Thursday, January 29, 2009

Two Kinds Of Tickets

Something happened to me a few weeks ago that hardly ever happens to me:

I got a ticket.

Not a parking ticket, a moving violation ticket. The kind that adds points to your license.

And this reminded me of a truism I discovered quite a few years ago when it comes to tickets. And that is that there are two kinds of tickets:

1) the ticket where you are mad at yourself for having made such a dumb move, and

2) the ticket where you are mad at the cop for having been so mean that he would have written the ticket at all.

An example of the first kind of ticket would be, say, you make a left turn at an intersection where there is a sign that clearly says, "No Left Turns". You see the sign but you make the turn anyway. A cop sees you do this, pulls you over, and writes you a ticket.

You are mad at yourself. You knew you were doing something illegal but you did it anyway and you got caught. "Stupid dumb ass me," you say to yourself.

An example of the second kind of ticket would be this: you are approaching an intersection where there is a stop sign. When you get to the intersection you check to see that no other vehicles or pedestrians are present and bring your car almost to a stop but not completely to a full stop. As you proceed your speed is less than three miles per hour. A cop pulls you over for failing to stop at a stop sign and writes you a ticket.

You are mad at the cop. What you did might have been technically illegal but you were in good control and knew that your actions in that situation were completely safe. You don't introvert and call yourself a goddamned freaking moron for not having come to a full stop. You curse the cop instead (in your mind, of course).

Well, guess what kind of ticket I received? Here's a hint - I wasn't mad at myself.

Okay, this is what happened...

On a Monday night at 4 AM - the time of the night when the "city that never sleeps" is taking catnap - I was cruising down 2nd Avenue in Manhattan with a couple of cars in front of me but no cars behind me. I was in the middle of the avenue. Suddenly a person appeared on the sidewalk to my left waving at me in the classic "I want a taxi" fashion. As a veteran cabbie who has been in this situation once or twice during every shift for the last 31 years, I did two things:

a) I instantly checked my side view mirror to make sure no vehicles were behind me, and

b) I turned sharply, cutting across two lanes, and got to the passenger.

I knew, before I made the turn, that it was a safe move. No one had to swerve out of the way to avoid hitting me. No one had to step on their brake. In actuality, it was an expert maneuver made by a professional driver in order to do his job.

But the cop didn't see it that way.

The passenger, a twenty-something female, entered the cab and told me her destination. During the time it takes to open and close the rear door, our light turned red. Then, just after it changed to green and I began to move forward to begin the ride, a police car pulled up beside me and a not pleasant officer informed me that he wanted to see several pieces of identification. The passenger departed to seek another means of getting to point B. As I handed over my driver's license and the taxi's identification card to the officer, I knew immediately that I was in trouble. Because just as there are two kinds of tickets, there are two kinds of cops you may encounter in this situation:

1) The "let's talk about it" cop, and

2) The "there's nothing to talk about, so don't talk to me" cop.

With a "let's talk about it" cop you at least have a chance of talking your way out of it. Even by allowing conversation, the cop is saying, in effect, that he is willing to allow the possibility that he will let you off with a warning. I must say that in the past I have been quite successful in this situation.

But not this time.

This cop was a "there's nothing to talk about" cop. In fact, he might have even been a "if you dare to try to talk your way out of it I will find something else to write you a ticket for" cop. So, actually, there are 3 kinds of cops in this situation.

And apparently this cop was of that third variety because, even though I didn't say a word to him and handed him the papers he wanted to see, he thought multiple tickets for a single offense, if in fact there was an offense at all, was the way to go.

Did I say above that I got "a" ticket? Uh, correction... make that four tickets.

1) Unsafe lane change.

2) Failure to signal.

3) Not stopping within 12 inches of the curb when pulling over for a passenger. (Believe it or not, this absurd rule is actually on the books in New York City.)

4) Stopping in a crosswalk.

This was from a cop whose powers of observation were so good that he could see all of this from a full block behind me, but whose powers of observation were not so good that he couldn't avoid making several errors in trying to copy over the information from my driver's license onto the tickets he was writing.

When I got back to my garage and told the dispatchers and a couple of the drivers what had happened, I was informed (belatedly) that "the heat is on" in the city. And, in fact, I noticed in the following couple of weeks that an inordinate amount of taxis were being pulled over, and presumably ticketed, by the cops.

This situation - the possibility of being selected as fodder for ticket blitzes - is one of the crosses that New York City taxi drivers bear and I suspect is one of the main reasons that many competent people decide to get out of the taxi driving business. It's just too much to take, considering everything else we have to put up with.

And it reminds me of what I consider to be a fascinating observation about an aspect of life in New York City that I have made and I don't think anyone else has noticed. I would like to invite every New Yorker who may read this blog to consider this.

Here is the observation: we have over 13,000 yellow medallion cabs and many more thousands of car service vehicles roaming the streets of the city. Some of these drivers are amazingly competent and some of them are not. But competent or not, one thing even a casual observer would notice is that taxis are pulled over by police cars all the time. I see it every night.

However, we also have in New York, thousands of buses crowding the streets. We have hundreds, if not thousands, of garbage trucks roaming around, apparently, with impunity. And we also have quite a few newspaper delivery trucks making their rounds. During my years as a cabbie I have seen countless instances of buses gridlocking intersections, running red lights, and cutting off other vehicles (although I do think, generally speaking, that bus drivers are highly competent). I have seen garbage trucks commit every imaginable traffic offense frequently. And I see newspaper delivery trucks running red lights and speeding every night.

But here's what I have not seen. And I think this is so amazing that I will put it in boldface:

I have never seen, not even once in 31 years, a bus, a garbage truck, nor a newspaper delivery truck pulled over by a cop. Not once!

And if you're a New Yorker, I'll bet you haven't either.

Isn't that amazing? I have always assumed that the reason for this is that the fix is in with the city due to agreements made with their unions. The taxi drivers, of course, have no union.

Anyway, I pleaded "not guilty" to the tickets and now have a court appearance scheduled for April.

The story of which I will post in this blog. So stay tuned.


And while you're staying tuned, why not click here for Pictures From A Taxi? It's free and you won't get pulled over by a cop. I mean, unless maybe if you're also driving while you're clicking. That would be bad.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Misfits

Here's a little story I intended to write a few months ago but didn't get around to. It's on that recurring theme that has been following me around like a puppy, karma vs. coincidence.

But before I get into it, let me remind you that driving a cab in New York City is like being spun in circles on the Wheel of Fortune. We who drive the iconic yellow cabs do all our business off the street. No one calls us on a telephone to get our services. It's just a random coming together of a person on the street - one person out of millions walking around in the city - with one of the 13,187 cabs that are in their own random motion from east side to west, from west side to east, like a kaleidoscope of yellow. So to speak.

So with all this random motion, when something happens that seems to defy the randomness of it - something that would make coincidence seem like a naive explanation - one begins to get the idea that "something's happening but we don't know what it is". It's like sensing that there's a phenomenon going on and if we could just isolate exactly what that phenomenon is we would really be onto something.

In my case, I know that when I have my attention on something - especially when I have started to do something but have not completed it - I have a tendency to "pull in" whatever that thing is. It happened again recently...

My favorite television station is TCM - Turner Classic Movies. Here you can find more great, classic films than anywhere else in TV land. It's a premium channel, but to me it's worth a few bucks a month because I'm a big classic cinema fan. One day last July I was looking over the schedule and saw that a movie I'd always wanted to see but never had was slated to be on the air. So I set my video recorder to copy that movie. Its name is "The Misfits".

Some of the great names of cinema were in front and behind the camera in this film from 1961. The screenplay was written by Arthur Miller. It was directed by John Huston. And it starred Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift, who were all big names then (it was Gable's and Monroe's last movie), and co-starred an actress named Thelma Ritter and an actor named Eli Wallach.

The movie remained unwatched in my recorder for a few weeks, but it didn't matter because I could watch it whenever I felt like it. Finally, one day in August, I turned it on. I watched it for about half an hour and then, although I was enjoying it up to that point, I had to attend to other matters so I turned it off. But, again, it didn't matter because I could continue watching it whenever I felt like it.

Well, two months went by and I still hadn't gotten back to it. I record a lot of movies and sometimes I wind up with a backlog. C'est la vie. Having too many great films to watch is a problem I like having.

Then on October 13th I was driving 9J72 and stopped for three passengers at 16th and Park Avenue South. A 30-something fellow sat up front with me and an elderly man and woman were in the back seat. They were a pleasant group which created an easy air of conversation in the cab. The fellow up front with me would alternately chatter with the couple in the back and with me, talking about nothing in particular at first but eventually mentioning that they were all actors. In fact, he said, the passengers in the back seat were both renowned thespians who'd been in the theater for many, many years. Their names were Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach.

Eli Wallach!

I ask you, what are the odds of watching half an hour of a movie that was made 47 years ago and then having one of the stars of that movie walk into your cab? It was almost like having a character on the screen jump out and sit down next to you in the theater. Or reading a book about the Civil War and then there's a knock on the door and Abraham Lincoln is standing there.

Eli Wallach, now 92 years old and kicking, and his wife, Anne Jackson, were delightful passengers, happily fielding questions from me about their careers. I took great pleasure in being able to tell Mr. Wallach that I was in the middle of "The Misfits" but hadn't finished watching it yet.

"Don't tell me how it ends!" I pleaded.

So what do you think? Was this just a random coincidence? Or was it "something's happening but we don't know what it is"?

And if you were to click here for Pictures From A Taxi, would that be karma? Or just following orders?