Revel Without A Cause

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Revel Scooters – Carroll Gardens

As the Corona virus pandemic slowly receded out of the collective consciousness of Gotham’s citizens, lots of issues that were put on the back burner were starting to rear their ugly heads again. The Presidential race, New York City and States fiscal issues, rising crime, the decrease in the city’s population, and more resignations from Mayor De Blasio’s staff were regular headlines in the paper and one would be hard-pressed to find any good news among the varying topics vying for front-page notoriety. In the midst of all of this was a story that seemingly came out of nowhere but was bubbling under the surface for quite some time, as it was intertwined with the ongoing FHV saga.

On the afternoon of July 18th, WCBS-TV reporter Nina Kapur was riding as a passenger on a Revel scooter that was traveling north on Franklin Ave in Greenpoint. A driver exited a parking space in front of the scooter as it swerved to avoid the car and ended up on it’s side. Both her and the still-unidentified driver were thrown onto the street and although she was taken to Bellevue Hospital, she later died from her injuries.

The level of outpouring was intense as several of her on-air colleagues wrote tearful remembrances on social media, for the 26 year-old that only recently joined the station as a reporter. Longtime Anchor Dana Tyler choked up on that Monday’s evening newscast as she reported of her passing and a memorial quickly sprung up at the site, with pink “N” and “K” balloons marking the intersection’s location. Many were touched at someone who was a rising star at the station and had a tireless work ethic, but it was shocking given how quite the city still was overall during the second half of this year. Although traffic counts in the city have been lower due to the pandemic, CitiBike and Revel usage had still been robust as the systems were still expanding outwards across the Boroughs.

From here on out, that probably won’t be true for the latter as the motorized service was temporarily banned by the city not too long after Kapur’s passing. There were other notable accidents around the time of it and videos were popping up on social media showing drivers joyriding in them and using the service in a reckless manner. Though helmets were in the back of every Revel scooter, neither Kapur nor the person driving it last month were wearing one at the time of the accident.

Ask any cabdriver whether he or she likes the proliferation of two-wheeled transportation as  a way to get around New York and most of the answers will probably involve some grumbling or a four-letter word. Bicycles were around long before horseless carriages were in New York and they will probably be around long after there are flying cars in the air or motorized vehicles are banned outright. In the meantime, the bike lanes will be expanded and various companies will seek to cash in by having their products on the streets of Gotham, or by sponsoring whichever form of transportation is approved for those looking to rent their way from Point A to Point B. Regardless of what wins out, some changes will have to be made in the meantime.

While it’s not agreed upon by everyone, licenses, license plates, and a form of insurance in the user agreement would make for a much more safer, and accountable, bicycle and motorized scooter system. Those would be a big step from what’s currently in place, but having those regulations in place would improve usage, safety, and make collisions and accidents easier to process should a police report be filed. I’ve told my passengers for years that I don’t mind the bikes, skaters, and such as much as I mind the people riding them and some of their blatant disregard for traffic rules. Had a cabdriver been responsible for the death of a passenger, it’s not likely that he or she would be back out on the streets in a matter of days, or would be unidentified in media reports. Yes, driving a bigger vehicle involves more responsibility but passengers in any form of transportation need to be protected as much as possible by ensuring that those at the helm understand that it’s a privilege, and not a right, to be taking others around New York.

The other end of the story is how easily the city lets in a service that puts profits and exposure ahead of the well-being of the users. I don’t need to remind anyone how much Uber has done a number on us but it is worth noting that passengers in the back of their vehicles are much more likely to get in accidents or be assault victims at the hands of the driver, than by someone operating a yellow cab. Exposés done on Revel in the days after Kapur’s death revealed that the scooters were not properly maintained and that their approval process to operate could have been a lot more thorough. Having something that reaches 30 m.p.h. (5 m.p.h. above the citywide speed limit) and could be potentially operated by someone under the influence without a seat belt or helmet on was ultimately going to end up with an accident that was entirely preventable from the get-go.

That’s not to say that collisions don’t happen at all. Yes, the Vision Zero goals are laudable and worth striving for and yes, motorized vehicles kill more people than bikes or scooters but that doesn’t mean that one form of transportation should be held more liable than the other. Revels were not allowed to use bike lanes, highways, or crossings between Boroughs but the result of that was having many on streets without proper separated lanes or commercial traffic that used the same lanes as passenger vehicles. While many streets continued to be reconfigured for bikes, buses, or pedestrians exclusively, recent events such as Nina’s indicate that more work needs to be done if various forms of transportation are going to sharing lessening and reconfigured street space in the coming years.

Recent reports have hinted that the city’s traffic may be back at pre-Covid levels, or even above it, in the very near future. Although tens of thousands have chosen to work at home or have left the city outright, many of those who remain in Gotham have expressed a reluctance to take mass transit out of fear of catching the virus. Should that come to fruition, single-use of automobiles will only add to the gridlock and pollution that characterized traffic in New York at the height of the last bull run. If the streets become close to capacity again, look for more tragic accidents to happen, regardless of the form of transportation chosen, adherence to the rules, or operational reforms by those looking for cheaper and more mobile ways to get around town. After failing to rein in the explosive growth of new services in recent years, it would be the ultimate disservice to Nina to repeat the same mistakes the next time around.

Nina Kapur Memorial – Greenpoint

 

 

Patience and Fortitude

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Patience

If there were ever any unofficial sentinels in The Big Apple, one would be hard-pressed to find a better example than the two lions carved out of Tennessee marble that guard the main entrance of the Steven A. Schwarzman building on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street. Most New Yorkers call it the main branch of the New York Public Library as it faces a key intersection in Manhattan’s street grid, and an important place in the city’s civic life.

What many residents and visitors might not know is that these these quiet guards have a name, with a story behind it. The one on the south side of the plaza is named Patience while the northern one is Fortitude and were given their monikers by longtime Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia during the Great Depression. Aside from busting slot machines and reading the comics over the radio for kids during a newspaper strike, the designations that he bestowed on them were his way of enhancing the quality of life for New Yorkers during a low point in Gotham’s history.

The same could be said about the building behind them as well. Designed in the classical style by Carrere and Hastings, the library replaced the main reservoir of the Croton Aqueduct system as it opened two weeks after the lions were dedicated in May of 1911. Around the same time, such gems as the Manhattan and Queensboro Bridges, Woolworth Building, original IRT subway stations, and Municipal Building were constructed as all of them enhanced quality of life for Gothamites and helped to unify a city that was consolidated in 1898. It’s not only a testament to their durability, design, and engineering that all of them are still in use today, but that many have undergone significant renovations in recent years to ensure that future generations will be inspired and have their lives enhanced by these civic structures.

In the case of the lions, as noted architecture critic Paul Goldberger put it, they are indeed “New York’s most lovable public sculpture”. With so many statues, monuments, and public art commissions scattered around the 5 Boroughs, his statement carries quite a bit of gravitas as it’s hard to disagree with him. Not only is a lion on the seal of the New York Public Library, but both have graced postcards, t-shirts, countless souvenir books, newspaper articles, and even been on the cover The New Yorker several times in previous decades. Never have they been ignored, neglected, covered in graffiti as they have silently kept watch over the city as it’s construction and reconstruction have continued unabated around the clock.

That was until two months ago. While they have not been forgotten in the midst of  the current pandemic, they may be silently called to take on a new role during these unprecedented times. With so much of the current city and state leadership fiddling as Gotham silently burns, some have called for a New Deal-style of public works and construction in order to help with the long-expected recovery. While the lions were not a WPA or CCC project like many libraries, courthouses, post offices, artworks, and civic buildings that dot our republic, they have served as proof that a well-constructed, timeless, and accessible enhancement to the cityscape not only employs planners, architects, skilled laborers, and craftsmen through good and bad times, but pays back aesthetic and cultural dividends for ensuing generations.

There were countless instances over the years where I’ve gone by the lions before my shift or during it and have smiled as I watched kids climb up on them, tourists get a picture in front of them, or people enhance them via a cap, shirt, or garment from back at home. Even when I paid a visit the library steps last week, both were “reading” a book that made the 125 most-checked out list in New York Public Library history. Patience had Beloved by Toni Morrison and Fortitude had The Great Gastby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. While I don’t know what any of the other 123 titles are off the top of my head, it had me wondering what they were and what the idea was behind the campaign – which is what any good interactive piece of art should do to engage passerby.

So much of modern society is built on electronica, whether it would be the 5G Networks that stream our video, the screens we watch them on, or the continued miniaturization of the devices that are both in our homes and pockets. Repeated predictions of the demise of the public library have gone unheeded as they serve a more important function now then ever before. Whether it’s internet access, interlibrary loans, housing information for a prospective job search, hosting classes for kids, or the group conference rooms for meetings or lectures, libraries help to keep the social fabric of a community together in an age where more and more people are apart from each other and continually on the go. The relentless march of progress seemed to make the library as we know it as obsolete as carbon paper and typewriters while the current pause in society’s technological trajectory has made many question whether the 21st-century lifestyle is economically, ecologically, and mentally stable.

The answer to that remains to be seen. Two recent articles in The New York Times have gone into great depth to explain which neighborhoods New Yorkers have left from and where in the Tri-State area, and America, they’ve gone to as the city slowly starts to emerge from it’s two-month long lockdown. Whether they’ve relocated to second homes, relatives quarters, or have rented Airbnb’s is up for debate as well as whether the moves are temporary or permanent. Once the numbers from this year’s census are released, officials will have a better idea of how many people have skipped town for safety reasons and how many have left for good. No matter the final numbers, those who have stayed behind face a monumental task of bringing the city back from it’s first pandemic in a century. A lot of sweat, grit, and determination will be needed to get New York on it’s feet again and help the rebuilding process as thousands of small business are expected to struggle or go under while billions will need to be cut from the city payroll to balance the budget. No one expects the return to be an easy task, although Gotham has overcome bigger obstacles and challenges in recent decades. As has been seen during the Depression and in ensuing decades, a little patience and fortitude might be what New York needs to weather the storm…

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Fortitude

 

Fun City

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Socially distant – Grand Central

It’s hard to imagine that there would be any fun to be had in New York right now, given that much of what makes the place run has been shut down for nearly two months. Without any concerts, Broadway shows, sporting events, tourists in town, and office workers streaming in and out of buildings, much of what makes the city run has ground to a halt with a full opening always being just over the proverbial horizon. This was evident during the last time that yours truly worked back on March 9th, as I came back to my garage after a slow night, slid the key under the slot to the dispatcher’s office, and simply told him that “you’re not going to be seeing me around here for a while”.

There’s no need to rehash what happened in the months leading up to that fateful night. Uber lost $8 billion dollars last year and Lyft was also far away from being profitable as neither stock had rebounded to it’s IPO price as of the time of this writing. Medallion owners were still hurting financially and the number available cabs at my garage continued to slowly dwindle as they kept in step with number of drivers who showed up for a typical shift. As disheartening as the industry was, nothing could have prepared it, or myself, for what happened when the Corona Virus landed on American shores.

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#NewYorkTough – Rockefeller Center

For the first few weeks, I didn’t mind the time off. There were periods in recent years where I got into the Toyota in my garage, instead of the yellow one with a roof light and meter, and headed out west to get away from it all. As much as I forgot about the nightly grind of being on the streets, it was comforting to know that there were fares to be had whenever I returned home as I was usually back on duty within two days after pulling home after weeks on the road across America.

Now the tables had been completely turned. Most of the workers at my garage, many of whom had been there much longer than my time on the streets, had been laid off with only a skeleton crew remaining. Some nights saw nearly zero cabs going out as accompanying airport traffic was off by more than 90%. Never before had it looked to bleak for yellow cabs but this time around, those in the service, hospitality, tourism, and restaurant industries were in the same situation – although those workers had watched their incomes plummet overnight instead of gradually over recent years.

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Embrace the Absurd – Times Square

With the onset of warmer weather, the urge to get out and about only increased until I decided that I had enough with being cooped up, catching up on books, and calling friends that had fallen out of my life long ago. No, it wasn’t time to take the cab back out to search for signs of life but to do something a bit more drastic while crossing something off of my bucket list at the same time.

I took a CitiBike for the first time.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking and it’s probably the same thing that crossed my mind:

Why on Earth?

Glad you asked!

If you know me well enough or have read enough past posts, it should be apparent that cabs and bikes get along as well as the Hatfields and the McCoys. Throngs of bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, and signal re-timings over the years, as well as complete street redesigns, have favored vehicles on two wheels at the expense of those on four as our efforts to influence the flow of traffic a bit more in our favor have fallen on deaf ears. With the rare sunny day and a sunnier disposition on my behalf, I figured it was time to give it a go for a bunch of reasons.

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Crystal Clear – Times Square

First of all was to get some more exercise than just my daily errand-running on foot around town. Walking is my favorite way of clearing my mind here in suburbia and long, long before I drove for a living, it was my preferred way of getting around Manhattan. This was back in the time when Tompkins Square was full of homeless and runaways, the village had record and book shops, and the far West Side was truly an overlooked wonderland. I wasn’t in the city a whole lot either as it was a chance to get away from the closed-minded and conformist town that I grew up in and go run around Oz for an afternoon. Those days were probably my favorite in New York as the city was still varied, affordable, and not an overt foothold for the world’s excess wealth. Without even trying, I learned the streets below 14th Street, which gave me a leg up when learning the Manhattan street grid during my brief stint in Taxi School.

Secondly, I wanted to be out and about again but not in the way that I was accustomed to. With traffic counts being so light and knowing where the protected bike lanes were like the back of my hand, it wouldn’t be like the barrage of messengers and food deliverers that I had to dodge three or four nights a week. I wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere and thankfully, my legs would keep me from going *too* fast – unlike just about everyone else that passed me on their way to whatever could be important in the middle of a pandemic.

Finally, I had to know whether the system of protected bike lanes, unprotected bike lanes, street re-stripings, directional bike signs, and all the other infrastructure that the city installed in recent years was about to ensure a smoother ride from Midtown Manhattan to Brooklyn and around Kings County once I made my first stop. I’d seen a bunch of maps on Streetsblog and other sites that showed the progression of cycling enhancements and there were quite a few CitiBike racks near my garage that were installed in recent years but for a novice like me, were they enough to win me over and have me ride one the next time I needed to get around town above ground?

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2-wheeling it – Penn Station

There’s an old saying that once you learn how to ride a bike, that you never forget how to and that was the case for me, as much as I had to shake the proverbial rust off of myself first. I came prepared – with the right clothing, a helmet, and facial mask in tow as I wasn’t in any rush to head downtown from Times Square. The first portion of 7 Ave that I rode down was lacking for a bike lane but one was put in through Chelsea and the West Village recently and that was more than enough to get me most of the way to the Brooklyn Bridge. By the time I made my first stop near the Gowanus Canal, I could feel my quads thumping and they’d only be put to the test again as I crept my way toward the Navy Yard, around it, and up to my familiar stomping grounds by my garage.

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Pulled over – West Village

Did I enjoy the exercise? Sure, even though my legs felt like tree trunks for the next day or so after I docked the bike at the end of my ride. There was no doubt to me that the system works and even on two wheels, I was still passed by a ton of messengers and 10-speed pros as I even had to weave my way around several double-parked Uber vehicles. It helped that I had a sunny, mellow day outside and plenty of other riders who were patient with me as I navigated barricades, waterfront enclaves, and intersections that were just a bit different than what I was accustomed to breezing through with passengers in tow.

What went through my mind during my mind was how much has been written about the long-term effects that the virus will have on society once it’s run it’s course and becomes a footnote in history. Will people be kinder and more patient with each other? Are schools and offices as we know it doomed, as people choose to work and teach from home while cherishing precious family time together? Can people take mass transit and still be comfortable and socially distant, while patronizing subways and buses to keep them afloat? Most importantly to me, will the taxi industry survive with so many New Yorkers choosing to work from home, walk, bike, drive to stay socially distant, or just forgoing the city and it’s pitfalls altogether as they move on to greener, and less stressful, pastures?

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Sunset – Williamsburg

These trying times were not the first instance that bikes gained a foothold in the transportation network as the Lindsay administration closed Central Park to automobiles during certain days and even proposed to make Madison Ave. into a car-free mall. A  little over a decade later, a bike lane was instituted on 6 Ave during the 1980 transit strike by the Koch administration to handle midtown commuters. Both instances happened during times of upheaval, which resulted in some thinking outside of the proverbial box. Although those measures turned out to be temporary, the lack of leadership by the current administration has many clamoring for closed or narrowed streets to allow for more room for those wishing to walk or bike while practicing social distancing at the same time. What the results are is anyone’s guess but it’s likely that the transportation system that we’re familiar with, as well as the livelihoods of Gotham’s citizens, will not revert back to what they were before the Corona Virus came to America.

In the meantime, all of that was a distant thought as I paid a visit to the garage to see what was (or more importantly, wasn’t) going on before hoofing it by foot to the subway for the return trip home. With the world seemingly spiraling out of control with no end in sight, it was nice to slow things down for an afternoon and take things at my own pace. After all of these years and repeated disruptions, I was grateful to still have a chance to see the city anew and prepare for whatever tomorrow brought.

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The once and future city – Williamsburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhobe

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Rhoda’s Market – Hell’s Kitchen

Up until two months ago, if you asked anyone in New York was the biggest story of 2020 was, most would have answered that it was the untimely death of the soon-to-be NBA  Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant. Bryant, 41, his teenage daughter, and 7 others (including the pilot) were killed when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed into a mountainside northwest of Los Angeles on January 26th. Within a matter of hours, mourners flocked to the Staples Center (which is where Bryant’s Lakers called home) as makeshift memorials quickly popped up around Southern California and around the world.

The recent passing of actress Valerie Harper was world’s apart in quite a number of ways. Diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 as it later spread to her brain, she remained resilient during her ordeal as she continued to act as she appeared on Dancing With The Stars as well as penning an autobiographical book entitled I, Rhoda. Although she had acted on stage, screen, and Broadway and was an Oscar away from being an exclusive member of the EGOT club, Rhoda remained Harper’s most memorable role up until her death a week after her 80th birthday last August.

Spun off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda was possibly the quintessential New York Sitcom of the 70’s, with the exception of All in the Family or maybe even The Odd Couple. Like the latter of it’s contemporaries, it was set on the Upper East Side of Manhattan as Rhoda Morganstern moved back east and attempted to settle down in the city of her upbringing. During it’s run of four years and change on CBS, it only cracked the top ten in ratings it’s first two seasons and seemed to have lost it’s way after that. Most people would remember it today for it’s easily-hummed theme and the episode that aired on October 28th, 1974.

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Rhoda’s Subway Platform – Upper East Side

That hour-long episode, titled Rhoda’s Wedding, was the most-watched sitcom episode of the 70’s and drew such national media attention that even Howard Cosell brought it up during that night’s Monday Night Football telecast. Although the marriage didn’t last, several memorable scenes show Rhoda scrambling into a subway station, waiting for a train on a subway platform with famed writer James L. Brooks (in a cameo appearance), traversing a Cross Bronx Expressway overpass, and crossing the Grand Concourse on her way to the wedding at her parent’s apartment.

It made for great television and just as importantly, an even better time capsule of what life in New York was like when the city’s northernmost Borough had Jewish enclaves and as society was reluctantly moving on from a blue-collar past to a white collar future. Rhoda’s outfits and demeanor were the epitome of the free-spirited 60’s that lasted into the decade of bell-bottoms and Halston but the transition become more evident as the series aged as Rhoda settled in, got divorced, and became the poster girl for  feminism. Even the theme and accompanying montage changed every year as the ever-popular Broadway font turned out to be the only constant in the show’s opening and closing credits, with the skyline depicted and music used changing with the times.

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Rhoda’s Manhole – Verdi Square

Kobe Bryant also went from being second-fiddle to having the town to himself in the later stages of his duration in the limelight. Selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th pick in the 1996 draft, an agreement was made beforehand that resulted in the Los Angeles Lakers trading for him in exchange for aging veteran Vlade Divac. Although he attended Lower Merion High School outside of Philadelphia, it was hard to imagine Bryant being anywhere but in Hollywood once his career took off. His work ethic, love of the game, natural style of play, and ability to step up in the spotlight quickly endeared him to the fans in Tinseltown, as well as around the rest of the league. Although teammate Shaquille O’Neal was the centerpiece of the Lakers dynasty that won the Larry O’Brien trophy from 2000-02, Kobe was integral to the success of the team during that span.

That became more evident once O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat following the Lakers loss to the Pistons in the 2004 Finals. There was much speculated about the relationship between the two and whether one team was able to handle the both of them and their egos. After a few tumultuous seasons, that was put to rest when he lead them back to the Finals from 2008-2010, winning the title during his final two appearances in the championship round.

What was just as amazing during this run was what he did away from his home confines. On February 2nd, 2009, Bryant set the record (which still stands today) of scoring 61 points at Madison Square Garden. Much like Michael Jordon and LeBron James, Bryant rose to the occasion when the attention was on him, under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. The feat was so revered and remembered that on the night of his passing, the lights outside of the World’s Most Famous Arena were tinged purple and yellow in honor of the team he played for during his entire 20 year-career.

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Mamba Forever – Garment District

Over the last two months, several notable New Yorkers like Anthony Causi of the New York Post and author William Helmreich have succumbed to the COVID-19 virus and it’s likely that more people of note will pass away from it before it runs it’s course in Gotham. The loss of those who left their mark on the Big Apple happens on a near-daily basis, with detailed biographical and anecdotal obituaries appearing in the local newspapers, just like in the months after 9/11. Some of the thousands of people who have been in my cab over the years might not even be here anymore, as their fares fade away into a memory that ends up becoming another New York story that I’ll take with me until my dying day.

Thankfully, we have lots of video footage, books, and firsthand accounts of what Harper and Bryant meant to the Big Apple. Neither of them grew up here (Harper was born in upstate Suffern) but like so many adopted New Yorkers, they came here from a different place and painted the town red – and purple, and pink, and gold, and lavender, and whatever other colors they donned in the prime of their careers. As with so many other people who have shaped my world, made me laugh, caused me to cry, and given me something to aspire to, I never met them but I felt lucky to be alive when they were at the peak of their talent and popularity. Like other transplants and visitors who have called The Big Apple home for a night, a career, or a lifetime, New York just wouldn’t be the same had it not crossed paths with either of them.

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Tossing the hat – Times Square

 

The Standstill

Over the last year and change, it was quite apparent that the taxi industry in the Big Apple had undergone a lot of changes. For starters, Meera Joshi had left her post in March of 2019 after being the TLC Commissioner for 5 years. Bill Heinzen took over for the rest of the year as the descent that all drivers felt continued unabated through the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

That could also be true for the writer of this blog as the good times that were prevalent throughout his first 4 years on the job were becoming a distant memory as more and more shifts were worth writing off due to a lack of business. Sure, yours truly was fortunate enough to give Oscar-winning actress Diane Keaton a ride from the Upper East Side down to her hotel in SoHo  last April, but besides that, the memories and notable passengers were becoming few and far between.

As the end of 2019 drew near, it was obvious that the escapades and adventures of yours truly were about to draw to a permanent close with a whimper that no would one have heard. The fares had dropped off so much to the point that most other drivers in the Big Apple were barely able to cover their lease fees via the fares collected, as it was becoming obvious that our days roaming the streets of Gotham were dwindling to a whimper.

No one seemed to notice and even fewer seemed to care. After years of fighting the city, the tech companies, and conventional wisdom, it looked like our days were few and that we had lost the battle of the streets to a bunch of upstarts from Silicon Valley that were destined to rule the lives of those living by their phones from the cradle to the grave.

 

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7 Ave looking south – Garment District

Then a funny thing happened. In the middle of the slow season, the abnormally warm winter, and the appointment of the third TLC chair in the last 12 months, a little known virus from overseas started to become the dominant story on the news…

…and then it took over.

By the time Saint Patrick’s Day came, it was impossible to ignore the COVID-19 virus or it’s impact on the most advanced economy in the western world.

Parades.

Cancelled.

The Knicks, Rangers, Nets, and Islanders chases for the playoffs (or draft lottery).

Cancelled.

The upcoming seasons at Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, and everything else on stage in The Big Apple.

Cancelled.

Ditto for the flights at the airports, as they were reduced to less than 10 every hour.

The same could be said for every concert venue, jazz club, social gathering, and performances at Lincoln Center.

All were cancelled until further notice – whatever that meant…

For those of us who drove these concertgoers and patrons around, it was a death knell worse than anything thrown at us after the onset of Uber and Lyft’s debut on the streets of New York.

And there was nothing we could do about it.

Calls to the dispatchers at my garage ended in the same way, as lots of sighing, blaming, and depressive language ended with the usual wishes for a speedy recovery and reminiscing of the good old days that seemed to get farther away by the week. Overnight, drivers were put out of business as the city was ill-equipped to handle the shutdown that paralyzed commerce and life, at the expense of the people who made the place run.

And nowhere did it hurt more than those who transported the citizens of Gotham around at the wave of an arm.

Essential business were easy to discern – those who worked in hospitals, mass transit, police, fire, and maintenance were allowed to go to work but those were drove people around one or two at a time were not deemed essential and as always, were left in the dust in favor of those who were employed by the MTA or one of the myriad of unions that protected the livelihoods of the working class.

It should have come as no surprise that the chair of the MTA ended up catching the COVID-19 virus as Pat Foye joined Madison Square Garden CEO James Dolan, New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton, and thousands of others across America who were infected by this bug. Even Uber drivers who were forced to remain on the job in order to earn a living were catching this and adding to the rising toll.

As for yours truly, that was never a problem when it came to being forced to work but the instantaneous drop of income and a livelihood were just as bad as any physical setbacks that the virus could have inflicted on myself, or anyone else in the industry. Long after the mental shock of a shutdown set in, the physical shock took much longer to be absorbed as it was obvious that the old normal was giving way to a new normal that was much quieter, and detrimental to working-class New Yorkers.

It was only a new era in history because of how unprepared the city was for a pathogen of this sort. In the 20th century, two world wars, several recessions and depressions, and 9/11 were what ultimately threatened to do The Big Apple in. In each instance, the preparation wasn’t thorough but the response was, as the attacks were short and contained in nature and nowhere near as bad as the worst case scenario could have been for a disease such as this.

That’s completely opposite of what happened when the Corona Virus crossed the Pacific Ocean and made itself known in the 5 Boroughs. It had been over a century since the Spanish Influenza brought an untimely end to many during the waning days of WWI and the city was ill-equipped to handle a pandemic that would even come close to the havoc wrecked in the early 20th century. Both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill De Blasio were not up to the task of handling what reached the shores of America from Wuhan in a matter of days, although the former was much better at putting Gotham’s residents at ease, unlike the latter who continued his tendency to blame others while leading from behind.

Whether New York would come out ahead, behind, or somewhere in the middle when the pandemic was over remained to be seen. The Dow Jones had dropped 30% and easily into bear market territory as of this writing as both the budget of the city and state were blown to bits overnight. While the fundamentals of the economies of Gotham and the Empire State were fundamentally sound, a lack of liquidity and cash flow threatened to bring both to a screeching halt and throw millions of low-wage and service-sector workers out of work instantaneously; as the lack of a social safety net guaranteed that heavy government intervention would be needed to keep millions afloat.

Regardless of whether a new economic, social, and political system would come about as a result of these job losses and accompanying quarantining, it was obvious that the good times of the Teens had come to an abrupt and shocking end. What lie on the other side remained to be seen but it was apparent that the drivers, and vehicles, that were the lifeblood of New York, were destined to be an afterthought as a new order was set to take shape. As always, the question was whether they’d get a voice at the table as the rules were rewritten for a new and different age, remained to be seen…

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COVID-19 warnings – New Jersey

 

 

 

Taxi 2.0

   As the calendar turned to 2019, it was apparent that the yellow cab industry in New York City was turning over a new leaf as well. The city council passed a cap on the number of for hire vehicles over the previous summer, temporarily freezing them for a year. Taxi medallion prices, which had been in a precipitous decline for a number of years, were finally bottoming out – although at values as much as 80% off of their peak in 2014. Even the ubiquitous Ford Crown Victoria was nearly gone from the cityscape, as the Taxi of Tomorrow was finally becoming the dominant model of cab that one could hail. For many drivers however, the biggest change that they were up against was one that nobody saw coming, as TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi announced in early January that she would be stepping down sometime in March; claiming that it was a “mutual decision”. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer even went as far to say that she didn’t know “…if there’s ever been a better commissioner at the TLC or anywhere else”  and thought that de Blasio was making a “big mistake” in letting Joshi step down, while many of the drivers under her watch were finally glad to see her go; even if all the problems that they were confronted with could not be directly blamed on her.

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TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi (far left)

   Regardless of how people felt about yet another sudden change in the de Blasio administration, everyone felt that her time as Commissioner was quite tumultuous.  Having been appointed by the current New York City Mayor  early in his first term , Joshi previously served as Deputy Commissioner for Legal Affairs and General Counsel for the TLC in the latter days of the Bloomberg Administration. During her nearly 5-year tenure as Commissioner, the industry was rocked to it’s core as the meteoric rise of services like Uber and Lyft threatened to put the yellows out of business once and for all. Joshi, in recent speeches, stated that her job was a tough one to navigate because of the challenges that these companies brought to the table, but that the rollout of wheelchair accessible taxis, utilization of data from TLC passengers, and changes in the licensing of drivers were bringing the cabs on New York’s streets into the 21st century.

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Congestion pricing rally – 3 Ave

 

   What may have finally been the impetus that let to her resignation was one of the sticking points that reared it’s head again in recent months, namely the proposed congestion fee that would have been placed on all green and yellow taxis, as well as FHV’s, entering Manhattan south of 60 St. 10 years ago, then-mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed something similar for all vehicles entering that zone of Manhattan but that was shot down the New York State Legislature. The current plan would not have placed the fee on private vehicles, but instead on those taking people around the most densely populated part of the city, with the irony that many of those passengers having elected to leave their cars home in the first place. Joshi was stated on the record saying that the current plan would be devastating to drivers that were still struggling to make ends meet, while the mayor was in favor of the fee as a means to ease gridlock in New York.

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New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai

   Lost in the middle of all of this were the challenges facing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. With bus ridership down and subway ridership leveling off after years of steady growth, many in the Big Apple were turning to other means of transportation to get around town. While the recent additions of NYC Ferry and Citi Bike were filling in some of the mobility gaps for New Yorkers, others were turning to FHV’s and rideshare services to get around parts of the city that were transit deserts. In addition, the MTA was desperate for additional revenue to handle maintenance and capital improvements that were desperately needed to keep the system in good repair and ensure that gains in additional ridership could be handled. It was bad enough that every Uber and Lyft fare wasn’t contributing 50 cents for the MTA surcharge (unlike the taxis) but that their stratospheric growth was siphoning ridership from trains and keeping the buses from sticking to their schedules.

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FHV Drivers – 3 Ave

   All of this came to a head last month as the proposed congestion fee was weeks away from taking effect right after the first of the new year. A rally in front of New York Governor Cuomo’s Midtown office on 3 Ave drew drivers who were tired of the proposals to tax and surcharge their fares even further. One driver had even left the industry after being in for 40 years, citing the inability to make a living under the current conditions. As sparse as the turnout was, it had a hand in temporarily stopping the surcharge’s implementation with a Judge blocking it’s implementation via a restraining order. As of this writing, it was unsure if or when it would ever become law, as officials were considering taking a closer look at the proposal and who would pay under an revised plan.

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Drivers – 3 Ave

      As lawmakers squabbled with more meetings, rallies, and protests against the surcharges yet to come, the new year was not much different than those of the recent past for those who worked behind the wheel. Further redesign of accident-prone intersections, continued additions of bicycle lanes and pedestrian plazas, and the restriping and redesign of 14 St for buses in anticipation of the now-cancelled L train shutdown in April were further proof that both the Mayor’s Vision Zero initiative and emphasis on dedicated right-of-ways were working and would be further expanded in the coming years. A record-low number of pedestrian fatalities, along with record-low speeds recorded in Midtown, combined to only exacerbate the reality that drivers of all types were facing in New York – namely that it was becoming even more difficult to get around, let alone earn a living, on the streets of the greatest city in the world. In spite of that, some people, including an economist and a former city transportation commissioner were among the many that were seeing the problem for what it was, and putting the blame on the right sources. For all of the mistakes made in the past, there were hints of positive changes in the industry for the first time in quite a few years.

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Upgraded Passenger Information Monitor – Greenpoint

   A tiny evidence of that showed up in the cab of yours truly last week. For the first time, one of thew new Passenger Information Monitors awaited me as I got inside of my Camry for a weekend night’s shift. Thin, sleek, and user-friendly, it was a vast improvement of the duller and less-informative ones that had graced taxi interiors over the last 5 or so years. Rollouts in anything government-operated tend to be slow and sometimes clumsy but in this instance, it was smooth as I quickly adjusted to the new interface once I was out on the streets and taking fares. If there was a possibility that this minute aspect of my cabdriving experience could be improved upon, then maybe there was some hope that everything else work-related would change for the better as well. As usual, everything had to just be taken one fare a time…

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

 

 

New Order

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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