No Easy Way Out

Les Malles – Murray Hill

The city, as well as the nation, was stunned recently when two of it’s proverbial children were both found dead of suicides. Handbag designer Kate Spade, who claimed humble Midwest roots, was found hanged in her Upper East Side apartment while noted chef and author Anthony Bourdain was on vacation in France when he was discovered the same way in his hotel room. New Yorkers were shocked and saddened to hear of both of their passings, as evidenced by the amount of times they came up in conversations in the back of my cab over the following days and by the memorials left around town, including the one at Bourdain’s first restaurant on Park Ave South in Murray Hill.

Like many people who commit suicide, there weren’t any outward warning sides that were readily apparent. Spade was born in the Midwest and represented the All-American success story as she started her business with her husband in her apartment, taking it global within a matter of years. Bourdain overcame drug use in his reckles youth but the release of his book Kitchen Confidential made him a household name and millions tuned in to his show on CNN to see where he would travel to next, and what foods he would introduce to Americans who may not have been so lucky to easily go abroad. While their stories were quite different from each other, they seemed to “have it all” in an age where many could not make that claim.

Kate Spade store – Flatiron

Of course, the tale doesn’t end there. In the midst of the mourning of their lives, Yu Mein “Kenny” Chow became the sixth professional driver in New York to take his own life, due to the pressure caused by the proliferation of For Hire Vehicle companies. Chow, missing since May 11, left his cab on E 86 St and East End Ave in Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood (within a stone’s throw from Gracie Mansion) and was found a few weeks later floating in the East River in close proximity to the Brooklyn Bridge. As was the case with many of the other drivers who took their own lives, a rally was staged in front of City Hall with the Taxi Worker’s Alliance and fellow drivers calling on the City Council to do something to stem the tide of driver suicides.

While Chow was not a celebrity, his story tied in closer to Spade’s and Bourdain’s than most people realize. He did what he loved, he was an example of an American success story (for a time being), and he saw the walls closing in on him. While we may never know the demons his contemporaries faced, Chow’s was well-known once he went missing. He owed over half a million dollars on his medallion, his wife was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, and he was unable to pay the tuition for his daughter’s college education. That’s not to minimize the problems that plagued the famous who ended their lives, but Chow’s ordeal put a human face on an issues that has been so inhuman to the majority of New Yorkers unfamiliar with the plight of the modern cabdriver.

E 86 and East End Ave – Yorkville

But what to make of it? Suicide is not a new issue nor is it one that discriminates. Since the great recession 10 years ago, it has become more hot-button as many working-class Americans are finding it more difficult to make ends meet. Throw in a celebrity-and-image obsessed society where outward appearances and social status count for far more than they should and the end result is a cycle where one attempts to keep up with the Joneses, as they attempt to keep up with everyone else around them at the same time. It should come as no surprise that many are afraid to admit defeat, even when offered help from friends and family. The inability to “make it” stands in polar opposite to what New York, as well as the rest of America” stand for as the self-made person who pulls the bootstraps up and trudges on ultimately stood in stark contrast to the constraints faced in modern reality.

For years, those from everyone immigrated to America with the chance to better their lives, move on up, and achieve the American Dream. As study after study has shown, that is no longer possible for a majority of people. Stagnant wages and the rapidly increasing cost of living have eroded not only people’s purchasing power, but their faith in the institutions that were created to serve them. While everyone feels the pain of those have ended their own lives, true action to prevent such further tragedies is rarely taken. Time and time again, people go back to their lives, glued to their phones and the ever-quickening pace of life while leaving those close to them behind in the dust. Seeing how many of my passengers have ignored yours truly during his shift, as well as the decline in voting, civic participation, and in activities such as clubs, leagues, and groups has resulted in a society where we are truly “bowling alone”, as everyone else does their things on their own timetable.

If there’s a bright spot in all of this, it’s that it’s not too late – for those who are teetering on the edge of their lives and to turn around larger circumstances. Should one person pick up the phone to check on a friend, or retweet a suicide prevention hotline, or call 311 and demand the city to protect those who are it’s ambassadors on wheels, then the lives of those who have killed themselves will not have been in vain. Everyone wishes they could go back and prevent their untimely demises, but while that’s not possible, there is hope that tomorrow’s headlines will be about the course that was taken to prevent these tragedies from ever happening again.

Brooklyn Bridge – Brooklyn Heights

 

 

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New Order

TaxiRally2

City Hall rally – 4/25

   Over the last three years, much had changed in New York’s taxi industry – most of it, not for the better. The Nissan NV200 (Taxi of tomorrow) became the dominant model of cab, Mayor De Blasio’s vision zero initiative continued to rework the city streets in favor of slower speeds and reconfigured intersections, and even the license changed to a universal one that applied to all yellow, green, and black car drivers. Without a doubt, the biggest difference in recent years was the onslaught of TNC’s (Transportation Network Companies) that flooded the city with thousands of extra vehicles. The end result was nothing short of a 21st century tragedy of the commons, as traffic speeds slowed, driver take-home pay plummeted, and morale hitting a low not seen in generations. All of this came to the head in recent months as 4 drivers in various sectors of the industry committed suicide, citing an inability to compete with the extra cars on the road and earn a living.

The one death that hit everyone the hardest was Douglas Schifter’s. Early in the morning on February 5th, he pulled up his car to the east side of City Hall Park, took out a shotgun, put it up to himself, and pulled the trigger. The suicide note left behind blamed the current and previous mayors as well as the current Governor for allowing too many autos to flood the streets, as well as the TLC for the heavy fines imposed via tickets. Those sediments, and the rest of those that he penned shortly before his demise, echoed the ones that he wrote for a black car publication that had long sounded the alarm of what drivers were forced to endure in recent years. Of course, they had gone unheeded but there was a sense that what happened on that gray, winter morning was a turning point in the long-running saga of New York’s for-hire transportation industry.

TaxiRally1.png

The Rev. (and city councilman) Ruben Diaz – 4/25

Rally’s for him, and subsequent ones, reinforced the notion that something was going to be different from here on out. Drivers of all sorts of vehicles came out, many in opposition to each other, to stand up for their job while at the same time, pressuring the city to tackle the runaway growth of the TNC’s. This brought up a massive conflict of interest issue, as yellow drivers (such as myself) claimed that the medallion taxis were granted an exclusive right to pick up street hails and therefore, needed the TNC’s curtailed and brought up to yellow standards. Fares needed to be leveled across the board, licensing and background checks had to also be made level, and the number of FHV’s (for hire vehicles) needed to be capped at a level that would guarantee enough income for all of those who drove. Drivers of Uber, Lyft, and other companies of the sort wanted their livelihoods kept, even as those services continued to add drivers ad infinitum. The numbers were quite startling with some claiming that there could be up to 100,000 FHV’s on the city’s streets by next year, with still no end in sight to the stratospheric growth. Clearly, something had to be done to stem this runaway expansion.

The first of what was expected to be a series of meetings took place at City Hall on April 30th. Led by Rev. (and city councilman) Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, proposed legislation was put forth that would address many of these issues head-on. Various drivers, former drivers, advocacy groups, and unions testified about the changes they had seen and offered various solutions to the problem. The only point that they could agree on was that there were too many cars on the street, but as to what their limit should be still remained up in the air.

TaxiRally4

Drivers testifying to the city council – 4/30

Yours truly went to the rally on the 25th and the meeting less than a week later. The former was the first time I had ever set foot in City Hall Park and the latter was the first time that I had ever set foot inside of the building itself. Not having a representative on the council (I live in New Jersey) has made it tough to get my voice heard at times but thankfully, there have been a few people in government on our side and plenty of people in the yellow cab industry who have tirelessly work in order to save what’s left of our profession. It has been heartwarming to see constructive steps being taken although many of these issues have been at the forefront for a number of years now. That it took a series of medallion foreclosures, the loss of income on the part of yellow drivers, and a series of suicides to see action on the part of the city council was nothing short of disheartening at best and evidence of a lack of effectiveness on the part of the TLC and New York City government itself, at worst.

Over the coming months, I hope to get this site back up and running again. Much of what I loved about this job has faded away in the 6 1/2 years that I’ve been doing it; nearly in proportion to the income I take home nightly. Many have asked me whether I still love this job and my response is always the same:

Yes.

If I *didn’t* love it, how could I keep doing it?

While I’m ready for whatever vocation lies ahead of me in life, I will keep driving during the overnight hours for as long as I have to, until that last shift finally comes. In spite of the struggles that myself, and everyone else, has faced in this industry, I still believe that it’s not too late to save it from implosion, although our time is rapidly running out.

At this point, the city owes it to all of us who put our heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, and hours in to get it right this time around.

TaxiRally3

East gate, City Hall Park – 4/25

 

 

 

And Not To Yield

Looking Back

Looking Back

It was hard to imagine that 5 years had passed since the graduation of yours truly from an undergraduate institution of higher learning. The road to a Bachelors Degree was filled with many twists and turns – from a failed stint at another institution far from home to housing woes to legal trouble and everything else in between, from the end of the last millennium to the 16th of May of the first year of this decade. Once the rain finished falling that fateful day and the paper was firmly in my hand, it was onto the real world and to my first real job.

Anyone who’s read this blog already knows how the latter turned out. If the road to Morningside Heights was paved with good intentions, the road from there was paved every which way and then some. Many a time, I would come home from work with another student loan bill due, messages on my phone from the University seeking donations, and a degree in my room that was quickly gathering dust. What was the point of all this, besides a change in status in the job market? Why did people earn History degrees if they did not want to teach, lead a library, host a museum tour, or enter Law School? Could it possibly be to do what a liberal arts degree aims for, which is the mastery of reading, writing, and critical thinking that was missing so dearly from the republic in the early days of the 21st Century?

Waiting for the Procession

Waiting for the Procession

All of this crossed my mind during my myriad of shifts on the thoroughfares of Gotham – throughout epic traffic jams, crawls to the airport in the pouring rain, and in the wee hours of the night when the streets doubled as airplane runways.

“Columbia?”

“Yeah.”

“And you’re doing this?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you all right?”

“If I wasn’t, you’d have another driver right now.”

And so it went…

And it went, all the way until earlier this week. After turning in the taxi at the end of Monday’s surprisingly busy shift, a few days off awaited me. Off not just as in off of work, but off-kilter. My sleep cycle had to invert, last minute invitations went out, and I had to have everything ready for the big anniversary march.

Class of '65

Class of ’65

It’s a tradition at the school formerly known as King’s College that those who graduated in increments of 5 years into the past have the privilege of marching with the deans and faculty out of Low Library and onto the steps to start the commencement procedures for that year’s graduation ceremony. 5 years ago, I was up in the corner with the other students who had attended the school of General Studies but this time around, it was front and (nearly) center for this marcher. My cap and gown was waiting for me at the University so it was regular garb through the city until I made my way to Amsterdam and 117.

“Oh, it’s beautiful.”

“Indeed but you’ll be colder inside and warmer outside with it on.”

“I don’t care. It looks great and the sun’s out today. Who could ask for more?”

Turns out that no one did. For many of us, it was our first time going through this process and I was the only student from the class of ’10 to be in the procession. Only two rows were given to us, which wasn’t a lot less than what was allotted for the Deans, Professors, and academic recipients. To be seated near those who ran and led the school was an honor, even if many of those that helped me reach this point were seated in the stands up in the sky and not in front of Butler Library.

Front and nearly center

Front and nearly center

Even with a smile, sunglasses, and the occasional cheer through the gaze out into the crowd, the tears were the only hallmark of the event that completely conveyed my true emotions from the ceremony’s start to finish. It was wrong of me to put off going to school, to deride the process and the economics that nearly drove me broke, and to express discomfort at the J-O-B that I had upon graduating as opposed to the career trajectory that I thought I would be embarking on. Just as there is no crying in baseball, there should not be any griping once one walks through the gates of academia for the last time as a student.

Speakers reminded us of the issues and points that needed to be at the forefront of our minds in the upcoming years. The world is getting smaller as millions join the global digital community and are lifted out of poverty. All of the learning at the University is not the end but rather, the beginning of what we will take in and process in life. Students are temporary but alums are lifelong and finally, carrying the name of the institution bears a certain responsibility as those in the past have given the school a good name no matter where they went in life.

Facing towards G.S.

Facing towards G.S.

These are the tenets that I held near and dear after my graduation the first time around, even if I didn’t realize it then. Having it codified in a stately manner off of the even statelier McKim, Meade, and White Buildings only allowed the words to ring truer to someone who needed to be reminded of them once again. My view from the steps overseeing the campus filled with graduates and family members was not the same as it was 5 years ago but that was more the case in terms of my mental perspective and not my physical point of view.

John Stuart Mill once said that a man needed to be made sensible and then he would be sensible at whatever profession he went into later on in life. I’d like to think that my education inside the classroom and outside it of it as well will combine to prepare me for whatever challenges await during my next job, or my next foray into academic pursuits. It was hard not to hear the cheers from the Law School, B-School, and J-School and not want to be a part of a future class that was ready and eager to change the world in a chosen field. By now, I had hoped that more would be in focus and that my time in undergraduate studies would be a springboard for whatever was in store for me.

Deans and Anniversary Marchers

Deans and Anniversary Marchers

Perhaps that still is the case. Rome was not built in a day and neither was the story of my journey to this point. I have to constantly remind myself that for all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making this day possible, that the end still hasn’t been reached yet. If my time at school has allowed me to overcome any obstacle that I have yet to face, then all the costs that went into it will have been well worth the time and investment that I’ve had to recoup in the intervening 5 years.

Which leads me to my writing. Most of the people reading this were nowhere to be found when I pushed the first domino by starting this page and as much as I enjoyed having my family in the stands to witness the pomp and circumstance earlier this week, I have also delighted in getting to know so many interesting and eccentric people that have entered and left my office on wheels and out there in cyberspace throughout this big wide world. I couldn’t have seen this coming when I was handed my diploma and who knows where everyone will be 5 years from now when I march again?

PresBo!

PresBo!

I thought all of that to myself as we sang the Alma Mater to end the ceremony, right before the graduates let out giant cheers to Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York and Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind. With a slight bop on my way back up the Low Library steps and a few moments of downtime before taking my garb off, I sat with my cup of decaf and reflected on everything and everyone that made this moment possible.

And then it was off to start writing the next chapter of my life – one friend, one fare, and one day at a time; ready for all challenges and learning experiences yet to come.

Alma Mater

Alma Mater

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taxi of Today

Finally, the Taxi of Tomorrow is my ride tonight - Long Island City

Finally, the Taxi of Tomorrow is my ride tonight – Long Island City

 

“Oh gosh, where’s that button? Sorry about that, this is my first time driving this.”

“This is your first day on the job?”

“No, just in this model.”

It was not the best of times in New York over the last few weeks. Winter refused to fully make its exit, even though the vernal equinox had come and gone in a flash. WABC news anchor and reporter Lisa Colagrassi suffered a brain aneurysm and died a day later from it after coming back from an assignment in Woodhaven, the demolition of the former 5 Pointz site was finally completed after a long post-whitewashing hiatus, and a large explosion and subsequent fire in the East Village ground much of the neighborhood to a halt as questions arose about the nature of utility work and Gotham’s crumbling infrastructure. Even the subway fare went up again last week, as the two year hikes implemented by the MTA took effect. It was with this backdrop that a bit of good news finally came my way.

After 650+ shifts over the last 3 1/2 years, the first one behind the wheel of the much-heralded “Taxi of Tomorrow” finally took place last Monday. I didn’t ask for it at my garage and when  the key and my license were pushed through the slot from my dispatcher, I knew that in all likelihood that it would be the last time I’d drive a new vehicle as a hack driver in the Big Apple. It was only recently that the ruling was handed down that the Nissan NV200 would indeed become the exclusive model of yellow cab starting next month, finally bringing the winner of former Mayor Bloomberg’s plan and ensuing competition into fruition.

I get asked all the time if the vehicle that I’m driving during a particular night was given to me or if I had a choice when I showed up to work. Most often, it’s the former although any good dispatcher will know what preferences a driver has when his or her license is handed over upon walking through the door of the waiting room. When I first started, I loved the Crown Victoria because it was the dominant model of Taxi at the time and they ran like charms. It was only when other options became more prevalent that I preferred them instead, along with their better fuel economy.

In that span, I drove the Crown Vic, the Toyota Highlander, the Toyota Camry, the Ford SUV, both models of the Ford Transit Connect, and the Toyota Van. The only difficultly was having to adjust to the controls being in a different place, and where the blind spots were. Some drivers thought that certain models were cramped, broke down too much, or had their sentimental favorites but in my case, I just wanted to get out onto the street and start taking fares. What changed more than anything else was not just the standardization of the ride, but the relationship between the drivers and the garages themselves.

Skylight and partition - Greenpoint

Skylight and partition – Greenpoint

Last summer, my garage was giving a discount for those who had come into work in the form of a smaller lease fee. Think of it as a rental – the lower it is, the more likely someone is likely to pay it to use the space or in this case, vehicle. As of last week, the lease fees where I work out of were dropped on Sunday through Wednesday in the non-summer months for the first time ever. No one ever gets sent home anymore (it used to happen all the time on weekends) and there’s even incentives to get drivers to bring in others who are new to the game. As one fellow hack put it the other morning, “They treated us like crap for so long and now they’re paying for it.”

It’s no secret that this is all because of Uber. In an economy that has ZipCar, Tinder, and Angie’s List revolutionizing how we travel, date, and hire contractors, Uber is redefining what it means to get from A to B on a whim wherever, whenever. Reports estimate that where are more Uber cars than yellow cabs on the streets of New York during a typical day and soon, it won’t even be in doubt which service is more numerous in major U.S. cities. The “million dollar babies” are no longer that expensive either as the price of a medallion has fallen by over 20% in the last two years. As I’ve said to those that ask, the only way that affects me is if I can’t get a reliable vehicle to drive for 12 hours at a time and whether my take justifies the effort that I put in on a particular night. So far, both of those are still working out in my favor.

Clean seats - Long Island City

Clean seats – Long Island City

I have no idea if the new Taxi will still be reliable after taking a pounding on the city’s streets for the 5 years that they’ll be in service for. Every new model was great to drive when it was clean and still had that new car smell but the Ford Transit Connect turned out to be the poster child for how *not* to adapt a van for the purpose of short hauls on bumpy streets. The door sensor went off too much, the blind spots were in odd places, and the suspension was a total failure as I had numerous complaints about my driving and inability to avoid bumps and potholes. The new Nissan was tested quite extensively as I saw a few gallivanting around empty during their test phase every so often before they were put into service but now that there are several hundred heading out every night, the real test results by means of passenger feedback have yet to fully come in.

The ride in them was fine for this driver, however. Clean, quiet, roomy, and easy to maneuver, it ran well and didn’t cost me a ton to fill up at the end of the night. My only complaint with it was that there was no way to open up the partition, as the clear divider was firmly bolted into place and didn’t have any opening that I could slide back and forth. I never had to turn the intercom on however (since I have a distinctly low and somewhat annoying voice) but given the historic drop in crime in New York over the last 20 or 30 years, was it really necessary to have this as a feature? The skylight and USB ports were a nice touch but it’s the 21st Century and with tourism booming, why not have us get as close to our passengers as possible, with the option to close the window as needed?

Even though the Camry is still my favorite model of Taxi to drive, I don’t have a problem when I’m given a Nissan during a particular shift, however. My last fare the first night I had the NV200 decided to bail out on me up in the Bronx at 4:45 in the morning, figuring that I wouldn’t dare follow him and run the risk of being the next crime statistic. As pissed as I was, I took solace in the fact that I I had my life intact and made it through my first shift in the “Taxi of Tomorrow” as if I drove it every day since I began the job. Whether that’s my ease of adjusting or result of the overall design and functionality of the vehicle is up for debate but with so many other issues facing the city and my industry, it was comforting to know that the new ride that were imposed upon us was not something that I’d ever have to worry about again.

Trunk space - Long Island City

Trunk space – Long Island City

The Face of New York

Going up - TriBeCa

Going up – TriBeCa

 

“I mean, look at Madonna. She moves here from Michigan in 1983 with nothing. Sleeping on couches in Alphabet City when it wasn’t such a great part of town. Playing clubs every night. Demo tapes. And then a few years later, boom! She hits it big. It’s a great story but something like that wouldn’t be possible these days.”

“I don’t think so.”

“So what do you think of Taylor Swift? Does she have a long career ahead of her?”

“Oh, I think so. She has star power and just like Madonna, she’s smart too. Knows how to change her look every so often to keep it fresh. Gonna be around a long time.”

“I had a feeling you’d say something like that.”

It’s nearly impossible to avoid the 25 year-old that took New York’s priciest neighborhood by storm last year. Magazine covers. TV appearances. Jet-setting with the best of ’em. Oh yeah – she’s an ambassador too.

But not just one of any sorts.

Right before Halloween, the city announced that none other than number 13 herself (sorry A-Rod) would be the face of the new tourism campaign in the Big Apple. As if we hadn’t seen her enough, there was going to be a lot more sightings of the pop princess around town now that she was chosen as a “global welcome ambassador”. Timing with the release of her album “1989”, the track “Welcome to New York” doubled as the theme for those trekking to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Swift launched the campaign with an appearance on the 102nd floor of the building where Fay Wray was help captive by King Kong over 80 years ago but this time around, the siren had the upper hand on the people down below. Any proof of that was quickly verified when I took my yellow abode out for a shift and heard (the first of many, many playings of) “Welcome to New York”…

“The lights are so bright
But they never blind me, me
Welcome to New York
It’s been waiting for you”

 -Taylor Swift

Billy Joel, this was not.

It was estimated that nearly 56 million people from all corners of America and the globe came to New York last year. With employment in the “alpha” industries (Law, Finance, etc) having yet to return to their pre-2008 levels, job growth in the city has increasingly been led by technology, media, information, and fields that cater to those visiting. Broadway theaters, hotels, restaurants, and transportation would all fall under those and since I happen to work in the latter, it’s a blessing that I’m able to stay busy because of visitors who still wish to use a Taxi as their preferred mode of transportation around town. The city was doing just fine after the post-9/11 recovery and I highly doubt that choosing a mediocre songwriter with a $20 million dollar pad in one of the richest ZIP codes in America is going to sway someone in Middle America or two continents away to come here for a vacation but if that’s what NYC and Company is aiming for, then so be it.

What bothers me more is that Swift is certainly *not* the typical emigrant who leaves home to seek a better and more glamorous life in the big city. Her stardom was already established long before her move and like the cast of Girls on HBO, Swift came from an affluent family that could support her artistic endeavors before her career took off. Most people I know who made the move to Gotham had massive student loans to pay off and were crammed with 3 or 4 other people in a shoebox 10 stories up before settling out on their own some years later. Only artistic types such as David Byrne, Susan Sarandon, and Diane Von Furstenburg who have reached the apex of their respective fields or were in a state of semi-retirement could afford to live in Manhattan and TriBeCa was not the first neighborhood they moved into when establishing themselves in their lines of work. Past spokespeople for the city’s tourism bureau, such as Robert De Niro and Whoopi Goldberg worked for years in New York before being selected and were seen as those who were a part of the city’s social fabric. Swift lived in Pennsylvania for most of her life until touring nearly full-time and was seen by many as the epitome of the rural or suburban type who moved to New York because the city had become so sanitized and full of the chain stores and restaurants that could be found back at home. Adding insult to injury is that in Swift’s case, her downtown pad is not her only residence, which is the case of so many who are buying expensive places in New York as both a vacation spot and a place to park their income as a form of investment. Swift is like many of the towers and condos that are increasingly housing these types – whitewashed, banal, unmemorable, disposable, and lacking in local vernacular but regardless of this sterility, the paparazzi knows when she’s there and ready to head out for her next photo op as her image and celebrity is ultimately what matters in the end.

In my case, the Big Apple’s been waiting for me ever since I was a tot in overalls falling over laughing at Crazy Eddie commercials and wondering why Mayor Koch was imploring New York to clean up New York. As I’ve said time and time again, it’s not the same city now as it was then and the fact that a record number of people are flocking here to spend their hard-earned disposable income is a good thing, even if the pitfalls of a whitewashed city become more numerous by the year. Whether I ever call the Big Apple home or take part of it with me when I finally embark on the next stage of my life remains to be seen as changes to my industry and increased financial pressures conspire to make me work that much harder to keep my head above water. In the midst of the squeeze will be even more sightings of Taylor – on numerous magazine covers, Good Morning America, street advertisements, radio spots, stories of her accounts being hacked, retweets and favorites on Twitter, and of course, in the back of my cab every time I start the meter up with my latest fare.

I only wish that the musical drivel that inevitably gnaws at me came from someone who shed their blood, sweat, and tears in New York and helped build the city that they’re selling to those seeking to experience New York for themselves…

 

It's Been Waiting For You - Chinatown

It’s Been Waiting For You – Chinatown

 

 

 

Crossroads

Condolences - Bed-Stuy

Condolences – Bed-Stuy

 

“Patrick!”

“Yo!”

“Come in here.”

“Everything alright?”

“Yo, Patrick. Two cops got shot down in Bed-Stuy today.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, they were ambushed. One of our drivers isn’t back yet either. You guys better watch out tonight – the NYPD ain’t gonna be fucking around with anyone.”

“No shit…”

And so began the last Saturday before Christmas.

It didn’t come as a complete surprise to some that this was the result of the animosity felt towards the Police after the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases but the manner in which this retaliation against the force in blue occurred was enough to make national headlines on the Monday morning news shows. Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were taken out point-blank by a deranged gunman who had come up from Maryland via bus earlier in the day. The suspect later took his own life in a nearby subway station as the officers were rushed to Woodhull Hospital. Immediately, fingers were pointed as for who was to blame for the execution-style attack, as two of NYPD’s finest became the first officers killed in the line of duty in over three years.

It wasn’t a surprise why this took place, as tensions between the Police and public were at the highest levels in Gotham in recent memory. Even before the Grand Jury decision in the Eric Garner case became public, the Occupy Wall Street movement pitted those committed to protect and serve against those who resisted the control over their right to free speech, petition, and assembly. Riots were common in the city’s history, from those in Union Square against the draft during the Civil War to those that set the inner city of Brooklyn and Bronx on fire in the 1960’s and ’70’s but these were the first that were taking place in the 21st Century and had a much broader undertone to both the message and those doing the protesting.

No one knew who was to blame for the tragedy that took place days before the last major holiday of 2014. Some thought that the Reverend Al Sharpton was the cause as he had relentlessly attacked New York’s finest for months on end, calling out their brutality and callousness. Letters to New York’s daily newspapers and PBA President Pat Lynch put the blame primarily on the Mayor, since he allowed dissenters to march on end through the streets as they disrupted businesses and traffic. Some were even heartless enough to call out the Police, saying that they had it coming and that the payback was inevitable. In the midst of the squabbling, two offices lay dead with it being found out later that Liu was covering another officer’s shift that day.

Officers - Bed-Stuy

Vigilance – Bed-Stuy

 

It’s no secret that those of us driving Taxis around the city are not the best of friends with the NYPD. In the few times I’ve encountered them during traffic stops, they have been quite forceful, blunt, and not the easiest of types to deal with and other drivers in my garage have had more than their fair share of gripes against them as well. While I do not find them to be the easiest of people to deal with, I have tremendous respect for them and what they do, knowing that they have to make split-second decisions on a daily basis in a city of over 8 1/2 million people that hail from nearly every corner of the globe. In addition, the current Police Commissioner (William Bratton) has plenty of experience in his current role as he held the same position under Mayor Giuliani throughout much of the 1990’s, back when the city was still recovering from the Crown Heights riots and the end of the surge in crime resulting from the crack epidemic.

These are different times however and a different response is what will be needed. The Mayor called for a halt in protests until the funeral and burials for the two officers but many felt that these words were too little and too late. For weeks on end, De Blasio gave the green light for those that felt like the Police force had overstepped its bounds, while those concerned with the rise in anger and resentment wondered why dissenters were given a free pass. Anyone who lived in New York long enough could see the writing in the wall as history had started to repeat itself:

24 years ago, a three-term mayor was denied a fourth chance to lead New York.

24 years ago, an outsider arose out of a crowded field to take the title of Hizzoner.

23 years ago, riots took over Brooklyn while the leadership in City Hall was unable to handle the rising tensions, as the thin blue line frayed dangerously close to breaking.

21 years ago, that person ended up becoming a one-term mayor.

With the exception of the latter statement, all of those were becoming true once again in the Big Apple with the link between the two being Sharpton.

Rising to prominence during the Tawana Brawley case in the late 1980’s, Sharpton became the de facto voice of the oppressed in New York and ultimately, America. Many accused of him being a race-baiter but his role took on a whole new meaning earlier this year when he was seated next to Blasio, Bratton, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan at a tension-quelling meeting at City Hall. While few doubted that he needed to attend, many wondered exactly when Sharpton was elected to a municipal office and deserved to be at the same table as officials that were entrusted with leading New York through the tumult. Some even questioned whose side the Mayor was on, feeling that he turned his back on those entrusted with defending citizens against criminals and wrongdoers.

Officers - Bed-Stuy

Officers – Bed-Stuy

Whatever the Mayor’s stance was, he staunchly called out those upset with the NYPD until after the anger and unrest from the force would calm down, giving the slain officers a chance to be memorialized and interred in peace. Liu’s widow was visibly shaken when giving her first public appearance since the slayings, saying that she was a newlywed that had big plans of a family with her husband. Ramos’ son wrote a touching letter saying how his Dad meant everything to him, humanizing the face of a force that many felt was out-of-touch with those they were entrusted to watch over.

As the year winds down the holiday decorations are put away, many questions remain unanswered. Most feel like this is not going to be the last incident of backlash and that the protests will inevitably start up again, bearing a dramatic plunge in January’s temperatures. One thing for sure is that for all the blame and vitriol, a man selling loosies on Staten Island and two on-duty officers in Brooklyn were heartlessly taken away from us far too soon. with tragic results.

The city deserves better than to have nothing of good come away from this, as has been the case so many times in the past.

Crossroads - Bed-Stuy

Crossroads – Bed-Stuy

 

 

Choke

March - Flatiron District

March – Flatiron District

“Hands up! Don’t shoot! Hands up! Don’t shoot! Hands up! Don’t shoot! Hands up! Don’t sho…”

“Well, it looks like we’re not gonna make this light either…”

After dodging many of the protests that closed down numerous major arteries and bridges around the city, I finally hit a disruption the other night. I should have known it was coming – neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail were able to to deter those upset from the Grand Jury decision in the Eric Garner case from their appointed grievances. In my case, it was about 200 people and nearly as many police that made their way across 5 Ave, and down the side street that I picked up my passenger on. Once they passed, I could hear them for another 5 or so minutes and for the rest of the evening, I stayed as far away as I could from where I thought they were marching to.

That was a temporary inconvenience, however. What mattered in the long run was that another case of a white officer (or group of them) assaulting a citizen of color, and seemingly getting away with it. New York was still reeling from the Grand Jury’s similar ruling in the Ferguson case, as well as the incidents in recent years involving Amadu Diallo, Abner Louima, and Sean Bell. Each time, the Police were under attack. Each time, Al Sharpton was front and center demanding change, and each time, something else ended up coming along that was just as bad. For all the posturing and conferences, change had yet to take hold in the Big Apple.

There’s so much that’s wrong with the untimely death of Eric Garner that I don’t even know where to begin. For starters, he had prior arrests.

A lot of them.

Yes, I know that they were for petty crimes but an arrest is an arrest and I would like to think that if New Yorkers are going to pay out the orifices for good Police protection, that part of it would be for reducing recidivism rates for *all* types of crime. Given the drop in criminal activity over the last 20+ years, I would think that this wouldn’t be too hard to accomplish in this day and age.

I also understand that no one, and I mean *NO ONE*, should be placed into a chokehold if they do not resist arrest. That’s exactly what Garner did and it didn’t help him out one iota. From what everyone could see, he did not fight the handcuffs and clearly stated that he couldn’t breathe. Had he fled, they could have had to subdue him as needed but for selling loosies, was that procedure really necessary? I don’t see others disturbing the peace and causing disorderly conduct going through that either, so why single him out?

Others who have asked that think that the Police would have had a better argument had they been equipped with body cameras (which will be implemented in the near future). Given that the incident was caught on a cell phone camera and failed to stop Garner’s death or assist in any officer’s indictment, I don’t see how one would have prevented this tragedy from happening. Anytime something become law, someone will find a way around it and that will happen here should the cameras become a widespread practice. There are ways to disable them or edit the footage in favor of those who are able to manipulate the recording, in order to result in a more favorable light on law enforcement. Seeing what has taken place with the corruption on Riker’s Island has only shown that videotaping is not a perfect solution to this problem.

Finally, this isn’t just a race issue. No longer are the days where the oppressed are strictly minority and the powers that be are white, as the Police force is slowly becoming less homogenized. Whites are no longer a majority race in New York City and soon, that will be the case in America as well. What people do need to realize is that the law enforcement agencies have more power now than ever, thanks to the Department of Homeland Security and the purchasing of surplus military equipment leftover from overseas conflicts. If we’re currently in peacetime, why is this happening on such a large scale?

These are questions that will have to be answered once the protests settle down and things start to return to normal. Marches on Washington and civil disobedience will also have their moment in the sun but underneath all of this will lie some difficult questions. Among them will be how much power we are willing to cede in order to remain secure, whether the Police force is too big in New York given the historical lows in crime, and whether the cop on the beat is still a thing of the past. All it would take would be for an economic collapse, terrorist attack, or mass killing spree for Gotham’s citizens to find out how much faith they have behind the thin wall of blue. Police popularity was an an all-time high after 9/11 and those days are certainly capable of returning, but only if New Yorkers have full faith in those that they’ve entrusted to protect and serve them.

Protest - Times Square

Protestor – Times Square