Last week was not unlike many of the others that I’ve had lately. Lots of tourists from overseas flocked to the Big Apple and helped cabdrivers like yours truly out. There was a Taxi Worker’s Alliance meeting late at night to celebrate our hard-fought raise that goes into effect in the beginning of September. Someone on Friday night even stood in the middle of Broadway and stopped my cab, opening the shotgun door and demanding to go to the heart of the Lower East Side. Of course, my passenger in the back freaked out and I soon gave the drunkard a verbal tongue-lashing before he slammed the door and continued to make an ass out of himself with the other Taxis heading downtown. Once I brought my wheels back to the garage at around 6 yesterday morning, someone else happened: I hit the one-year mark as a New York City cabdriver.
Of course, there wasn’t any fanfare. My new hack license came in the mail two weeks ago and I filled out everything way ahead of time, to avoid the possibility of bureaucracy giving me an unplanned vacation in the middle of the summer. As I’ve alluded to earlier on here, one half of Taxi drivers don’t last a year and another half of them don’t make it to two years. When I started, I had no idea how long I was going to last because of circumstances that were beyond my control. I switched my major enough times during my two stints in college and the question that I’m asked most often as I navigate my way through the city streets is what I want to do with my life.
Besides strangling the necks of the passengers that get their jollies out of playing “20 questions” with me, I never have a definitive answer to that. 15 years ago, I would have said that I’d be an engineer. 10 years ago, I would have wanted to be an architect. 5 years ago, an economist. 3 years ago, an urban planner. Now, I just want survive this long enough to pay my student loans off. There have been too many articles lately stating that America is largely becoming a nation of dependents. Kids dependent on overbearing parents that don’t give them any room for creativity or free, unstructured time. Aging baby boomers dependent on younger generations to provide them with care. Migrants to this country dependent on the government to provide them with social services that will last until the grave comes calling and who can forget the jobless, looking in the mail every month until the unemployment checks come and tie them over for another few weeks.
I refuse to be a part of any of that. Sure, it’s not easy telling people what I do for a living, even when I’m imbibing during another social gathering with my fellow Columbia alums. It would be even harder for me to let go of my proverbial bootstraps and throw the towel in. One thing I have to remind my passengers is that I do *not* work for the garage that maintains and dispatches my vehicle. It’s a crude form of an independent business that myself, and the other drivers, run when we head out onto the streets and attempt to better our situation. Many of us sacrifice what’s important in order to drive and that would of course be free time.
There have been several weeks lately where I’ve spent more time in the Empire State than the Garden State and I don’t even work 7 days a week like many of my fellow drivers. One of my running jokes with my passengers is that they don’t step into my ride for the night but rather, into my office. I don’t have a desk but like so many who live on wheels, most of what I need to function comes with me every time I head out for a shift. I nearly lost it all last winter when someone at a high-end apartment building on the East Side took my bag out of my trunk along with the luggage of the passenger that I dropped off there. Thankfully, the doorman was first class and was able to find my information in my bag and contact me, saving me the time and expense of having to piece my vocational supplies back together again.
As much as people think I see X-rated acts and characters out of a Larry David series on a daily basis in the backseat, stories like the one above are much more commonplace for someone in my profession. The door on the side of the Taxi may as well be revolving since people come and go so quickly and as fast as the turnover of passengers is, so is the rate at which we go around the city. I’ll cover every corner of Manhattan and probably half a dozen neighborhoods in the outer Boroughs on a typical night and if someone forgets a phone or has to go back to where they originated from, the city will shrink down to nothing as I’m forced to fly my way across town to remedy the situation. Cities need to be seen on foot to be truly appreciated but in my line of work, the sights outside of the cab are secondary to the lives and interest stories that unfold inside of the vehicle. For the way that each fare begins as similarly to the one before it, the endings are just as varied as the people that live their lives inside of the city limits.
I wish I knew what the next year will bring. There will no doubt be more interesting people who will be fortunate enough to grace my presence after having come out of nowhere, unannounced. The economy will hopefully begin a real recovery once Europe gets its act together and we figure out who will be running America for the next four years. A real set of mayoral candidates should emerge from the sorry state of wannabes that are currently making waves on the airwaves and hopefully, the cranes that are beginning to dot the sky in midtown will make their way west and finally begin to transform Hudson Yards into it’s self-proclaimed “next great neighborhood”. I’m too nostalgic for the New York of my childhood which shaped the mindset that I have today, but only because the city hasn’t quite figured out what it wants to be tomorrow. Bike lanes, new neighborhoods in the outer Boroughs, a million freshly-planted trees, and a greener economy will only make a lasting mark if they are successfully used, loved, and integrated with the permanent cityscape that the likes of Moses, Olmsted, and Corbusier have left for us to preserve and improve upon. What my role will be in shaping the Big Apple of tomorrow remains unclear but for now, my job is simple and that is to help the people that live, work, and visit New York partake in the city and help shape it for the inhabitants of tomorrow.
One fare at a time, of course.