Saturday, July 19, 2008

Taxi Driver Cop, Part Two

If you've been reading this blog for awhile you know that I'm big on the karma vs. coincidence thing. I'm not an extremist - I do think there's such a thing as coincidence. Let's say an asteroid has been on a collision course with Earth for a billion years and it comes down on YOU. That's a coincidence. But if you've been playing a favorite song in your head for an half an hour and then the person who sings that song from out of nowhere suddenly gets in your cab, that's karma. It's a your universe being senior to the physical universe or the universes of others thing. There's an energy involved.

So what happened merely 30 minutes after my pathetic attempt to be a taxi driver cop with the fake cab (see my last post) cannot be written off as coincidence. Karma, baby!

It was a bit after 4 in the morning, the time of night when I'm looking for "one more fare" (the shift ends at 5 a.m.). I was cruising up 6th Avenue, approaching 15th Street, when something caught my eye on the right side of the avenue. There was a yellow, medallion taxi stopped in what should be a moving lane and a twenty-something guy standing there with a bicycle on the cab's right side, opposite the driver. I pulled up a bit behind them and stopped, thinking maybe the guy wanted to put his bike in the trunk and for some reason the driver didn't want to do that and maybe I would get the fare for myself. I have no problem putting bicycles in trunks.

But what was happening was actually the beginning of some kind of a confrontation. The guy with the bicycle started screaming at the driver. I couldn't hear what he was saying nor could I even see the driver of the cab. But I could see that for some reason this guy with the bicycle was extremely angry. Right away I decided that I wanted no part of him and locked my doors. I was about to pull away and continue up 6th, but before I could do that, the situation escalated. He started whacking at the taxi's windows with his arm, perhaps trying to break them.

For me - and this is one of the things I like about driving a cab - it was one of those little instantaneous moments of truth. I could drive away. Or I could stay there.

I stayed there.

I had no idea what this guy was so pissed off about, but now it didn't matter to me. He was attacking a taxi and that zone of human activity is mine, so I was on the side of the taxi and its driver. Even so, I had no intention of getting out of my cab and confronting the guy. I just thought that the presence of another yellow cab might act as a deterrent to him.

To the contrary.

He then lifted his bicycle in the air and slammed it against the side of the taxi, breaking the side view mirror off. I'm not sure what category of crime this would fit into - assault with a deadly bicycle? - but it was felony stuff, no doubt. I expected him to then take off, but instead he just stood there and removed his bicycle chain from its prior location, around his neck, and held it in his hand in anticipation of the driver coming out of his cab to attack him, which would have been the all-too-common response to the stimulus. The "thinking" here is that sufficient motivation has been given to warrant a violent reaction, so what he really wants to do, pummel the driver into a paste, could be justified as "self-defense". Psycho.

But, amazingly, the driver did not get out - he just stayed in his cab. The two-wheeled assailant stood there for a quarter of a minute or so and then, deciding that the game was over, walked his bike across 6th Avenue and turned south toward 14th Street when he set foot on the sidewalk. I backed my cab up to the intersection of 14th Street and saw him pick up his bike and begin to walk down the stairs of the subway station there.

The need for justice runs deep in the human psyche. In the relative scale of criminal activity what I had just witnessed was not that big a deal, although it wasn't nothing. Yet I felt something stir deep within that demanded the situation be rectified. Even so, in this society, one is entering a minefield when action is taken. Considerations of physical danger, retribution, lawsuits, lawyers, legal fees, and enormous stress set in the moment one decides to take it upon oneself to do something about it. But there is one thing you can always do, although in these situations it never seems to work.

You can call the cops.

That's what you're supposed to do, right?

So I got out my cell phone and called 911. Inevitably, whenever you dial 911 with a need for immediate assistance, the person on the other end seems to be in no rush at all. I believe it's a game they play. As I tried to communicate the urgency of the situation, the driver of the cab, an Indian fellow, finally emerged from his vehicle, also speaking into a cell phone, and walked toward me. As I explained to him that his assailant had gone down into the subway and that I was calling the cops, the guy suddenly reappeared on the street, bicycle in hand, and began nonchalantly walking down 14th Street toward 7th Avenue. The window of opportunity for having this guy arrested was rapidly disappearing.

What happened next could be described by some as a modern urban miracle. There is an axiom of life in the city that is as unshakable as "you can't fight city hall" and "shit happens". It is this: "you can never find a cop when you need one".

What happened was that, perhaps for the first time in recorded history, I found a cop when I needed one. A cruiser was coming along on 14th Street. I flagged it down, explained the situation to the officers, and they took the Indian driver in their back seat to go hunt for the guy with the bicycle while I kept an eye on his taxi (which he left with the engine running). Within a minute three or four more cruisers arrived on the scene and the guy and his bicycle were under arrest. An officer returned to me to take my name and a statement, thanked me, and said they had all they would need. I wished the Indian driver good luck and was on my way.

The whole incident took about 10 minutes.

And I'm thinking as I zipped up 6th Avenue, still looking for one more fare, wait a minute, this never happens. Some anger management clown with a sense of entitlement in the area of taxi drivers bashes in a cab and then gets arrested?

This never happens!

But it did.


It kind of makes you want to click here for Pictures From A Taxi, does it not?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Taxi Driver Cop, Part One

Somewhere along the line, many years ago, for some reason I decided that the taxi industry in New York City was "mine". There was enough about it that was a right fit for me to make me not look at its problems as being somebody else's problems. I developed a willingness to be at cause in this particular sector of human activitiy. You could call it a sense of responsibility.

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."

"Oh, wow!"

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.