And that's how I became a taxi driver cop.
I find that if I happen to see something very wrong that involves a taxicab on the street, my impulse is to do something about it if I can, within limits. You don't want to put yourself in danger, of course. But if possible, I will act.
And that's what happened last Tuesday night at 3:30 a.m. I was taking a twenty-something female, who'd been working late, to her home in Brooklyn from Midtown. As I glided down Broadway without traffic something caught my eye a couple of blocks north of Houston Street. It was a fake taxi cruising down the avenue just in front of us.
There are a few of these guys out there. They buy themselves a Ford Crown Vic, the vehicle that is the most used as a taxicab in New York, paint it yellow, put a rooflight on top, and do their best to make it look like a legitimate cab. These vehicles may actually be a legal cabs in some other part of New York State, such as Westchester County, but it is totally illegal for them to be used to pick up passengers from the street in the city. That is strictly the province of the New York medallion taxis. (Click here to see my related post, Interview With The Vampire.)
I can tell at a glance when I see one of these guys. Some of the little things that most people wouldn't recognize as outpoints, such as the medallion number or various markings on the cab, are obvious to me.
I pointed the taxi out to my passenger. This would be a good topic of conversation.
"Do you see that cab in front of us?" I asked.
"Would you get into that cab if it stopped for you on the street?"
"Yeah, I guess so, why?"
"That's a fake cab!" I exclaimed with a bit of dramatic emphasis.
"It is?" How can you tell?"
"Well, for one thing, it's a '97 Crown Vic. Cars that old aren't on the streets as taxis anymore. Also, the medallion identification letter is wrong. See how he's got the letter "I" between the other three numbers? We don't use that letter in the medallion identification system."
She was impressed, but I thought I could do more. We had stopped for a red light and were able to pull right up next to the fake cab. I looked into the compartment and saw that the driver was a white man in his forties. I had never seen this guy before and decided to let him know that I knew what he was up to. Yeah, let him know that he might think he's clever in stealing business from legitimate taxi drivers, but we know what he's doing and he won't get away with it forever. It was Taxi Driver Cop time.
I called over to him through our opened windows.
He looked over at me, a bit sheepishly I thought, probably wondering if in fact I was an undercover cop. My passenger was taking it all in with great interest and I have to admit that it did cross my mind that this little macho display might be the kind of thing that turned her on, you never know about women.
"I see what you're doing," I barked in accusation. "You'd better not pick anyone up. I'm watching you!"
I don't see the point in making an attempt to be courteous to a person like this. Here's someone who's blatantly stealing business away from cabbies who are playing by the rules. And, what, we don't have enough competition amongst ourselves wihout him? Fuck him.
He looked at me with a kind of blank expression on his face. This was odd, because I'd expect his reaction to be one of either hostility or fear, but if anything he just looked a little confused. And then he spoke.
"We're making a movie!" he said. And he pointed down Broadway to the next block.
I looked down the street. Parked along the curb were several huge movie trailers and some heavy equipment that are used in big-budget productions. This "fake taxicab" was a movie prop!
I looked back at the driver. He looked back at me with an expression on his face that I believe could be interpeted as meaning, "What are you? An idiot?"
I exhibited one of those shit-eating smiles that people are known to put on their faces when they have just made complete jackasses out of themselves.
"Oh," I said... "never mind!"
It took another fifteen minutes to get the passenger to her house in Brooklyn. But somehow it seemed like an hour to me. You know that expression about how time flies when you're having fun? Well, it turns out time crawls when you're having humiliation.
However, time really flies if you click here for Pictures From A Taxi. Or so I've heard.