Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Tenth Anniversary of Pictures From A Taxi

November 24th was the tenth anniversary of my street photography blog, Pictures From A Taxi.

You know, New York could be called a street photographer's heaven.  People of every description, things that suddenly jump out at you from their secret hiding places, profound oddities, dogs, the occasional coyote... this city is just begging to be photographed.

I decided to start carrying a digital camera (with a hefty zoom lens) around with me in my cab in 2006 for several reasons.  For one thing, it would make my already adventurous profession even more interesting.  Instead of just waiting for the light to change, I am scanning the the sidewalks for a shot.  A second reason was because with digital it is so much more doable than it had been prior to that revolution in the world of photography.  No more waiting for your film to be developed.  Instant editing that would have taken hours in a darkroom.  And a third reason was because I wanted to add "mass" to the "significance" of this blog, which is mostly text without many pictures.  Instead of just publishing random shots of New York to accompany the posts here, I thought it better to create a whole new blog of nothing but photographs.

That was ten years ago.  For quite a few years I was publishing a new picture virtually every day, so the quantity of pictures has really added up.  There are to date exactly 2,220 posts, each consisting of simply a picture, or maybe two or three if it was warranted.  There would be many more, but let me tell you something about street photography -- you've got to be really fast!  For every shot I got there were ten I missed because I didn't have enough time to pick up my camera and shoot.  Things happen very quickly out there, plus I'm often moving myself (although I'm proud to say that on some occasions that has not prevented me from getting the shot).

Recently I completed a rather massive project of indexing all the pictures in the blog by subject matter (which I should have been doing all along).  So if you click on the label below each picture you will see other pictures with the same theme.  And of course if you click on the picture itself it will blow up in size, quite possibly revealing details you may have missed in the smaller version.

What I have decided to do to celebrate this momentous occasion is to pick out my fifty favorites from all these images.  Since November I have been re-publishing one photograph a day from the collection, a picture that in my own opinion is one of my best.  (I apologize in advance to all the pictures that were not chosen.  You know I love you all, but let's be honest, some of you are just not as good as the others.)

So I hope you'll click on over to Pictures From A Taxi to check out the ones I've chosen -- in no particular order, my Fifty Favorites.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Educating Joey Essex

I appeared recently on British television in an episode of the popular reality show
Educating Joey Essex.  The idea of the show was that Joey comes to America to learn about the American election.  I was Joey's taxi driver on two days of shooting.  First, picking him up at JFK and then driving him and the pro-Trump bloggers "Diamond and Silk" to the Trump Tower in Manhattan.  Joey had to keep the peace between me and Diamond and Silk as we had a bit of a difference of opinion about the candidates!

Great fun and a terrific crew.

To see an interview of Joey Essex talking about the show, click here.

To see Diamond and Silk on YouTube click here.


Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The American Way

Below is a post I wrote and published the day after the election of 2012.  It is a reminiscence of an extraordinary experience I had while casting my vote for President and Vice-President of the United States in the election of 1984. I think it's particularly relevant today...

As I entered the voting booth yesterday here in the United States, I was reminded of what was a very special Election Day occurrence I witnessed in 1984.  Although it's a divergence from the usual taxi theme of this blog, I would like to share that story with you.

In 1984, also a presidential election year, the contest was between the Republican incumbents, President Ronald Reagan and Vice-President George Bush (the elder), and the Democrats Senator Walter Mondale for president and Representative Geraldine Ferraro for vice-president, the first female to run for the second-highest office in the land in American history.  I lived in a part of Queens called Forest Hills at that time and, as it happened, that was also the area of New York City where Geraldine Ferraro made her home.  Now, my home was a one-bedroom apartment and hers was an expensive single-family house with a front and back yard, but that didn't matter.  We were neighbors.  

My polling place was located in the gymnasium of an elementary school, P.S. (Public School) 101, several blocks from my home, and I walked there at around 1 p.m. on Election Day.  As I approached the school, I could see that the place was more or less surrounded with media and police vehicles, and I realized why they were there: this was the same polling place where Geraldine Ferraro voted.  I entered the gym and as I was busy signing in (which is how registered voters record that they have shown up and cast a vote), there was some commotion around the entrance, and in came the candidate herself.

Well, the place went abuzz.  She smiled and waved to everyone and was immediately surrounded by television reporters and the like.  Many in the room, including myself, approached her to shake hands and wish her well.  And then something happened that struck me as being unseemly.  A group of Republican supporters on one side of the gym started chanting, "Four More Years", repetitively and in unison, the message being that they wanted her opponents, and not her, to be elected.  That went on for about a minute and then kind of fizzled out on its own.

Ms. Ferraro was quite used to this sort of thing, of course, and it did nothing to alter her smile nor to abate the excitement in the room.  After a while she entered a voting booth, one of those contraptions with a lever that opens and closes a circular curtain for privacy, to cast her vote.  A few booths down, I entered one of my own.  So what we had here, only several feet apart, were the candidate for the second-highest office of the United States of America and a taxi driver both exercising their right -- considered sacred by many -- to vote.

To me, this demonstration before my eyes of how we in America choose our leaders was a truly wonderful and inspiring event.  What I realized during my walk back home was even more wonderful and inspiring, however.  It was that when the chanting of "Four More Years" suddenly interrupted the mood in the gym, nothing happened.  Not only did none of the many police or Secret Service agents in the room move forward to hush them, no one even thought of doing so.  It was a public place and they had the right to express their opinion, period.  The freedom of speech, guaranteed to all by a constitution that has stood since 1789, is so engrained in the psyches of the citizenry that it is completely unquestioned. 

And that is the American way.   

Thursday, October 13, 2016

More Donald Trump Stories From My Cab

In looking through my journals recently (I've kept journals of my most interesting fares since I started driving a taxi in 1977) I came across two more Donald Trump stories, both from 2011.  I contend that firsthand data (you witnessed it yourself) and secondhand data (someone you know witnessed it and told you about it) can be valuable in validating or contradicting third-hand data (the media).  So with that in mind, here they are, again without embellishment.

1. January 31, 2011 -- I picked up a sixty-ish Hispanic woman and drove her to JFK, a forty-minute ride, at 4 a.m.  She told me she worked for many years for a very wealthy woman who had just died at the age of 94.  This elderly woman had a home in Palm Springs, California, and an apartment in New York City in Trump Tower.  My passenger said she is now returning to the Palm Springs home where her husband is a gardener.  I asked her if she ever meets Donald Trump in the Trump Tower building and, if she does, has she ever seen him NOT wearing a suit and a tie.  (This was on my mind ever since I'd noticed that in all the years Trump has been showing up in the media I had never seen him without a suit or tie, even when a TV camera would show him sitting in the stands at baseball games.)  She said that she had met him occasionally in the elevator and, no, come to think of it, she had never seen him wearing anything but a suit and a tie.  She said Trump was always polite and interested in her opinion about the service in his building.  She recalled that he asked her once if the doormen were friendly.  She also added that the doormen say that Trump doesn't like to shake hands with people and that she sometimes sees his young son being pushed around in a stroller by a nurse and followed by two bodyguards close behind.  

"That's the price of being too famous," I said to her.

2. June 30, 2011 -- I picked up a young Hispanic man in Queens and drove him to Washington Heights in Manhattan, a thirty-minute ride, at midnight.  He told me he works in maintenance for the Trump Organization and that the next day he will be taking a test for his license to operate boilers (a big deal for him).  I asked him if he had any Donald Trump stories and he recalled one.  He told me he had once been working at the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park, which is managed by the Trump Organization, and Donald Trump personally fired one of the workers because he wasn't dressed in the proper uniform -- instead of a black shirt and black pants, he was wearing a white shirt and black jeans.  "Asshole," my passenger said.  He added, however, that the perks of his job are great.  (No mention in my journal of what the perks are, unfortunately.)  

He said that he has seen Trump not wearing a suit and tie, "but only when he's going to play golf." 

He also told me that the owners of residences in the Trump building on Central Park South pay $80,000 a month for the maintenance of their apartments and that the man on the top floor, a penthouse, "owns a major bank."  This last bit of information I found particularly interesting because it gave me a gauge, a little measuring stick, by which to better comprehend the difference in wealth between the 1% and the rest of us.  

$80,000 a month for maintenance.  I own a small condo myself.  I pay $103. 


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Donald Trump Stories From My Cab

No, I’ve never had Donald Trump in my cab.  Now that would be an interesting story, of course, because it would be firsthand data for me, secondhand data for you, as opposed to information received via the media.  However, since the primaries began in February of this extraordinary election year in the U.S., I have had several passengers in my taxi who told me Donald Trump stories of their own.  And that does count for something.  It’s source information, unedited.

Here they are, in chronological order, without embellishment:

1. March 8 -- an older gentleman, in his seventies I would say, got in the cab in Midtown and we drove up to his Park Avenue address at 81st Street.  ("Park Avenue address" is code, btw, for "old money, very wealthy").  He was on his cell phone for most of the ride, but when he'd ended his call I asked for his opinion about the upcoming election.  Without needing any prompting, he told me he'd once had some kind of business deal in progress with Trump (no specifics were given).  He said he'd never met him in person but had spoken with him on the phone.  He said he should change the name of his book from The Art Of The Deal to The Art Of Changing The Deal At The Last Minute.  

The implication here, as I understood it, was that Trump was unscrupulous, not good to his word, sneaky, and that the deal, whatever it was, did not go forward. 

As he left the cab his parting words, referring to Trump, were, "He's a bad man."

2. May 3 -- I had a middle-aged woman en route to the News Corp. Building on 47th and 6th, where Fox News is located.  She told me that her husband works as an "ad director" there, meaning he arranges which commercials will be shown in which time slots.  She said that recently her husband and a colleague were waiting for an elevator to arrive in the building and when the door opened there stood Donald Trump with a couple of security guards beside him. As her husband and his colleague moved forward to join them in the elevator, they were stopped by the security guards.  But Trump intervened, allowing them to come in with them.  As they rode together in the elevator, however, there was no conversation with Trump because her husband, she said, was "in shock".

3. July 10 -- a middle-aged man in my cab told me he is a construction contractor in Florida.  He said that a friend of his had once been in charge of a Trump construction project there and at one point during the operation he pulled all his workers off the job and refused to allow them to continue working until he was paid the money that was owed to him for work already done up to that point.  Apparently Trump had a reputation for not paying his contractors and his friend was wise to this.  The ploy, my passenger said, was successful.  Trump paid him what he was owed and the construction continued.

4. August 7 -- a 30-something woman going from 30 Rock (Rockefeller Center in Midtown) to the Upper West Side.  After chatting with her for a few minutes she told me she is a makeup artist at NBC and used to work on the show "The Apprentice".  Realizing I had a rare opportunity here, I began quizzing her about what it was like to actually do Donald Trump's makeup and, of course, what about his hair?  Here's what I learned (and this is breaking news)... 

a) His hair is real.  At least, it's not a piece.  She couldn't say whether or not he has plugs because she didn't work on his hair and couldn't get in there, but it's definitely not a toupee.  

b) Regarding the orange face: Trump has a skin condition known as rosacea (the enlargement of facial blood vessels, giving his cheeks and nose a flushed appearance).  She said that when she worked for him she used makeup that gave his face the appearance of a natural skin tone.  Now, however, he does his makeup himself and is using a yellow substance which, when applied over the redness of his face, creates an orange tint (yellow + red = orange).
According to my passenger he won't listen to advice that he should change to another cream or ointment.

c) What it was like to be an employee of Donald Trump: she enjoyed working for him, was treated respectfully, and was well paid.  She said if she worked only half a day she would still be given a full day's wages.

d) Trump's children: she liked them, too.  The only thing she found objectionable about any of them was that Donald Junior is a hunter.  Other than that she thought they were fine people.

e) Would she vote for him?  No.

For me, stories number 1 and 3 add credence to reports we’ve been hearing for months that Trump has a long history as an unscrupulous businessman, a shark swimming in the shark-infested waters of real estate development, that you cannot believe what he says, and that he is not to be trusted.  Stories 2 and 4 lead me to believe that on a personal level he can be a nice guy.  Story 4b suggests that reports are true that it is difficult or even impossible for him to accept advice from people who are experts in a field and that he trusts his own instincts above all else. 

Ah, the things you can learn driving a taxicab in New York City!  Should I come upon further stories from a firsthand or even a secondhand source, I will pass them on.

For more of my thoughts about this election please click here for the post, "What The Man From The Atomic Energy Commission Told Me".  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What The Man From The Atomic Energy Commission Told Me

You never know who will show up in the back seat of a taxicab.  It’s like a talk show on wheels, really.  A guest enters, we chat for a while, then he or she exits and the next one gets in.  It’s quite a remarkable human situation, if you think about it, especially in a city like New York where the movers and shakers of the world tend to congregate. 

Back in 1992 I had a passenger in my taxi who made a puzzling statement to me and this statement, considering who he was, has kept me thinking about its meaning ever since.  This story is actually one of the most frequently told stories to passengers in my cab, although I’ve never written about it until now.  And I do so now because with presidential politics being what they are in the United States at this time, I feel a responsibility to share this information. 

My passenger was an American man who I estimated to be in his ‘70s at the time.  I remember thinking that he looked to be in great physical condition for his age and that he mentioned to me that he walked ten miles a day, which impressed me.  I don’t recall how it came up in conversation, but somehow the following datum emerged: he told me he had once been a member of the Atomic Energy Commission. 

Whoa.  You may not be old enough to know what that meant, but if you were around in the ‘50s and ‘60s you most likely do.  The Atomic Energy Commission was the highest level federal agency in the United States which regulated the use and development of atomic energy, including the creation of new types of atomic weapons.  In terms of its importance to the country, it might be compared today to the National Security Agency (the NSA) or the CIA.  Top secret, hush-hush agencies with great, sometimes controversial, responsibilities to the security of the country.  

Realizing that I had a rare opportunity here, I tried to make the most of it in the limited time we would be together.  I know I asked him several questions which he was glad to answer, but there is only one thing I specifically remember asking his opinion about, something I’d already had some attention on for a few years.

And that was this: it had occurred to me some years prior that there seemed to have been a shift in the public consciousness concerning the threat and consequences of atomic war.  It seemed to me that people weren’t nearly as concerned about it as they had been before.  You didn’t see articles in the papers or magazines about it anymore, or hear people talking about it anymore.  Nobody seemed to be worried about it anymore, even though the Cold War was still going on.  I don’t know when this change occurred, but I supposed it was a gradual thing that may have started in the early ‘70s, perhaps when the Viet Nam war ended — I don’t know.

When I was growing up in the late ‘50s and throughout the ‘60s, the seriousness of even the possibility of nuclear war was very much in the public consciousness.  I would say that it and the arrival of television were the two things that shaped the psychology of my generation.  These two developments created a significant “generation gap” between us Baby Boomers and our parents, actually.  They had lived in a world where nuclear bombs and televisions did not exist.  This resulted, I think, in a different view of the world for us and certainly a different view about warfare.  For all the millennia preceding the advent of the atomic bomb, warfare meant men fighting directly against other men with some sort of hand-held weapon or by shooting short-range explosives at each other.  Even in the most horrific wars, it was still understood, if not consciously then subconsciously, that when the war was over, or even if it was never over, the human race would still exist and although it might change for the better or worse, there would still exist what is called “civilization”.

The invention and then the proliferation of nuclear weapons, however, changed that very basic reality.  For the first time in human history, weaponry had been created which could mean the extinction of civilization, if not the extinction of the human race itself and perhaps even all forms of life on the planet.  Man had developed the means of destroying himself as a species.  And this would happen not through masses of armies going up against each other but by certain people pushing certain buttons which would launch the nuclear missiles.  Thus the new reality was that even if everything seemed harmonious and peaceful, this world would always be a very dangerous place.  It could all end tomorrow, complete destruction, just like that, if certain people pushed certain buttons.  That’s a pretty depressing thought, isn’t it?

I grew up knowing, and worrying, about this.  With the Cold War brewing it was always in the back of my mind that this day could be the last day.  This fear was heightened considerably by the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962 when the Soviet Union and the United States came to the brink of nuclear war.  It was horrifying.  

I remember one specific incident which occurred in my 8th grade music class during the crisis.  Our teacher brought out a record of the music from a new Broadway show called Fiorello! about the former mayor of New York City, Fiorello LaGuardia.  We were to listen to the record and there would be a discussion about it when it was over.  She placed the record on the turntable and we waited for the music to begin.  However, this show didn’t begin with music.  It began with the blaring siren of a fire engine.  (Mayor LaGuardia was famous for showing up at fires.)  The entire class, hearing the sound, let out a collective scream.  Not a funny, teenage scream — a real scream of terror.  That’s how on edge we were, and we were only kids.

So I brought this up with my passenger.  I asked him if I was correct in my observation.  Did something change?  Are people in general not concerned about the possibility of a nuclear holocaust like they used to be?  He thought about it for a moment and then told me that I was correct, it was true.  And then he added this comment, and these were his exact words:

“A country that’s worried about a nuclear war is a country that won’t buy a new car.”

I don’t remember if I asked him what he meant by that.  I don’t think I did, actually, maybe because we were at the end of the ride.  But his comment has stayed with me all these years.  If it had come from just anyone, I suppose I would have forgotten about it the next day, but this was coming from the guy from the Atomic Energy Commission, so it carried significant gravitas.    

After giving it much thought, and after hearing the opinions of many passengers in my cab, I came to the conclusion that what he meant was that a country of worried people was bad for the economy, with the implication being that a robust economy was an important ingredient in keeping the peace, not only in America but around the world.  Plus this: what’s the point in having the media and governmental agencies agitating the population about nuclear holocaust when there’s nothing the average person can do about it, anyway?

I decided he was right.  This made sense.  A population which believes the world may end tomorrow might well turn out to be a population of nihilistic, live-for-today stoners.  What it takes for a society to prosper — the steady flow of commerce — could be reduced to a trickle.  No Brillo pads to clean your sink.  No gravy on your mashed potatoes.  No invention of the iPhone.  No Pokemon Go.  If things get bad enough in a country, people will become desperate.  Governments can be overthrown by violence and atomic weapons can get into the hands of some very destructive people.  So the man from the Atomic Energy Commission was right. 

Or was he?

As this presidential election cycle rolls forward in the United States I have given his comment even more thought, and it seems to me something was overlooked.  A country that is not keenly aware of what atomic weapons can do is a country that might elect a rabble-rousing loose cannon to the presidency -- a person who could conceivably blunder our way into a nuclear holocaust.  

So there is something the average person can do about it.  He or she can understand that the risk of atomic warfare is the number one issue in any presidential election, and vote accordingly.  No other issue even comes close.  Not bad trade agreements, not student debt, not illegal immigration, not even psychotic lunatics opening fire in airports.  

Please consider this: the president of the United States, when it comes to nuclear war, virtually has the power of God.  By his or her command all we know of civilization could quite suddenly come to an end.  By his or her command billions -- billions -- of people could perish, perhaps even every human being on this planet could perish.  Perhaps even every living thing on the planet could perish.  Is that not the power of God?

So temperament, sanity, intelligence, and empathy mean everything in a presidential election.  It’s the great decision we as Americans must make every fourth year, and it tests our wisdom as a nation.  Candidates who are rude, impulsive, thin-skinned, angry, and impossible to give advice to can be elected to the offices of mayor, governor, and senator all day long, and sometimes are.  

But never to the presidency.

The motto of one of the great American presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, was “Speak softly and carry a big stick”.  There are plenty of big sticks in the United States arsenal.  It’s the “speak softly” part that is so important in a nuclear age. 

If you’re an American, I do hope you will give this your most sober consideration before you vote.


There are links to several Wikipedia pages in this post.  I’m giving three of them again here in case you missed them:

I suggest that you to go to these sites and read the articles. I know it’s disturbing to read this stuff, it really is, but I feel we cannot afford to be unaware of what is really at stake in this and in every presidential election.  Go to the Cuban Missile Crisis page first and listen to the riveting audio of President Kennedy addressing the nation.  Then imagine the wrong person being the president at that time.

I feel strongly that all Americans need to be conversant with this subject. "The Nuclear Age" should be required study for everyone at the high school level, in my opinion. 

This is the world we live in.  

Let’s not kid ourselves.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Driverless Taxis? My Op-Ed in The Guardian

There was an announcement in the worldwide media several days ago that Uber and Volvo have been working together to develop the technology for a driverless taxi and that the first of these cars are already being tested on the streets of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (USA).

Is this the beginning of the end of the profession of Taxi Driver?

I was asked by The Guardian, one of the UK's top newspapers (with an online edition for the US), to write an Op-Ed on this disturbing news...

Click here:

Monday, April 11, 2016

Harry Belafonte

The great Harry Belafonte and his wife Pamela Frank were passengers in my cab yesterday.  Cheerful and exuberant, he took a minute to oblige my request for a picture.

If you are not familiar with Harry Belafonte, please click on the link above and check out his Wikipedia page.  He has been an inspiration to millions, including myself, since the 1950s, and he continues to be.

Would you believe he is 89 years old?

(Photo by Pamela Frank)


Monday, March 28, 2016

What It Takes To Get Rid Of A McDonald's

Here's a question I've asked dozens of passengers in my cab over the years, and I'll ask it to you now: have you ever -- in your life -- noticed a McDonald's that, once it was there, ceased to be there? Think about this for a minute... I'm talking about every town or city you've ever lived in, every town or city you've ever known, every highway you've ever driven on that had a rest stop, every mall you've ever shopped in: have you ever known of a McDonald's that went away?

I'll bet you can't name even one.

I say this because no one in my cab has ever been able to think of one.  Well, actually there was one passenger who could.  He said there was a mass shooting in a McDonald's in San Diego, California, in 1984 in which twenty-one people were killed, and in the aftermath the McDonald's Corporation decided to raze the building and donate the land to the city rather than reopen it.  However, a new McDonald's was eventually built just a few blocks away.  So it's debatable as to whether or not this counts.

Wondering why this was so, I learned through conversations with passengers and with a bit of research on the net that in the great majority of cases the McDonald's Corporation owns the land upon which the restaurants are constructed.  A realtor in my cab recently told me, in fact, that people are mistaken if they think McDonald's is in the hamburger business.  Actually, he said, they're in the real estate business.  The value of their real estate holdings, including the land itself and the buildings, is more than 28 billion dollars.

So imagine my surprise when I drove up 10th Avenue in Manhattan a few weeks ago and noticed that a fence had been constructed around a McDonald's at 34th Street and it was shuttered up.  This was especially interesting to me because this very same McDonald's was, in fact, demolished about twenty years ago and I remember thinking at the time that it was the only one I knew of that had ever gone away. Especially strange, I thought, because it was one of the very few restaurants in Manhattan that had its own parking lot.  You could actually park your car and go into the place to eat, unheard of in the real estate paradise known as Manhattan.  And now it was gone?

No!  What happened was that, Hydra-like, it came back!  A new, bigger, two-story McDonald's arose in its place and was super-sizing the fries, sodas, and shakes all over again.  What, I had to wonder, could it possibly take to kill off one of these joints?

The answer to that question requires a closer look at what's been happening in the section of Manhattan that is bounded from north to south by 34th Street and 30th Street and from east to west by 10th and 12th Avenues.  It has its own new name: "Hudson Yards".  "Hudson" because the Hudson River is right there next to 12th Avenue and "Yards" because the construction that's underway there extends over the West Side Rail Yard, where trains headed for Pennsylvania Station come, go, and hang out.  It's a massive real estate development which when completed is expected to consist of sixteen skyscrapers with more than 12 million square feet of office, residential, and retail space.  An extension of the Number 7 subway line -- a massive construction project in itself -- was recently completed and opened for business with a station on 34th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, the first new subway station to open in New York City in twenty years.

It's a big deal.

So why did the McDonald's go out?  Well, it was due to the value of its land, of course.  We all know about "location, location, location" and this is a location wet dream.  It's about an acre of the most prime real estate imaginable, literally adjacent to the new subway station.  Who was the genius who years ago decided to acquire a plot big enough for a parking lot?  Incredible.

I had to wonder what the price could have been for the McDonald's Corporation to sell out.  Happily, I was able to extract this information from two recent passengers in my cab.  One was a real estate lawyer and the other an executive of the development company which bought the land. (It's amazing to me how, when I decide that I want certain information, somehow a passenger shows up in my cab who provides me with it.  It's been happening for years -- a phenomenon, really.)

Anyway, what do you think it was?  Before you read on, just sit back for a minute and think about it.  An acre of land in the middle of a huge, huge real estate development in a whole new section of Manhattan that has its own new subway line -- what do you think that's worth in today's dollars?

Okay, here's the answer (drum roll, please)...

One hundred and forty-four million dollars, including the air rights.

One hundred and forty-four million dollars.

So now we know.

That's what it takes to get rid of a McDonald's.

Sorry, Morgan Spurlock.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Weeknd

Tuesday nights at around 3 A.M. -- that's an interesting time of the night for a taxi driver in New York City.  It's the time when the streets are not only at their emptiest, but when the "creatures of the night", so to speak, are most likely to appear from the shadows -- and that could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the creature.  I was getting ready to end my shift at that time a few months ago, not in a creature-of-the-night mood, really, so when I saw a relatively normal-looking pair of humans hailing me at the corner of 54th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan, it was a welcome sight.  The two of them -- an attractive, young white lady wearing a tight-fitting party dress and a hip-looking black guy carrying a guitar case -- jumped in and the guy said they wanted to go to the Affinia Hotel at 31st Street and 7th Avenue.  The doors closed and we were on our way, but we went barely a block when there was a problem.

The guy suddenly realized he'd left his card (credit card) in the bar.  This meant we had to loop around to 5th Avenue, cross over on 53rd Street back to 6th Avenue, and then make a right turn on 54th Street, where the bar, a place called Connolly's, was located.  This was okay with me, of course, as it meant more mileage on the ride, assuming he went into the bar, got his card, and we continued on to the hotel.  The young lady, however, was not comprehending the problem.  She thought he said that he'd left his card in his car and didn't understand how that could happen.  After a prolonged discussion, the guy finally realized her confusion and told her the card was in the bar, not in his car.  "My car's in LA," he said.  They both laughed.  Well, he laughed.  She guffawed.  This misunderstanding was not merely funny, it was hilarious, from her point of view.

Overhearing this little episode made me curious about this couple so I kept my attention on them as I made my way back to Connolly's Bar.  I took note of the way they were.  She was clearly a bit tipsy -- a happy, but not drunk, attractive female.  She spoke to the guy ebulliently, full of agreement, listening carefully to his every word, and sitting so close to the guy that a cab driver could only assume that they were more than friends -- or were about to be so.

The guy, though, was much more subdued, laid-back, cool and calm, but not in an off-putting way.  I could see that he liked the girl, liked the affinity and attention he was receiving from her, and was perhaps playing his cards a bit carefully, not wanting to blow what surely must have looked like a winning hand.  He wasn't doing a lot of talking, though.  The girl was the gabby one.

We circled around and in a couple of minutes we arrived at Connolly's on 54th Street.  The guy opened his door and stepped out onto the street, leaving his guitar in the cab.

"Be right back."

"Okay," she beamed back.

He gave her a half-smile and walked into the bar.

The moment the guy disappeared from sight she turned her attention to me.  With wide-eyed  enthusiasm she exclaimed:

"Do you know who he IS???!!!"

I, of course, had no idea who he was, so I said, "The guy who left his guitar in the cab?"

My quip went unnoticed by my passenger and continued on its journey into outer space.

"He's The Weeknd!" she squealed.

"What do you mean?  It's Tuesday."

"No, no, he calls himself 'The Weeknd'."  She became a bit serious for a moment.  "It's his stage name.  But it's not spelled the same.  You leave off the 'e' after 'week'.  So it's not like you say 'The Week End'.  It's more like you say 'The Weakened'.  It's like a double-meaning."


She lowered her voice a notch.  "His real name is 'L.J.', she said, "but he doesn't want anyone to know."  Suddenly she seemed worried.  "Don't tell him I told you who he is when he comes back, okay?"

"Oh, sure, don't worry.  It'll be our little secret."

Her smile returned.

"Okay, so who is The Weeknd?" I inquired (of course).

Her unbridled enthusiasm returned.   "Oh, he's a singer.  He's the hottest thing around right now!  He's HUGE!   I mean HUGE!!!  He's on all the radio stations!  He's all over the place on YouTube!  He's HUGE!"

"Really, wow!  So who are you, his girlfriend?"

"Well, ha-ha, not exactly... we just met in the bar."  She then giggled in the way that people often do  when they're about to engage in a guilty pleasure.  A "My Bad" grin appeared on her face and remained there.

"Ohh, I got it," I replied.  I smiled back, as if to say, "I'll be your secret coachman."

So now I did get it, indeed.  She was his Thank-You-For-Choosing-Me-Sir pick-up of the evening.  And the place they were on their way to is also known as the Shagalicious Hotel, by Marriott.

"So how did you and The Weeknd wind up in a bar at three in the morning?" I wanted to know.

"Ohhh, well, he just played at a big fund-raiser at MOMA," she said.  "$50,000 a plate!  Can you imagine that -- $50,000 a plate!  He was the entertainment."

It did make sense.  Although the main entrance to MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art) is on East 53rd Street, there's an open-air terrace that extends to 54th Street, right across the street from Connolly's Bar.  So I assumed The Weeknd and his people must have headed there after the show.

We continued to chat it up for a couple of minutes which meant that she went on bubbling all over the top about how big a star The Weeknd is while I pleasantly acknowledged whatever she said.  But then, suddenly, there was a hitch in the plan: the guy who calls himself "The Weeknd" returned to the cab, sat himself down, and announced to my passenger that he was having a problem with his card, so there would be a bit of a delay.  He suggested that instead of waiting for him in the cab that she come back into the bar until he could clear up the trouble.  The girl said, "Oh, okay," and took out her own credit card to pay the fare, which was up to $9.80 at that point.  She swiped her card, the transaction (including a $1.96 tip) went through, and they left the premises, he with his guitar in hand.

"Sorry," he called out to me, which I appreciated.  I like that in a celebrity, no attitude.  He seemed like a nice enough guy.

Well, there I sat in front of Connolly's Bar.  There were still quite a few people inside, so I thought I might as well hang out and see if I can get another fare, or better yet, maybe I could get the girl and this guy The Weeknd again.  It would no doubt be a fascinating eavesdropping situation, based on what she'd already told me.

But no.  Ten minutes ticked by and then finally a middle-aged couple, whose destination was the Roosevelt Hotel on Madison Avenue, came out of the bar and got in my cab.  As I pulled out from the curb I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the girl and The Weeknd re-emerge from the bar and get into another taxi.  I cursed my luck, missing them by just seconds, and drove my new passengers to their destination.  It turned out to be my last fare of the evening.

I was curious about The Weeknd, so the next day I decided to check him out online. I found that he is, indeed, quite the rising star.  He's got dozens of videos on YouTube, with many millions of views, and has performed at lots of major events.  His latest venture was doing the soundtrack for the movie Fifty Shades Of Grey -- very impressive!  I watched one of his videos and found (unusual for me) that I liked the sound of a new recording artist.  This guy was good.  So I clicked on another one, this time paying more attention to the images than I had before.  And then...

...hey, wait a minute...

I looked more closely.  Whoa, whoa, whoa, just a minute, there!

I watched the video again.  Could it be?

Oh my God, yes, it was true.


On further investigation, I found that there's a fellow called "L.J." in his band who plays the bass!  Aha!

At first my feeling about the attractive young lady in the tight-fitting party dress was one of sympathy.  Poor thing, she'd been duped by what may be the oldest band-member's trick in the book.  But then I became more critical.  I mean, what a disgrace to the good reputation of groupies everywhere.

Come on, honey.

If a guy tells you he's Mick Jagger, you've got to do a little vetting.  Does he know the words to "I Can't Get No Satisfaction"?  Can he at least hum the tune?

Come ON!

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Get `Em While They're Hot

What's that?

You still haven't bought my book, Confessions Of A New York Taxi Driver?

Well, good news, your holding out is about to pay off, at least if you own a Kindle.   For a limited time HarperCollins is offering the ebook edition for a mere $1.99 on  The usual price is $10 and change, so, what a bargain.

Just click here and you're on your way.

 Say what?

You need further convincing?

A promotional video or something?

Well, all right, then...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Taxi TV And Me

My God, how I hate these things.

For those who may not know, let me first tell you what the Taxi TV is. It's a television monitor situated in the rear compartment of all yellow and green (outer borough) taxicabs in New York City. It's not, however, a regular TV like you'd have at home. Rather, it consists of pre-programmed information, the majority of it being clips from television talk shows, along with commercials and the occasional public service announcement. The entertainment, the pitches, and the hear-ye-hear-ye's are packaged in continuous loops which the passenger may see and hear twice or even three times during the course of a ride. The driver hears it whenever the meter is turned on, which on the average is 60% of his twelve-hour shift.

The speakers of the Taxi TV are situated about 24 inches behind the driver's head. Not only does the cabbie have no control over its coming on automatically when the meter is engaged, he has no control over the thing's volume. The passenger can, with a tap-tap-tap of his finger, raise the volume to make it suddenly blasting into the driver's ears. He may also turn it off, and many do just that if they can figure out how to accomplish the task. Most, however, simply ignore it while conversing with their riding companions or the driver, texting, or chatting on their phones. Thus the Taxi TV is, more often than not, just "noise".

And if all this weren't enough to make you scream, let me add that it was the city itself (Mayor Bloomberg, in particular) which mandated its presence in all cabs in 2008. It is there primarily to raise advertising revenue for medallion owners and the companies which won the contracts for its installation and maintenance. The drivers don't see a dime - of course!

It is very unpopular with the majority of the taxi-riding public.  And needless to say, the drivers universally hate the thing.

Well, my dislike for the Taxi TV has been welling up in me for all these years.  The only positive thing I can say about it is that it has given me a worthy replacement for my Giuliani rant.  (I had my Giuliani rant perfected to such a point that passengers in my cab, who may have made the mistake of saying something positive about former Mayor Giuliani to me, would have been happy by the end of the ride to sign a petition to have the man tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a pole.  It was a thing of elocutionary beauty.)

A few weeks ago an acorn dropped on my head and the idea occurred to me to make an offer to passengers in my cab to raise awareness of the outrageousness of the presence of a television monitor in a taxicab, or at least of its continuous noise.  I decided to give them a one dollar rebate on the ride if they would just turn off the damned sound.  

It made the New York Post.  

Click here for the link.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

On The Radio In The U.K. Monday Morning

I will be sitting in with Ed and Rachel on their Heart Radio Breakfast Show ( this coming Monday morning, June 8th, at 6:00 a.m., U.K. time (1:00 a.m. in NYC).

The show airs from Birmingham, England's second-largest city, but they'll be broadcasting from right here in New York on Monday. Don't know exactly what we'll be talking about (I'm hoping they'll let me do a traffic report!) but whatever it is, it should be fun. So tune in if you can. I'm told that I'll be on in their first hour, between 6 and 7 a.m., U.K.

The show can be accessed worldwide on the Internet, but the station doesn't provide archives, so the only way to catch it will be live on Monday.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Well Worth The Eighteen Bucks

There are certain rides which you suspect will be trouble, but then it turns out there is none. For example, the passenger looks drunk, acts drunk, is drunk, and you’ve got a feeling that any second now this son of a bitch is going to puke in the back seat. But he does not. And that is good. But then there are others for which your suspicion is justified - you could see it coming, and indeed it arrives. But at least you can say, “I saw it coming” and give yourself credit for possessing a certain amount of wisdom, even if your wisdom wasn’t of sufficient quantity to have been able to avoid the damned thing in the first place.

Such was the case with a ride I had a couple of months ago, on a frigid Wednesday evening in February. I had taken a fare from Manhattan to Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, at 6:20 - not something a cabbie wants to do at that hour because it likely means going back to “the city” (Manhattan) without a passenger and that is money lost. And although the mantra of the veteran New York City cab driver is supposedly “I don’t go to Brooklyn”, I took the guy without even a hint of complaint - a sign that I may be softening up in my old age.

It was the next ride that was the trouble. Before I could turn around and head back to the Williamsburg Bridge I was hailed at McCarren Park by three teenage boys, dressed in outfits typical of the so-called “inner city”, each about 15, maybe 16 years old. Now here’s a little truism a cabbie learns, usually the hard way, about teenagers and taxicabs in New York City - there are only two situations in which kids between the ages of 13 and 17 ever take taxis without an adult accompanying them. 1) They are “rich kids” from the Park Avenue or 5th Avenue parts of town. 2) It is a Friday or Saturday night and the teenagers are a boy and a girl who are out on a date. The reason: money. Cabs are too expensive for teenagers unless you’re a rich kid or it’s a very special occasion.

Now, I know this, but as mentioned maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, or maybe it’s just that it’s been so long since I’ve had any teenagers in my cab who didn’t fit into one of those two categories that I’ve let my guard down. Whatever the reason, I stopped and let them in, all three in the back seat. Immediately there was this sinking feeling a cabbie gets when he knows he’d made a mistake. I had gone against my instinct, thinking I was doing the right thing by stopping for whomever wanted my services, as per the rules, but now I had a problem on my hands. As soon as they were in my immediate space, danger signals went off on my taxi driver radar. These were not your normal taxi passenger particles, so to speak. They weren’t passing through the filter.

What I do in a situation like this, as I’ve described elsewhere in this blog, I call my “Three Strikes And You're Out System”. Strike One: from your outward characteristics you look to me like potential trouble of one kind or another. I don’t feel comfortable with you in my cab. Strike Two: I also don’t feel comfortable with where in the city you want me to go and the time of day (like late at night) you want me to go there. Well, these three fellows by appearance, age, and demeanor brought me to Strike Two immediately, and when I asked them where they were going the one directly behind the partition next to the right-side door barked out:

“Ridgewood, yo.”


This was further bad news because not only did they want to take me for a long ride in the opposite direction from Manhattan, but Ridgewood is a low-income, not-gentrified part of the city which I don’t really know very well due to the fact that I get so few fares out there. This ride was going to be something like fifteen to twenty dollars on the meter. Three inner-city teenagers paying that much money for a cab ride when they could have taken the subway? Noooo… this particle was definitely not making it through the filter. Still, the procedure of my system is that when you have a Strike Two, what you do is communicate, or try to. Often what looks like something ominous turns out to be not that way at all upon further observation. So I went at it.

“So what street do you want in Ridgewood?” I asked.

“Huh?” the kid on the right-rear grunted.

“Where are you going? What street?”

There was a brief conversation among them. And then, “We don’t know yet,” replied the same kid, who seemed to be a spokesman for the group. “Get on Metropolitan.”

This was a further bad indicator. They’re taking an expensive ride and they’re not sure where they’re going? Two possibilities enter the mind of the taxi driver: maybe they aren’t concerned about spending money on a ride to a vague destination because they have no intention to pay for it. Or, worse, maybe they want to get to a general area and then find a street where it would be a good place to hold you up. I knew I had to determine which possibility it was before we got to Ridgewood - my life could be at stake here. If I decided what they had in mind was just to beat the fare, I would take them. If I was right, all I would lose, really, would be some time. But if I wasn’t sure, I would have to abruptly end the ride in a busy area with lots of people around (hopefully right behind a police car, if I could find one) and through overt or covert means, get them out of the cab. (That’s Strike Three.) So I had a plan. But first I had to continue with my attempt at communication.

The kid in the middle, who I could easily see in the rear-view mirror, was wearing a Yankee cap. I thought this was a good way to start a conversation, so I looked at him in the mirror and asked him if he was a Yankee fan. He seemed surprised that he was being asked a question. After thinking about it for a few seconds he replied, rather flatly, “Yeah.”

“How do you think they’re looking for the new season? Think they’ll make the playoffs?”

The kid pondered this concept - Yankees… playoffs… and finally responded. “Maybe,” was all he said. He wasn’t saying much, but he said something. I took this as a hopeful sign and continued.

“Hey, you know who I had in my cab last summer? Derek Jeter!”

Now for any Yankee fan, or even any baseball fan, this statement should result in a “Wow!” of one sort or another. Derek Jeter, the recently retired superstar of the Yankees, has been the most admired sports figure in New York for the last twenty years. But all it got out of the kid was an even-voiced, “That’s cool.” And nothing more. This was not good.

I was beginning to think I was going to have to get rid of these guys for my own safety when there was an oddly positive development in the ride. They started goofing off with each other. One of them accused another of farting. Then the one who’d been accused yelled up to me, “Hey cab driver, did you fart?” which brought some laughter in the back seat. It was juvenile and disrespectful, but it gave me something with which to calculate their intentions.

In my understanding of human behavior I could not see three teenagers joking around with each other if what was in the back of their minds was to pull out a weapon and rob me. If that had been their intention, they would have been serious, silent, and mean-spirited. I could see that these kids were basically just wiseass teenagers. Still, something was up and I was pretty sure at this point that what was up was that they were going to try to beat the fare. That suspicion wasn’t enough to kick them out of the cab, however, so we continued on.

When we’d gone a couple of miles down Metropolitan Avenue some disagreement arose among them as to where they wanted to go. One kid said turn left, the other said no, turn right, and then there was a whispered conference among them - a development I didn’t like one bit. What was it they didn’t want me to hear? It was a little after seven in the evening and although it was dark there were still plenty of cars and people on the streets, so I still didn’t think they intended to hold me up. But now I wasn’t so sure. I decided that if they directed me to turn into an alley or a dead-end street I would quickly close the partition window on them, lock it, and order them out of the cab. The Plexiglas partition is bullet-proof (it had better be!) and as long as I had an open road in front of me I could take off the moment they stepped out of the cab and be safe, hopefully. To hell with the money.

If, however, they were simply going to try to leave without paying, as I expected, well, I had another plan…

We took a few lefts and rights and wound up on a one-way, residential street. Halfway down the block the kid in the rear-right says, “Okay, stop here.” As I brought the cab slowly to a halt, I noted that the street in front of me was devoid of other vehicles, a good thing. Stopping the cab, I left it in “Drive” with my foot on the brake.

“You’re getting out here?” I asked the group, noticing that there was $18.30 on the meter.

But there was no answer, as such. Instead there was a sudden, loud, rebel yell from both sides of the compartment as the rear doors flew open simultaneously. With grins of joyous complicity on their faces, the two kids who had been sitting next to their own doors jumped out of the cab and began to run away the moment their feet touched ground. Seeing this, I put my own plan into action. Instead of just sitting there and watching them run, I stepped on the gas, hard, while at the same time reaching back, slamming the partition window shut, and locking it. The sudden forward thrust of the cab caused the two rear doors to close on their own. But I wasn’t driving down the street alone. The kid in the Yankee hat who had been sitting between his friends hadn’t been able to get out in time. In an instantaneous reversal of fortune, he was suddenly a prisoner in a moving vehicle.

“Like I didn’t see that coming,” I called back to him while bringing the speed up to about 25 miles per hour. The look of shock on the kid’s face was priceless. I wish I could have taken a picture of it.

“So,” I said in sarcastic cheerfulness as we continued down the street, “let’s find a cop.”

There was panic and confusion in the kid’s eyes. Perhaps he saw his future melting away due to being arrested. Perhaps he could see how he would lose the respect of certain people in his life whom he admired. Or perhaps he could just see himself being picked up at the precinct by his momma, who would give him more than a piece of her mind when she got him home. Whatever it was, he kept it to himself. He didn’t say a word to me.

For my part, I knew I had to keep the taxi moving while looking for a cop. If I brought it to a stop, the kid would certainly bolt. I continued driving down the street for another block with still no other cars in front of me, but then slowed down a bit to make a left turn at an approaching intersection. As I went into the turn, the speed of the cab going down to about fifteen miles per hour, the kid suddenly pushed open the right-rear door and jumped out, rolling over a couple of times onto the pavement just like in a scene from an action movie. Looking back at him through the mirror, I could see him rising to his feet, apparently uninjured. There was an accumulation of snow on the street which may have cushioned his fall.

I kept driving, satisfied that I had won the game. Actually, just the look on the kid’s face was worth the eighteen bucks. In these fare-beating scenarios, it’s not really about the money, anyway. It’s about pride, not letting someone make a jackass out of you. Also it’s about teaching the person a lesson, if possible. Hopefully this kid had a realization along the lines of there being consequences to stupid behavior. Of course in this particular instance, he may have had a realization of a different kind... that he may have a future as a stuntman!

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.