appearing to be affected by the incident, ended their momentary pause and picked up the conversation where they’d left off, demonstrating some hefty nonchalance.

New York, as I wrote in my book, is a place where unexpected realities can very suddenly appear before you and then just as suddenly disappear. If we’d driven down West 83rd three minutes earlier or later, we’d probably not have known that anything unusual was about to happen, or had just occurred.

It’s a city that is so capable of these sudden mood swings.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Card Game

“There was something in the air that night.”

Looking back at it later, that’s the way it seemed.

Someone less familiar with the nuances of a scene - its details, the usual flow of its particles - might not have noticed that something was not right.

But I did. Something, some nebulous something, was out there.

I sensed it at the beginning. I even took action to avoid it, but it happened anyway. Later I concluded that it had all been a karmic phenomenon, like a greeting card from Fate, a scene in a movie in which you sidestep your way around the danger, you even compliment yourself on having been sharp enough to have avoided it, and then, as you open the door to your house, it’s sitting there in your kitchen eating a tangerine. “Hello.”

It happened on a midsummer night last year, July 31st to be exact - around midnight - and that’s about as midsummer as you can get. I took a twenty-something female from lower Manhattan to McDonough Street in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, a so-called “inner city” part of New York. She was fine, paid with a credit card and gave me a twenty percent tip. But there was a little thing that happened a few blocks before we got to her destination that caught my eye. While we were stopped at a red light a group of about twenty kids, teenagers in that danger-zone between fifteen to twenty years old, walked by on the opposite side of the street. It was the way they were moving, along with a group attitude and a certain buzzing among them, that created the blip on my radar screen. I’ve been watching people walk across the street for thirty-five years. This was a particle that was not flowing smoothly. It was sticking.

Have you ever heard of something called a “wilding”? It’s defined as “the activity of a gang of youths going on a protracted and violent rampage in a public place, attacking or mugging people at random”. I saw one in action a couple of years ago, not far from Times Square. It’s an internet phenomenon made possible by the anti-social media, and it’s very scary. Could it have been that what had caught my attention was a prelude to a wilding? Probably not, wildings are rare, fortunately.

But then, as my passenger departed on McDonough Street, I heard sirens from a few blocks away. They have a language of their own, these sirens. Police, fire, EMS, they’re all slightly different. These were police, I knew, and in the parlance of police sirens they were in the “we mean business” band. (You can tell this by the duration of the wailing and by the speed the police car is traveling which, even if you can’t see it, can be determined by the time it takes for the siren to increase in volume if it’s moving toward you or to decrease in volume if it’s moving away from you. It also lets you know how serious they think the emergency is.) That there was more than one siren was significant, as well. There were two, about a block from each other, and moving in the same direction. Then there was a third, this one from a bit further away.

Something was going on.

Then I heard distant shouts, coming from that same vicinity. And not from one source, but from two or three.

My sacred Taxi Driver Instinct told me, quite clearly, “get the hell out of here”. I flicked on my “Off Duty” light, locked the doors, and began heading back toward Manhattan, the opposite direction from where the commotion, whatever it was, was originating.

But then, just as I was beginning to breathe easier, Temptation appeared in the form of a person approaching from the street. No, not a woman in a red dress. Temptation appeared, oddly enough, in the form of a middle-aged, thuggish-looking man who might have been the guy the song “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown” was written about. He would have been the last person you would have thought I would allow into my cab at this particular moment, but he came up to my window and said the magic words.

“Take me to Manhattan?”

It was free money. I unlocked the doors and he slid onto the back seat.

“Where in Manhattan do you want to go?”


Perfect. Right across the Manhattan Bridge.

I turned the meter on and thought about what I had just done. It was all right. This guy, although a rough kind of character, represented no threat to me in a physical sense. Just by his age I was certain of that. Morons who think it’s worth the risk of possible consequences to pull out a gun just to get a hundred dollars from a taxi driver are either in jail or dead before they get to the age of thirty. This guy appeared to be around forty-five. Plus he was taking me away from the area where I perceived the danger to be. No need to even use my
“Three Strikes And You’re Out” system to protect myself. Just get on Atlantic Avenue and make a right.

But I hadn’t driven half a block when my passenger spoke. “Pull over, he’s getting’ in,” he said. I looked around. A guy who looked like Bad Bad’s older brother was approaching the cab. I didn’t like it but I was in a situation where I had no choice.

I stopped.

The second passenger got in.

It set off an alarm. My happiness at having an unlikely return trip to Manhattan evaporated in the night air and was replaced by an anxiety, which was only heightened by the next development in the plot.

“He’s goin’ to Buffalo Avenue,” the first guy said.

“Buffalo Avenue,” I repeated, rather robotically. This was not what I wanted to hear. Not only was Buffalo Avenue in the opposite direction from Manhattan, it meant that in order to get to it I was going to have to drive toward whatever was causing the commotion that I’d already been trying to avoid.

“Goin’ to a card game,” the second guy said.

“Then you’re going to Manhattan?” I asked the first guy.



Then, abruptly: “Make a left, make a left!”

I didn’t like the tone. It had suddenly gone from “I’m doing you a favor by picking you up when my Off-Duty light is on” to being ordered around by my passengers, who were seizing control of the ride. And to make it worse, the street they were ordering me to turn onto was Fulton, a two-way road with a single lane in each direction.

I didn’t want to take that route, I wanted to take a parallel avenue, Atlantic, which also has two directions of traffic but with two lanes in each direction. On Atlantic you could move around if something got in your way, but on Fulton you’d be stuck if there were to be an obstruction.

I momentarily considered just telling them forget it, I’m only going to Manhattan, not the other way, but then I would be in a confrontational situation with the Brown brothers which could lead to who-knows-what. Besides, I wanted that ride to Manhattan after the Buffalo Avenue drop-off.

I made the left onto Fulton.

We went two blocks and then came to a dead stop behind a line of cars that looked to be a block long. Not good. After thirty seconds of not moving at all, I realized that the cause of the delay was the thing I’d been trying to avoid. In the distance there were people running. There were people shouting. Like a tornado, it seemed to be coming toward us.

“I’m getting out of here,” I called back to my passengers, who were immersed in a quiet conversation between themselves and oblivious to the outside world. And with that I made a U-turn on Fulton and headed back in the opposite direction, away from the tornado. After a couple of zigs and zags we were on Atlantic, the avenue I’d wanted to take in the first place, heading swiftly toward Buffalo Avenue. I thought there might have been a protest from the back seat since I had countermanded their instructions and had taken them a few blocks out of their way, but there was nothing.


But better than that, I’d avoided the fracas, whatever it was. It is rare in life that we are grateful for things that didn’t happen, right? This was a case of an experienced cab driver relying on his knowingness to keep himself and his passengers out of harm’s way. There’s no virtue in becoming a victim, mate.

Two minutes later I got them to their building, a tenement, on Buffalo Avenue with $8.70 on the meter. The first guy then surprised me by handing me a fifty and telling me to keep ten.

“You can pay the fare when we get to Manhattan,” I said, as I tried to return the bill.

“We’re both gettin’ out here,” he replied.

“You’re not going to Manhattan?”

“Nah, I’m goin’ to the card game,” he said.

Damn. There went my “free money”. It pissed me off - I immediately wondered if he’d ever intended to go to Manhattan in the first place. Maybe he’d just used that as a ploy to get me to take him deeper into Brooklyn. But what could I do? I can’t force people to stay in my cab. Especially this guy.

I handed him two twenties as his change, said “thanks”, and expected to hear the rear door open and the two of them depart. But instead the second guy handed me my twenties back and said he needed smaller bills.

“Smaller bills?” It was an odd request. I’m not a bank.

“For the card game.”

“Oh… all right.” Okay, that made sense. I counted out eight fives and handed them over.


“What do you play? Poker?” I asked as they opened both rear doors simultaneously.


“Hey, good luck!”

My blessing was either ignored or not heard as it brought no response - they walked away and disappeared. I drove off toward Atlantic Avenue, disappointed, but not overly so - after all, even though they’d delayed my return to Manhattan, I did make ten dollars for the inconvenience, and that’s not to be discounted. I kept the “Off-Duty” light on, locked my doors anew, and got back on Atlantic wondering if I should take the Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge back to the city.

When I had driven about a mile past the general area where the commotion had been, and knowing I was beyond the reach of that problem, I began to feel hungry. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to meals - you could set your clock by my stomach - and midnight is feeding time in my taxi. So I found a quiet spot and pulled over. Out of my backpack came my pre-prepared chicken fingers and my whole wheat bread and I began munching away.

I was reviewing mentally what had just transpired with my last ride and suddenly I was jolted by a thought. Wait a minute… they’d paid me with a fifty… and I hadn’t bothered to check it. I pulled my wad out from my pocket and found the bill.

Cautiously, I held it up to the dome light of the cab.

And then, oh, oh no, nooooo… Shit! SHIT!

Forget about teenagers and wildings, if anyone on the sidewalk had heard my wails of anguish they would have thought that I was a source of danger and they’d have crossed the street to avoid me.

The bill was a fake.

How can you tell? There are three ways:

1) First, and easiest, you hold the bill up to a strong light and look for the “ghost” in the blank area on the right side. Pictured on a fifty is Ulysses S. Grant, the commander of the Union forces during the American Civil War and the eighteenth president of the United States from 1869 to 1877. A ghostly image of Grant can be seen in that blank area if the bill is genuine. The high-tech copying machines that are used to produce counterfeit money are not high-tech enough to reproduce the image of that ghost. This bill had none. A fake!

2) Second, similar to the first, is to hold the bill up to a light and look for the bar. On a fifty the thin bar runs the width of the bill, just to the right of Grant’s head and reads, repetitively, in tiny print, “USA 50”. This bill did not have that, either.

3) The third, and not known to most people, are the grooves in the General’s coat. If you run the edge of your fingernail against the coat, you can feel the grooves. Although I didn’t notice it until later, this bill, amazingly, did have grooves. But they hadn’t been somehow duplicated there by a copy machine. Whoever made this bill had cut out a small piece of grooved cellophane tape and carefully adhered it to the left side of Grant’s coat. So to that degree this counterfeit bill had actually been created by hand. Amazing.

When my anger eventually subsided I realized I had an ethical dilemma on my hands. What to do with the damned thing?

Hold onto it until the next time a passenger pays the fare with a hundred dollar bill and then give it as change? No, that wouldn’t be right. It would make me no better than the lowlife who’d handed it off to me. Besides, it could be months before a passenger tried to pay with a hundred.

Try to deposit it at a bank? Forget it, they’re money professionals and I’d probably wind up on some kind of surveillance list.

Turn it in to the government? As if.

Or just the obvious choice, use it to pay for something at a retail store. Yeah, that seemed like the way to go. But where?

It was this that was on my mind as I crossed the Manhattan Bridge, touching down on Canal Street in Chinatown. Immediately, as if Manhattan itself had supernatural powers, my luck turned. My next passenger, a middle-aged fellow who’d perhaps had too much to drink and didn’t want to wait around at train stations, took me out to Jersey City, New Jersey. These OT (out-of-town) jobs are flat-rate and lucrative. We charge much more than the normal, metered fare because a) we can, and b) by law, we’re not allowed pick up passengers outside of the New York City limits - we are required to come back to the city empty.

I was paid $45 plus an $8.50 tip for the twenty minute ride. Travel time back to Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel would be only another ten minutes, and that’s good money, but even better than that, I suddenly realized I had a perfect opportunity to pass off my fake fifty. A godsend, really.

There are about a dozen gas stations lined up in a row near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. Gas is always cheaper in New Jersey than in New York due to lower taxes, so it saves a few dollars to fill up before entering the tube. What better place than an oil company to pass off a counterfeit bill? After all, haven’t I been getting raped by these people my whole life?

And there was one particular joint, a Gulf station, which I decided was especially worthy of my wrath. A few months earlier I’d had a run-in with an attendant there. New Jersey is one of only two states in the U.S. where, by law, there is no self-service at gas stations - an employee always comes out to do the task. The guy who pumped my gas at the Gulf station had made a hostile comment to me because he thought my fifty-cent tip should have been more. Now, I always tip well above average in situations where tipping is appropriate. I’m in a tipping business myself, after all. But I happen to know that tipping pump boys is not customary in New Jersey. I also happen to know that they make better money than New York City taxi drivers. So the guy had been out of line, in my opinion.

And now, ha-ha, it was get-even time.

I pulled into the station. Funny, even though it was where it was supposed to be, the place looked different. I realized it had been renovated - it was bigger, shinier, and better lit. The attendant came over immediately, but he wasn’t the same guy.

“Fill it?” he asked with a smile.

“Uh, yeah, regular, cash,” I replied.

Well, what to do? I no longer had a justification for using the bad bill. Or did I? Okay, I had no gripe with this particular attendant, but wasn’t he a party to an industry which is keeping me poor? I mean, when I started driving a cab in ‘77 I was paying $10 for a shift’s gasoline. Now I’m often paying more than $50. And I’m not making five times as much as I did in 1977. So what more justification did I need? The plan remained in place.

The total on the pump came to $29. Giving no indication by voice or body language that I was trying to pull a fast one, I handed him the $50 bill. A moment of truth was at hand, and that’s what it was - a moment. It took the guy maybe two seconds to recognize that the bill was a phony. He abruptly handed it back to me.

“This is counterfeit,” he said. Interestingly, there was no great outrage in his voice. Perhaps he was used to this sort of thing.

“What do you mean?” I replied, showing surprise and very genuine concern at hearing this startling revelation.

“It’s a fake.”

“How do you know?”

“Hold it up to the light.”

Throwing what may have been left of my personal integrity completely out the window, I jumped headfirst into an impromptu act of being utterly shocked that I had received and was now unwittingly attempting to pass on a counterfeit note of the United States Treasury, followed by outrage at whoever had done this to me and the deepest, most sincere apology to the attendant.

“I’m really, really sorry about this, man.”

I handed him some actual money to pay for the gas.

Oh, and I tipped him a dollar.

Cruising back toward Manhattan in the Holland Tunnel, the flaw in my thinking edged its way into my consciousness. I had been assuming that if I’d been able to get the guy at the Gulf station to take the fifty that the entity which would be out the money would be Gulf Incorporated, and that would be okay. But what if they had a policy of making their attendants pay for any phony money they’d accepted out of their own pockets? Maybe they do that, for all I know. Then I’d be victimizing the attendant, wouldn’t I? And that would not be okay.

Emerging from the tunnel in deepest thought, I realized I had been given an integrity wake-up call. There was simply no way out, integrity-wise, but to swallow the loss. Right away I started feeling better about myself. Hey, it wasn’t the end of the world. All I’d actually lost was forty dollars (the change I’d given for the fifty) and the time it had taken me to drive those guys to Buffalo Avenue. Not that big a deal in the larger scheme of things.

Still, it stung.

But onward into the night. My next fare was a drunk, middle-aged man coming out of a gay bar. He seemed friendly, so I thought I’d use him as a sounding board for the woes of my evening and started telling him about the counterfeit fifty. He slammed back that, forget it, he knew all about these cab driver tricks, I was just trying to get him to feel sorry for me so I could get a bigger tip out of him. Then he accused me of being a Jew.

What was going on? I’m a karma guy. I felt like I was in a rowboat and was being tossed around in Somebody’s ocean. Why was all this happening to me? I believe, as I wrote at the end of the “Karma Versus Coincidence” chapter of my book, that “what can be fully viewed will vanish” (if I may quote myself). What was I not fully viewing? I did not know. Shouldn’t my slate have been wiped clean, so to speak, by the realization that the ethical thing to do was to not pass along the fifty? So why was I continuing to pull this crap in?

I did not know.

I decided to finish the shift in silence. Passengers had become too dangerous to communicate with, and that was that. I spoke not a word to the next fare, a couple of tourists traveling from the Village to the Upper West Side, nor to a finance guy on a long ride from Midtown way up to Washington Heights. I felt if I could just tip-toe my way around Whatever It Was, maybe it would blow out to sea by tomorrow.

Well, the strategy seemed to work. I had no further trouble with passengers for the final three hours of my shift and had almost forgotten about my extraordinarily lousy night when I pulled into the Hess Station on 44th and 10th at 5 a.m. to fill up.

Now, in New York City you pump your own gas. You go up to the cashier who sits in a secure, box-like structure, push the money through a slot, and then go back to your vehicle and pump away. Since I’d already spent $29 on gas in New Jersey I figured I only needed another $30, at most, to fill up the cab, so I placed a twenty and a ten into the slot, turned, and walked a few steps toward my taxi.

And that’s when the screaming began.

“THIS BILL IS NO GOOD!” screeched the voice of the cashier, a female who is normally surly without any special reason to be. I turned and looked back at her, quizzically.

“THIS IS NO GOOD!” she screamed again, waving the twenty dollar bill in the air.

What??? I walked over to the booth. This information was not being processed mentally.

“What are you talking about?” I almost screamed myself. “You want to see a fake bill, look at this!” And with that I pulled out the fifty and held it up. “This is a fake bill!”

On some moronic level I must have been thinking that I’d already met my quota of counterfeit money that night so there couldn’t possibly be more. Of course this made no sense whatsoever to the enraged cashier who continued to wave the twenty in the air as if it were a flag.

“THIS BILL IS NO GOOD!” she screamed again and shoved it back at me through the slot.

I picked up the bill and looked at it. Oh my God, it was indeed a fake. Not nearly as well made as the fifty - the green ink was too bright and anyone who handles money could see at a glance that this one was suspicious. Except me, apparently.

Stunned, I apologized profusely to the cashier. Oddly, this time my apology was quite genuine as I’d really had no idea that I’d handed her a fake. But unlike the attendant at the Gulf station in New Jersey, she was not inclined to be so forgiving, screaming again that the bill was no good and giving me the evil eye of death. Talk about karma being a bitch, indeed.

I handed her another twenty dollar bill from my wad, making sure this one was not also a fake, and then, as I walked toward my cab in a daze, it hit me. Oh, God, no, could it be?

I opened up my roll of bills and looked warily at each of the twenties. There was the counterfeit she’d just returned to me. The next twenty was perfectly fine, nothing wrong with it. Then another, also fine. And then… oh, shit, there it was - another fake twenty!

Yes, I had not one, but two counterfeit twenties - both with the same serial numbers - in my roll. And now I finally understood what had happened: when the characters in Brooklyn handed me the fifty, I’d given them two twenties as change for the ten dollar fare. Then the guy going to the card game said he needed smaller bills. He handed me two twenties back and I gave him eight fives. But the twenties he’d given me weren’t the twenties I’d given him! He’d switched them for his counterfeits. It was dark in the cab and I hadn’t noticed.

So the whole thing had been a set-up, beginning with the first guy telling me he was going to Manhattan, which he’d never intended to do. There had been no “card game”. They didn’t need “change”. I’d been royally conned by a couple of very smooth operators. Damn, I’d even told them “good luck” as they left the cab.


It's been just over a year now and I still have attention on the events of that shift. Had there actually been “something in the air that night”?

Yes, there had been danger without, the turbulence in the vicinity of McDonough Street.

But there had been danger within as well. Something else, the nebulous something I had been vaguely aware of, had come from within, a mental phenomenon. What exactly it was I do not know - it has not been fully viewed.

So what is one to do?

Be more alert.

Be more honest.

Try to raise your level of confront.

And may the storm pass you by.