Monday, May 24, 2021

The Comment That Went Viral

I subscribe to the online edition of the New York Times.  There's a feature in it -- the comments section -- of which I'm particularly fond. Roughly half the articles, and nearly all of the Op-Eds and Guest Essays, have a comments section.  On any given day there are thousands of comments from readers -- in fact, sometimes a single article by itself may receive over a thousand.  It's like the old "Letters To The Editor" of the print era on steroids. 

It's easy to make a comment.  Here are the rules of the game:

-- comments are moderated for being "on-topic" and "civil"; 

-- they cannot exceed 1500 characters;  

-- each article which permits comments has a time limit for submissions.  If you get to it too late, it will be closed;

 -- you can make a comment to a comment (a "reply").  Thus discussions occur among commenters.

-- comments can be "flagged" by readers as inappropriate.  They may then be removed by moderators.

-- you can click "Recommended" beneath a comment if you really like it.  These "Recommended" comments can then be viewed in a window of their own when you click on "Reader Picks".  They're listed in order of which got the most.  This creates a popularity contest of sorts among the readers.  

-- there's also a section called "NYT Picks".  Click on that and you will see the comments chosen as most deserving of attention by the moderators of the Opinions Section. 

-- and finally there's an icon for "All" comments, listed in chronological order.

Because the Times is one of the most widely read and respected papers in the U.S. (and the world), it attracts readers who are often quite well-versed in the subjects being written about and their comments may offer a new perspective that had been overlooked by the author of the article.  It tends to be a smart crowd.

I consider myself well-versed in certain areas: New York City in general; taxi driving and the taxi business; transportation; and, of course, my own experiences with the human race as a longtime NYC taxi driver.  If I feel I have something relevant to say to an article in these zones, I will often make a comment using the pen name "Old Yeller".  

So here's what happened...

On August 24th last year the Times ran an Op-Ed by Jerry Seinfeld called "So You Think New York Is 'Dead' (It's not.)"

In his piece Jerry came down pretty hard on "some putz in LinkedIn" (the owner of a comedy club in Manhattan who, after relocating to Miami, had written what was basically an obituary on the city.) Jerry kicked the guy's butt, so to speak, and made a good case for the city's resilience and revival.  Before the comments section was closed it received a whopping 2,740 comments. One of them was mine.  And thus began the journey of a comment...

-- I started my day on August 24th as I always do, reading the Times over breakfast.  And after breakfast.  I did not see Jerry's Op-Ed.  

-- Later in the day I received an email from my buddy in the U.K., Jodie Schofield, alerting me to Jerry's article and providing a link.  How could I have missed this?  I read the article, loved it, and immediately wrote this comment:

"I've been a NYC taxi driver for many, many years. My favorite type of ride is the rare one of picking up a man who has just emerged from a hospital following the birth of his first child. It is the best day in his life and I usually find it difficult to hide my own tears of joy as he tells me all about it.
My second favorite ride is similar. It is a young person with a dream who is coming to New York City for the very first time. I am the taxi driver taking him or her to Manhattan from the airport. I insist on the Upper Level of the 59th Street Bridge as our route. Excitement grows as the city grows larger and larger as we approach Manhattan. Finally, almost at ground level, the ramp takes us so close to the surrounding buildings that we can actually see the people inside. Touching down on E. 62nd Street, my newly minted New Yorker is experiencing for the first time the "energy" that is so often spoken of. It's like watching a child approaching a roomful of birthday presents. All things are possible. It will take more than a crumby pandemic to change that."

-- About 15 minutes after I submitted the comment I received an email from the Times telling me it had been approved. (Normal procedure, they do that for every comment they publish.)

-- An hour later I checked the comments section of Jerry's article to see if I'd received any "recommends" or, better yet, if my comment had been chosen as a "NYT Pick". It had received a handful of recommends but was not a NYT Pick. Oh, well.

-- After another hour, I checked again. I discovered that my comment had miraculously been switched from the "All" section to the "NYT Picks" section! Wow, that never happens, at least not to me. Wondering what could have caused this momentous turn of events, I found that a reader named Flaminia from Los Angeles had made this reply to my comment: 

"@Old Yeller, THIS should be a Times pick."

Apparently a moderator agreed. In the contest of Which Comment Gets The Most Recommends, this is a big deal. The elite "NYT Picks" comments are seen by more readers than the ones in the "Reader Picks" and "All" parts of town. More views means more Recommends.

Unbeknownst to me, a fire was being lit. I'm not sure of the exact timeline, but as far as I can tell it began in the morning of Aug. 25th with a tweet from Morgan Von Steen (@mvonsteen, who tweets about "design & technology in government, especially New York"). She tweeted:

This comment on
's piece in made me tear up. Pleading face 

And then she posted the comment itself.  

As the day went on, Morgan Von Steen's tweet generated over 9,000 retweets, more than 1,400 Quote Tweets, 76K likes, and a swarm of comments, many reminiscing about their own first ride into Manhattan, their ride in a taxi on the day their first child was born, and especially about their love affair with New York City.  

We were off to the races.

-- on Instagram posted Morgan Von Steen's tweet, generating another 53K likes:

-- The attention the comment was generating got on the radar of the NY Times Opinion Section people.  They highlighted it on LinkedIn:

-- My daughter, Suzy, and my nephew, Sanjay, alerted me that my comment was apparently going viral.  That was exciting, but, wait! People reading it would only know that some cab driver in NYC calling himself "Old Yeller" had written it.  I want people to read my book and my blog, of course, and they don't know that "Old Yeller" is me.  Some clever way to identify myself was needed...

-- I went back to the replies to my comment in the NYT Picks.  I discovered that Patricia Caiozzo from Port Washington, New York, had written: "@Old Yeller.  Your post is excellent.  Perhaps you write in your free moments?  You should."  


-- I replied: "@Patricia Caiozzo. Thanks, Patricia.  In fact, I do.  I have a blog called 'Cabs Are For Kissing'.  Hope you'll stop by."  And then I added a link to my blog.  Now not only readers of the Times could find me, but the moderators of the Opinions Section could, too.  And for the next few days, presto, the hits on my blog went out the roof.

-- At the same time Suzy got on Twitter to inform commenters who were wondering who this "Old Yeller" guy is and shouldn't he write a book or have a column in the Times or something, that Old Yeller is her father and he did write a book, and here's the name of the book, and he has a blog, too, and here's the link to that.  (This is why you have children.)

-- Jodie in the U.K. did the same thing, except for the part about me being her father.  There is no truth to that rumor.

-- A few hours later Sanjay alerted me that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had retweeted Morgan Von Steen's tweet and had added: 

-- My head was beginning to swell.  Governor Cuomo, wow!  It was almost enough to make me forget that he had renamed the new Tappan Zee Bridge after his own father.  

-- And my head-swelling problem was not helped when an article from the online business magazine Fast Company was brought to my attention, claiming that "the best thing about about Jerry Seinfeld's 'NYC Is Not Dead' article is this cab driver's response" (click here for that.)  Could my comment have upstaged the great Jerry Seinfeld?  Is that possible?  I'm thinking I may need to have the doors in my house widened so my head can fit through. 

-- To make my head-swelling matters worse, there was this from supermodel Bella Hadid, with 32 million followers on Instagram:

-- And then her sister, Gigi, another supermodel who has 50 million followers on Instagram, did the same. 

-- On Aug. 26th, more media attention in this article in the Daily Mail in the U.K. 

-- After that it became difficult, if not impossible, to figure out the numbers the comment generated.  If there's some way of calculating this I'd like to know about it, but I guess it's safe to assume it must have been in the millions.


NY Times Interview

On Aug. 27th I heard from Shannon Busta, an editor on the NY Times Opinion Desk, informing me that as far as she knew this was the first time a comment to an article in the Times had ever gone viral, and asking if I'd be interested in being interviewed.  I was.  It was half an hour, live -- which is the interview equivalent of walking on a tightrope.  

Click here to see the interview.

Why Was The Comment So Popular?

For one thing, it was short and to the point.

It was written at a time when virtually the entire human race was suffering from a mutually shared reality, and with no end in sight.

More than that, I think, it was because it has the power to rehabilitate the personal purpose line lying dormant in the minds of those who read it.  There are certain people -- you could call them dreamers or creatives -- who at some point in their lives have had an epiphany.  They have discovered exactly what their purpose is in this lifetime.  They have made a promise to themselves to pursue that purpose, no matter what it takes.  For many, this means coming to New York City.  The skyline of New York, one of the great sights of the world, is symbolic of that dream.  To recall that first moment they ever laid eyes on it is to blow apart the barriers that have been holding them down and bring their purpose back to life.  

You could just about raise the dead with that.

Two Concise Paragraphs

I've been asked where the full versions of the two stories that are tightly packaged into the comment can be found.  The story of the "newly minted father" is in this blog.  It was published on March 16, 2013.  Go to The Best Day of Your Life.

The story of the dreamer coming to the city for the first time and seeing the New York Skyline as we approached Manhattan was published in my book, Confessions Of A New York Taxi Driver.  I am including it here in my blog for the first time.  Go to From JFK or just scroll down.  It's right below this post.

And Then There Was This

In November a facsimile of Jerry Seinfeld's op-ed on a gigantic billboard was attached to the facade of a luxury apartment building under construction in the Upper East Side.  Unfortunately the Comments Section was not included!  Read about it here.

The Benson: 1045 Madison | Luxury Condominiums Upper East Side


  1. For us Brits across the pond (especially, I might say, those of us from Liverpool) New York City will always be a beacon of hope and a land of opportunity. It is part of our history and will always be an inspiration for justice, culture and excitement - how can you not love it? I know I do, heart and soul and with can't wait to visit again!
    PS love both your blog and book 💗

  2. This is a very inspirational and optimistic view of what is to be New York City’s comeback! Who would have a better feel for the tempo and direction this city is headed in than a taxi driver who daily is in touch with the people who make it work. This was a great interview to watch!

  3. Interesting story!

  4. I just finished reading your book (which I luckily stumbled across at a tiny English bookstore in Antibe, France last summer!) and came across your blog and this post. It makes my heart fuller and has made me fall in love with New York even more than I already was.

    It's such a joy to discover that you still write. Keep up the good work - you've certainly got a follower in me!

  5. Hi Annaam, Wow, great to know that my book can be found in a tiny English bookstore in France! And glad to know you enjoyed reading it. Thanks for letting me know.

    I clicked on your name (above, on your comment) and found your remarkable and inspirational blog, "366 Random Acts of Kindness in 2013". Scrolling through the entire year, I was often quite moved by your stories. I urge anyone reading this to do the same.