Someone Like You

“We’re having the time of our lives
We’re lost in a cruel paradise”

-New Order

Match-Maker - Times Square

Match-Maker – Times Square

“We’re here. That’ll be $23.”

“I’m not leaving your cab until you kiss me.”

“Um…I’m alright. I have to get back to work and besides, you don’t want to do that. I have cooties.”


It’s something that supposedly exists in the Big Apple. I’m not referring to how I feel about the city that has become a cratered, frozen wasteland in recent weeks but the actual emotion that two people can feel between each other. Once in a blue moon, I get to see it actually take place in the back seat of my Taxi and no, I’m not talking about those rare instances where couples are getting it on. I mean the real thing – actual love between two people who aren’t exchanging cash for favors as part of the relationship.

It’s not everyday that I feel that New Yorkers are capable of loving each other. The Bible teaches us to do that but hate is so much easier to find on the streets, certainly from behind the wheel. I see enough middle fingers, angry drivers, and pedestrians who are caught up in their own little worlds all the time, to the point where I just brush it off and move on as soon as the light turns green. It even happened on Saturday night when a livery cab driver got pissed off at me as if I ruined his entire evening. Tossing his bottle of water at my windshield may have made his night easier to swallow, but I just turned the wipers on and stared ahead, undeterred by his growing rage.

Gotham can be a form of cruel and unusual punishment underneath the glitz and glamour. As I’ve mentioned time and time again, a vast majority of New Yorkers work hours that put my 12-hour shifts to shame, all the name of building a career, identity, or name for themselves. The upside is that many people leave the city in search of greener (and calmer) pastures once they’ve established their vocational track, as a chef from Austin also reminded me on Saturday night. For all of the exhaustion that I could see and feel emanating from her as we made our way to Bushwick under the El, it was all worth it for her if and when she returned home to the Lone Star State, since she knew that she’d call all the shots once it came time to open a restaurant there.

That’s one of the rare instances where love of someone else has been trumped by a love of self, and I don’t mean that in a selfish way. A career is how every working New Yorker finds identity and self-fulfillment – from the lowly dishwasher to the Lawyer who wants the corner office on the top floor. There’s a reason why I ask my passengers what they do and it goes beyond finding out about people’s occupations or wondering if a certain career track is right for me. It’s because far too many people that I’ve been entrusted to take home or out on the town do nothing but work during their waking hours, and that job ends up becoming their entire existence.

In the process, they lose themselves in that particular field. A certain asexuality takes hold over many New Yorkers as their day becomes nothing more than a means to an end. Leisure time, jaunts on the town, and goofing off disappear completely from a person’s schedule, only to be replaced by overtime and more billable hours. While I do not receive any of the latter perks as part of my job, I certainly know what it’s like to lose yourself in what you do. The old saying of “moonlighting becomes you” implies that that person’s day job has not already become their life while their night job slowly creeps in and crowds out everything else. In New York, the day job has already choked off all other forms of life before that even has a chance to happen.

Naturally, this also includes romantic relationships. There have been many, many instances where the person that’s gotten in the back seat of my Taxi has captivated me – because of that person’s looks, ambitions, position, personality, or je ne sais quoi. More often that not, she has someone that has gone out with her for the night but when she hasn’t, I do my best to get to know her without being overtly forward. While not easy to do while battling traffic, the process of learning about a passenger is almost always sobering at best.

More often than not, that person is tired, stressed, or just uninterested. A smart phone may give her an excuse to ignore me and the outside world but it ends up making the person using it pretty dumb when there’s so much to be gained by looking out onto the streets of the Big Apple and pondering over thoughts with the driver that’s taking that person home. Even if I never speak to her again, I do believe that I have something to offer and something to learn from every passenger that gets in my vehicle and communicates with me, no matter the level of romantic interest. Given how rare it is that I feel a spark with all of the people that I come into contact with on a daily basis, I’m amazed that anyone could find someone to settle down with in New York.

Statistics seem to back that up as well, as the average age of marriage has been creeping up for several decades now. When I was growing up, my parents got married in their early 20’s and they often told me it was because “everyone else did that”. I never thought that they were lemmings but I was well aware that the Baby Boom generation tied the knot young and for the marriages that lasted, quite a few offspring resulted from those celebrating the sacrament of Matrimony fresh out of High School. Hearing that someone is a stay-at-home-Mom or wants to remain in New York to settle down and raise a family seems so foreign to my ears now that I express my amazement during the few instances that I hear that after asking someone what they do for a living or wish to do in the future.

Courtship is a lost art in New York, as evidenced by the utter buffoonery that many males practice when going out on the town and finding someone to take home that night. While I don’t dispense relationship advice unless asked (yeah, it’s not that often), I usually come to an opinion on the couple that gets into the back seat, and not just on Saturday nights. Nearly all of the time, it’s a business relationship and nothing more. People have something that others want, and whether it’s money, sex appeal, an enviable status, or just a superficial return of their infatuation, New Yorkers are good at consummating relationships that disappear as quick as nearby locals on Tinder.

When I was growing up, New York was romantic. Fred and Ginger danced in fancy supper clubs, Art Deco made a nice revival in the 1970’s, Woody Allen’s Manhattan provided the soundtrack to anyone’s romantic dreams in the era of Municipal Bankruptcy, and even The Wiz soulfully asked us to Ease on Down the Road, right toward the Chrysler Building. Like so much of New York yesteryear, those dreamy scenes and scores have been replaced by the almighty dollar. Tourism may have helped the city reach new highs but it’s brought about an economy based on comfort, accommodation, and familiarity.

And we all know what that breeds.

Unbeknownst to anyone, the rebound in the city’s economy along with the gradual depreciation in manufacturing only made matters worse for those who provided the labor in the postindustrial economy. Housing prices skyrocketed, job requirements became more strict, and white-collar industries rose in prominence. All of those combined to make standards of living increase but the correlating rise in life expectancy came with a heavy price:

Longer working hours.

And with it, the fall of romance in New York.

I can see it in my job – in the faces of those who put in grueling hours, year after year. Driving a Taxi wasn’t always a 12-hour shift and the older guys in my garage and in the business always talk about how they used to do well financially driving a cab and how they had free time during their shift to eat and take breaks. For me, it’s a big game of beat-the-clock once I pull out of my garage and fly over one of the East River crossings to start another night of fare-finding. Too many times, I have to stop and look up when I get to a red light or sit in traffic.

At the buildings.

At the skyline.

At the people going by.

And at the proverbial sand in the hourglass of my life going from the top to the bottom.

I’d always hoped that everything that I put in would be worth it – that one day, someone would come into my Taxi and fulfill the promise that I’ve heard for so many years; that that person would be the one that I’d spend the rest of my life with, that that person would make me feel that I’d always known her, and would make me forget about every heartache, breakup, and rejection that I’ve endured time and time again. That she’d make me forget about every ticket, pothole, fender-bender, nonpaying fare, and ungrateful passenger that has made me want to turn the meter off and pull back into the garage for the last time and most of all, for all the tears that I shed for those who exited my life far, far too soon.

To this day, I’m still hoping to come across her.

For now, I hold out hope – that New Yorkers will not be so jaded that they cannot see the beauty in the architecture, natural world, and people around them and will take the time out to stop and smell the roses in the midst of their packed-to-the-gills schedule that they live day in and day out. While a cabdriver like me cannot force them to put their phones and Blackberry’s down for a moment, it is possible to get them to slow down for a while, unplug from the potential to land another client or make another sale, and just take some time out to get to know someone on a personal level. It’s a futile task but during the rare instances where I make a connection, it’s worth all of the frustration and effort that went in to brightening someone’s day.

And that’s the part of my job that I love the most.

Love - Midtown

Love – Midtown

Stupor Bowl

Super Bowl Ticket - East Side

Super Bowl Ticket – East Side

“What happened?”

“What do you mean? Are you not taking passengers at the time?”

“No, your team. What happened? You guys realize that you had a game to play and had to show up for it today, right?”

“Oh, just take us to our garage – 40 St and 2 Ave.”

“No problem.”

That was the scene between me and the gentleman pictured above and his friend. One flew in Denver and the other from Omaha (no, I’m not making that up) and they were quite despondent after the beatdown that their Broncos were on the wrong end of a few hours beforehand. They didn’t even make it to Penn until nearly Midnight and I had to feel sorry that they were subjected to the cattle car that their experience on New Jersey Transit had turned into.

That, and many more like it, were all a part of the 48th rendition of the game formerly known as the AFL-NFL World Championship, which was played in my home state last Sunday. For all the hype, pomp, pageantry, buildup, and excitement over it, the contest turned out to be colossal letdown – unless you were one of the people I saw walking around with a green and blue mohawk. Even though it paled in comparison to the some of the more exciting finishes to the NFL season that have taken place in recent years, the week leading up to it was also a dud in some regards. Ticket prices had to be slashed because the face values were set too high, hotels and motels on this side of the Hudson didn’t full up as many had predicted, and of course, the governor of my home state was given a nice big Bronx cheer when introduced on Super Bowl Boulevard during the week leading up to the game.

Then there was the multiplier effect…or lack thereof. Traditionally, the two worst times of the year to be driving a yellow vehicle around the streets of New York are the dog days of summer and the dead of winter and as anyone up here can still attest too, this year’s ranks with the worst that New York has seen in quite some time. Once the confetti and streamers were cleaned up from the ball drop, it’s usually 2 to 2 1/2 months of sleepy weeknights and relaxed weekends, until the equinox and shamrocks come into view. This year would be different though, since throngs of fans from the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, and lots of places in between would descend upon the Big Apple, eager to participate in the first Super Bowl played in a outdoor, cold-weather site.

Super Bowl Bus - Weekhawken

Super Bowl Bus – Weehawken

Like so many other promises that come with big-time sporting events, this one also didn’t live up to the hype. It should have come as no surprise that earlier in the day, both Punxatawney Phil and Staten Island Chuck saw their respective shadows, ensuring that according to lore, that there would be six more weeks of winter. While the weather turned out to be relatively mild that day, their harbingers were correct in the sense that the windfall that many in my profession hoped to see never fully materialized. Monday and Tuesday of that week were some of the worst weeknights that I had experienced in months and it wasn’t until the night before the game that I felt like I was running around at full steam. That’s how most of my Summer nights play out, regardless of the day of the week. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the seeds that failed to grow into a financial bloom were sown months before the game, however.

Super Bowl Boulevard - Garment District

Super Bowl Boulevard – Garment District

The TLC and the city DOT had made it pretty clear that this was to be a “mass transit” Super Bowl. Traffic would be bad! Get there early! Don’t even *think* of driving to the game! These phrases and anything of the like were drilled ad nauseum for weeks. Forget dropping off anyone, anywhere near the Stadium, as passenger vehicles weren’t even allowed into the lot for parking and tailgating. Of course, plenty of shuttles were available for those who would fork out 3 or 4 times the normal going rate for a Giants or Jets game. Traffic? There was tons of that too as Super Bowl Boulevard closed off Broadway from 47 St down to Macy’s. Most Taxis have no use for what’s left of the Great White Way but the extra pedestrians that crowded it for the rides and attractions made getting around Midtown hellish at times. This was especially the case when the theaters were open and compounding the problem was the brilliant idea of scheduling “Broadway Week” in the midst of the 5-ring circus. Not only did I have to hear the ad for that in the back of my Taxi, but I had to laugh at the city’s attempt to counter the throngs of sports fans roaming around and to lift up sales during a weak time of the year, by having this promotion at the same time that the Super Bowl festivities were in full swing.

Super Bowl Pocket Guide

Super Bowl Pocket Guide

I still had to work as much as I could that week, since Mother Nature has done her best to keep me home as much as possible this winter. Even if I didn’t have an uptick in business, it was a chance to soak in all that was done to build up attention for the game. The four metrocards shown below were randomly distributed to Subway stations around Manhattan, and while most New Yorkers didn’t think twice about them, I managed to snag all four after some intrepid scouring. There was also a handy map that was handed out for free outside many of the stations and on the Boulevard itself and while I have enough subway and rail maps here to satisfy any transit buff, it was nice to finally see one that showed all of the regional rail links on one page, with helvetica to boot. Billboards, ads on other Taxis, bags, shirts, a countdown clock in Times Square and yes, even the stadium that I have to pass twice a day during my commute, were all done up with large roman numerals to drive the point home.

Super Bowl Metrocards

Super Bowl Metrocards

Naturally, I ended up working the night of the Super Bowl. A few of my passengers noted that I missed the game but I countered that I also missed the chance to tack on two or three pounds in a day. More importantly, I knew that the West Side would be hopping throughout much of the night and since the “mass transit” Super Bowl turned into a mass headache for so many like the Broncos fans I mentioned above, it ended up working out in my favor. I normally keep the radio off during work and given that the game was seemingly in Seattle’s hands from the first play onward, it was nice to ride around in peace for much of the night.

No one has any idea if the final contest of the NFL season will ever return to New York. The owners will meet in the off-season to discuss league issues, rule changes, and potential Super Bowl sites starting with the first open date four years from now. Chicago, New England, and Washington have all expressed interest in hosting the game and since the weather cooperated this year, that remains a possibility should the league decide to give it another go. In a place like New York, even the Super Bowl isn’t enough to stop the city in its tracks. Fashion Week, Restaurant Week, New Year’s, the Dog Show, UN Week, and other annual events may bring parts of town to a standstill but in the Outer Boroughs or even on the Upper East Side, one would hardly know that anything was going on unless someone brought up current events. It’s a testament to how large and diverse New York is that one can get away from the madness without having to get far out of town and during Super Bowl Week, at least a third of my passengers didn’t express any interest in the game or had the slightest clue which two teams were vying for the privilege to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

Super Bowl Trophy - Times Square

Super Bowl Trophy – Times Square

“Hey there, where to?”

“Front St. in Dumbo.”

“Sure thing – I’m going to cut over to Broadway to get over to the Manhattan Bridge since the area by Greenhouse and the Holland Tunnel is a zoo tonight.”

“Is it all because of the game?”

“A lot of is, for sure.”

My passenger and I got to talking and a few minutes later, she had this to say in the midst of our conversation:

“You know, we’re really lucky to be here. I’ve done a ton of traveling overseas and priorities there aren’t like what they are in America. We don’t value what’s important here and instead, we focus on luxuries like the Kardashians or sports.”

“You’re 100% right, and I hate saying this but I’m a bit guilty of this myself.”

Super Bowl Numerals - Times Square

Super Bowl Numerals – Times Square

It would be great if there was a countdown clock in Times Square that gave the hours and minutes until hunger was eradicated in the Big Apple, or until enough apartment units were constructed to house the homeless and those living in overcrowded, subdivided spaces. Landing the Super Bowl three years ago or the failed attempt at the Olympics was the lead story on the local news on that particular night but most New Yorkers have no idea where the Cornell Tech Campus is set to rise in the coming years (It’s Roosevelt Island for anyone interested). Throngs of people waited in line for hours to see the Lombardi Trophy, the Rockettes, or former players but how many New Yorkers have been to a vest pocket park within the last year, or to one of the scores of new museums that are popping up all over town? For all the amazing, wonderful, and diverse people that I see in a given week, too many of them would rather focus on the trivialities of life instead of the arts and sciences that are incubated in the Big Apple. While I love what sports is capable of and the way that it is still the ultimate and purest form of meritocracy in the 21 Century, there’s so much more that needs to be touted in New York. Now that the game is over and things are mostly back to normal for the rest of the winter, nothing would make me smile more than to hear that innovation, sustainability, and affordability will be what New Yorkers demand and ultimately, take pride in as the icy doldrums slowly recede and the new Mayor starts to leave his mark for future generations.

Who knows? Maybe the city will become so desirable that the announcement of the next Super Bowl awarded to the Meadowlands will take a back seat to something much more likely to improve the quality of life for the residents of Gotham.

Super Bowl 50 - East Rutherford

Super Bowl 50 – East Rutherford

We Exist

“Walking around
Head full of sound
Acting like
We don’t exist”

                                                                                                                                                                                -Arcade Fire

One out of many - Greenpoint

E Plurubus Unum – Greenpoint

“Hey there, where to?”

“We’re going t- hey, wait a second. You’re a native American!”

“If you’re suggesting that I was here before the white man arrived from Europe, you’d be sorely mistaken.”

“No, not *that* kind. You’re a native American, like…you’re from here.”

“Well, if you consider New Jersey via Wisconsin as being from here, then you’d be correct.”

“And your English is really good!”

“Well, I’d like to think it is. I’ve been speaking it for long enough.”

“Honey, can you believe this? We have a real American taking us home tonight.”

“Yup, we exist. Mind telling me where you’re going so I can drive ya there?”

This conversation (or something closely resembling it) goes on at least half a dozen times a week, every week since I started driving well over 2 years ago. I had a feeling when I first walked into the Taxi School and noticed that I was the lightest-skinned person in the room who wasn’t an instructor that I was in for a demographic wake-up call. Even after all of this time, I’m still amazed at how few native-born cabdrivers there are roaming the streets in yellow vehicles every night.

When I was growing up, the popular view of cabdrivers in New York held that they were old men, smoking stogies, and saying “Where to?” as someone in a fedora or some God-awful polyester and plaid ensemble hopped in and blurted out the destination in hurried tones. Old film noir movies would seemingly have a gangster or cop hurrying into a Checker Cab and ordering the driver to “Follow that cab!” as the vehicle sped away in hot pursuit of the bad guys. As I got older, my solo jaunts into the city quickly taught me not to jaywalk and to look both ways before crossing the street. Now that I’ve been behind the wheel, I realize that everything isn’t as black and white as those old films, or who’s right and wrong when it comes to who dominates the streets in the big city.

That would also include the drivers themselves. For generations, it was the Irish, Italians, and Jews that drove the Taxis of New York. As waves of immigrants from Far Western, Southern, and Eastern Europe came through Ellis Island, many of them chose to remain in the vicinity. Scores of tenements on the West and Lower East Sides of Manhattan and the Outer Boroughs were soon a patchwork of neighborhoods, each one defined by the group(s) that chose to settle there and become a part of the American melting pot.

Eventually, these groups did assimilate and later generations of them moved into the Postwar autoburbs of Long Island, new Jersey, Upstate, and elsewhere. Hours of pounding the pavement looking for fares gave way to white collar jobs, home ownership, extended native-born families, and cashing out the equity that could be built up through a Taxi medallion. As the number of Caucasian immigrants dwindled, those looking to make a better life in the New World came from new lands. Africans, Indians, Hispanics, and East Asians were coming to America in larger droves and like their predecessors inspired by The New Colossus at the base of Lady Liberty, they took up jobs that would allow them to partake in all that America had to offer.

Naturally, cabdriving was among those.

It was only in the last 20 or 30 years that the racial make-up of the drivers of New York City’s taxis really began to change. Even while watching reruns of Taxi or the bits and pieces of Taxi Driver that I’ve caught over the years (I still have yet to see it all the way through), it was apparent that in the 1970’s, Hollywood depicted cabdrivers as either being black or white. The former being the token minority of the day and the latter being the old-style persona that most people pictured behind the wheel in Gotham.

Today, they’re both minorities. Dana Rubinstein summed up the current demographics of Taxi drivers and passengers recently, and indeed it turns out that over 35% of drivers today are either from Pakistan or Bangladesh. India also turns out to have been a sizable origin country for many drivers and coming in at just under 6% is…

…the United States.

A deeper look into the 2014 Taxicab Fact Book reveals that 6% of the drivers who work a typical week driving a New York City Taxi reside in a place west of the Hudson River.

So to sum it up, having a native-born cabbie who calls New Jersey home isn’t so far-fetched.

Yes indeed, we do exist.

I never expected to be part of any majority when I decided to take this job on and it’s good preparation for what’s coming ahead in America. Already, there are 18 states that have a non-white race that leads that state in births and that number will rise in the coming years as the birthrate among whites continues slowly decrease. Sometime in the middle of this century, whites will cease to be a majority in this country and will a plurality instead. The number of blacks as a percentage of the U.S. population has also been decreasing and has shown sharp declines in many northern states as many of them return to their American roots in the south. The “browning” of America will continue as Asians and Hispanics continue their strong immigration here and racial barriers in leadership, corporations, governmental positions, and even in sports will continue to fall as demographic changes become fully apparent.

Even cabdrivers may become antiquated in the not-so-distant future, as Google is leading the way toward driverless vehicles that are on pace to debut by the end of the decade. It was conventional wisdom that drivers were one of the few jobs in America that couldn’t be outsourced or automated but what was a blue-collar bastion here for so long may go the way of stenographers, teletype operators, and money order agents as positions relegated to the history books and webpages of yesteryear. Driving has always been in my blood and one of the rites of passage for me that I’ll always remember was the first time I was able to go behind the wheel by myself and see as much of the World out there as a tank or two or twelve of gas would allow me to.

One of the big problems facing our nation today is what to do with the unskilled who are coming to our shores, willing to work but not finding enough jobs and tasks to perform for a living wage. The irony is that many of the positions that were available to recent arrivals may no longer exist within the lifespan of the current adult generation, as the drivers of yellow cabs may follow those of so many in the Big Apple. Blue collar and manufacturing work continues to dwindle in New York as newer low-wage positions now require more technical and trained proficiency, and offer less of a chance to move up the socioeconomic ladder. Having all 13,000+ yellow cabs (and thousands more livery and green cabs) become automated would be a blow to those who would have used those vehicles as a stepping-stone to a better life for themselves and their families, even though the price of a medallion today has rendered ownership nearly impossible for those not willing to put in the diligence and 20+ years required to full pay off the purchase of one.

The joke that I mentioned at the beginning of this entry is one that I hear all the time, but it may soon be replaced by someone getting into a cab and punching in their destination into their phone or on-board computer. When the vehicle goes the wrong way, reads it incorrectly, or freezes up like a Windows computer, the person in the back seat would probably curse at the heavens and wish for a real driver, regardless of where he or she is from or how proficient the English spoken would be.

Hopefully, that day will never come to pass in the Big Apple.

Cliff - Greenpoint

Cliff – Greenpoint

The Last Days of Bloomberg

The once and future Hudson Yards - West Side

The site of the once and future Hudson Yards – West Side

“Hey there, where to?”

“30 St. between 1 and 2 Ave.’s”

“Sure thing. How’d your day go?”


“Usually is for most people when they get out at this hour.”

So I made my way crosstown through the occupational centers of the Mad Men and the money shufflers, before whizzing down 2 Ave, engaging in a conversation with my lively passenger. Eventually, the topic of the inauguration after the New Year came up as I made the turn, proceeded to park, and stopped the meter:

“Are you ready for the new Mayor to take office next week?”

“Not really. I”m going to miss Mike.”

“Me too. There were a few things I don’t like about him but I think he’s not being judged fairly and only time will prove that he did a good job running this place for the last 12 years.”

“What don’t you like about him?”

“Well, here he is – running one of the largest and arguably the most important city in the world. He has power, lots of it too and what does of focus on? Trans Fats. Soda. Cigarettes. Bike Lanes. Now me, I don’t smoke, always buckle up and I don’t eat a lot of foods that are bad for me. You’ll never catch me doing that but if someone were to, I don’t think that it’s the job of the government to look over my shoulder and tell me what I can and can’t do. It’s the nanny state at its worst and a waste of time that could be spent on much more important things, like economic competitiveness, quality of life issues, and of course, housing.”

“I see your point but let me put it this way. Bloomberg realizes that all of those issues are negative drains on this city in terms of lives and capital. Take care of them now and they’re not issues down the road. Spiraling healthcare costs are something that could be averted ahead of time, saving billions from future budgets and allowing people to live longer as well. He’s doing his best to take care of those who have proven that they could be more capable of taking care of themselves.”

“Fair point.”

Three weeks ago, a ceremony as frosty as the weather that descended over Gotham this January took place in Lower Manhattan. Bill de Blasio was sworn in as 109th Mayor of the City of New York. What people remembered more was not the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another, but the overall tone of the day. Ex-President Bill Clinton was there to swear in the former Public Advocate into his new position and singer Harry Belafonte gave a speech comparing New York is to a plantation. Making the spectacle that much more uncomfortable was that the outgoing Mayor was present throughout the whole ordeal, as other officials and dignitaries joined in in the proverbial trashing of his administration and its policies.

For someone that rose up at Solomon Brothers to the point of running its trading floor, to the founding of the media and financial information company that still bears his name to this day, to the running of North America’s most influential City on a self-financed campaign, the proverbial ending of his political career could not have been any more demeaning. Had anyone not noticed the relatively clean streets, low crime rate, return of cranes to the skyline, and the record 50 million tourists that came to New York last year, they would have possibly believed that the first decade of this Century had been a mistake, once the rubble at Ground Zero was cleared away in March of ’02.

So was New York really better off than it was 12 years ago?

There was no doubt that the resolve of New York had never been tested as much as it was on 9/11. A nation that was pulling out of the recession of the dot-com era was threatened with another economic downturn as the World Trade Center was leveled in a matter of hours, in what turned out to be the first shots of the War on Terror. The Mayoral Primary that was scheduled to be held that day was pushed back by a few weeks as emergency crews rushed down to Lower Manhattan and the rest of the nation came to a standstill. What looked like something catastrophic turned out to be awkward pause in the city’s recovery from the bankruptcy and municipal malfeasance that nearly drove New York into oblivion in the 70’s. Narrowly beating out former Public Advocate Mark Green that November, Mike Bloomberg was the choice of New Yorkers to continue the recovery both from the days of malaise and the mess that covered 16 acres in Lower Manhattan.

Bloomberg was unlike anyone that ever ran for the position of the second-most powerful person in the United States (apologies to the Vice President). Rich, centrist, and self-financed, Bloomberg stated that if elected, would serve the city for the salary of $1 per year. Given that New York hadn’t elected a true Republican to the office of Mayor in generations, he only switched affiliations to get on the ballot and to stand out from his Democratic challengers. New Yorkers did not know what they were getting with him since he didn’t have a track record and when he left office 12 years later, many were still unsure as to what his legacy would be for the overall metropolis at large.

Critics would say that he ignored the outer Boroughs at the expense of Manhattan and it’s monied elites while spending too much time worrying about trivialities like landing the 2012 Olympic games or redesigning streets for bikes and hastily-designed pedestrian plazas that were demarcated by spaced-out planters and concrete blocks and balls. Proponents pointed to the economic health of the City, low crime rate, and a majority of New Yorkers stating that they approved of his policies on the day when he left office. As is the case with anyone in a position of power, time will ultimately prove whether these claims have any real validity, but the early cues point to tenure that left New York in better shape than it was before he entered office.

Arguably, the two biggest gaffes during his tenure turned out to be blessings in disguise. One was the failed attempt to land the 2012 Olympics in the Big Apple, under the pretense that it would show the World how New York had bounced back from the attacks of 9/11. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton got on board and was shown on TV as being quite disappointed the day the IOC chose London as the host site. Many New Yorkers were quite vocal in their opposition to the staging of the games in the Big Apple, for several reasons. First was traffic, as the West Side of Manhattan would have been the site of the Olympic Stadium. It lacked any nearby Subway access and those would have gone to the events via ferry would have had to trek around the still-awkward Javits Center, which was never fully integrated into the surrounds upon its completion in 1985. Most locals didn’t want the Jets to call the stadium him once the games were over, as would have been the case had New York landed the games. Housing would also have been a tough sell, as the proposed Olympic village in Queens would had to have been built from scratch, on the East River waterfront. Schools, parks, expanded mass transit, and affordable housing was what the West Side and the surrounds needed, not another monstrosity that would have sat unused much of the time.

The other big mistake that Bloomberg made was thinking that he could change the City Charter and easily be re-elected for a third term. For the record, it was indeed changed but not after a prolonged and nasty exchange, instigated by many New Yorkers who viewed it as a sign of hubris and arrogance by Hizzoner. Many of those displeased by the proposed alteration of the rules had a chance to voice their disapproval in a public hearing but in the end, it was Bloomberg who looked better for it. Both the City Council Speaker who silently went along with the other party’s figurehead and the opponent who ran against him in the Mayoral Election in ’09 ultimately ended up being harmed by the third thought that he eventually sought out and won.

Of course, they wouldn’t realize it until they ran for that same position four years later and lost to the person that was sworn in three weeks ago.

Bloomberg might not have known what to do when it came to issues but he put the right people into place that helped him craft the legacy that will define his years in office. Without a doubt,  the most important was Dan Doctoroff, who will be remembered for generations as the person who took the failed bid for the Olympics and reworked into the Hudson Yards proposal that’s finally starting to come into fruition. The parks, schools, open space, housing, new Class A office space, and Mass Transit extension that New Yorkers were clamoring for could all be found on the West Side, over a platform that would place the railyards there out of sight. It was being done on a smaller scale in Brooklyn at the Atlantic Yards side and since so many were enamored with the Barclay’s Center, they could only look uptown in greater anticipation at what would ultimately rise in the former wasteland between the Chelsea and Clinton neighborhoods.

It wasn’t all rosy for Bloomberg during his time in office, though. It took forever to get anything rising out of the ground at the World Trade Center site, although that was also the fault of the Port Authority, Governor of New York, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the insurance companies that were sued, and a host of other agencies and corporations that had a stake in what would emerge from the ashes of 9/11. Housing and office space continued to skyrocket in cost around the city as the number of affordable units that were built were nowhere near enough to keep up with rising demand, and whole sections of Brooklyn and Western Queens became unaffordable to all but the uber-wealthy. Streets in the Outer Boroughs took forever to get plowed in major storms and even someone as powerful as him was unable to have a transit strike averted in the waning days of ’05, as Ed Koch and John Lindsay also found out during their helms of the World’s Greatest City.

Bloomberg also found out that being one of the 100 richest people in the United States doesn’t allow you to stand stoic as the tide of history threatens to wash over everything in front of it. As this cabdriver learned the hard way, Occupy Wall Street and Hurricane Sandy were two events that no one was unable to stop in their tracks. Both left New York radically different in their aftermath and had many questioning whether Gotham would be prepared for similar events that seemed inevitably on their way to striking. It was with that gusto, as well as the premise of change that elected a Senator from Illinois to become America’s Commander-in-Chief 5 years prior, that finally saw a Public Advocate become the person that New Yorkers trusted to lead them in the post-Bloomberg era.

Immediately into her new term, that leadership has already been called upon as a rash of pedestrian deaths via vehicles, a crippling snowstorm, and even the promotion of Hizzoner’s wife to a paid government position have drawn harsh lines in the proverbial sand. Is 30 M.P.H. too high a speed limit for traffic? Was the Upper East Side plowed properly for the evening rush hour? Did New Yorkers elect de Blasio’s family to serve the public-at-large? These answers remain to be seen, but before housing, inequality, taxation, universal Pre-K, and better representation of the Outer Boroughs could be addressed, this was what would have to be dealt with during the key “first 100 days”.

It’s way too early to tell whether New Yorkers pulled the lever voted for the right person last November but it’s pretty sure that they did the right thing during the previous three elections. For all the complaining that my fellow cabdrivers made about how overbearing the NYPD was on them (and I have to agree with my fellow drivers on this one), Bloomberg did his best to ensure that City would be left in better shape than how he found it. Leaving de Blasio with a balanced budget was the ultimate sign that whatever pitfalls faced in future could not be laid at his feet, even if the $35 billion budget that he submitted in ’02 was nominally half of that of the final one that he presided over years later.

Once the life expectancy of New Yorkers levels off or neighborhoods stagnate years after Hudson Yards is completed, the legacy that Bloomberg had a hand in creating will be fully visible for all to witness, and ultimately judge him by. His billions will continue to be donated to worthy causes and hopefully, his expertise in running a major city can be handed down to those entrusted to handle the challenge of the repopulating America’s urban centers in an increasingly technological and greening world. Those who wish to make cities relevant into the 22 Century and beyond would be wise to learn from the person who was able to successfully bridge the World’s premier metropolis from the 20 into the 21 Century, as it went through and emerged from its darkest hour.

You are here - Times Square

You are here – Times Square

Make the Road By Walking

Pedestrians - Times Square

Pedestrians – Times Square

“Sorry about that. I normally don’t slam the brakes but sometimes, I don’t have a choice.”

“It’s not your fault that these people never look.”

“I know, but I have to still be careful. Some of them are my future passengers.”


I can’t stand them.

Most of the people in my business would probably say the same thing if they were to be asked about those on foot as well. With tourism at a record high and the economy in the Big Apple in decent shape, there’s never been more of them to contend with during a shift. For the record, I haven’t hit one yet but I’ve had enough close calls that I still haven’t completely mastered the art of dodging them with ease. I don’t mean to bash them – after all, I learned my way around New York by being one for many years as well, since I hardly ever drove in from my humble suburbs of New Jersey. I could count the number of times I brought my vehicle across the Hudson River in the 15+ years between the obtainment of my driver’s license and my hack license. Thankfully, I was able to get a lay of the land via foot before getting behind the wheel for a living on a nightly basis.

The average walker in Gotham has had it better than ever in recent years. While traffic fatalities remain a problem, they are in the news more than ever now and with the new mayoral team set to take office late next week, pedestrian safety already seems like it will move to the forefront of issues that need to be addressed. Yes, there will always be taxis that jump the curb and people racing around way too fast in the wee hours of the morning but the changes that have been implemented lately are already a harbinger of what’s to come.

And nowhere is this more apparent than on the Great White Way.

For those unfamiliar with the street grid in Manhattan, Broadway is the major exception to the orderly layout of thoroughfares from the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811. North of Houston Street, there were to be 12 major Avenues running north-south and 155 total Streets running east-west, which was later extended upwards as more of Manhattan became settled. Older thoroughfares like Greenwich Ave. and the Bowery would remain in place but for the most part, the plan that was drawn up was remarkably close to the one that was laid out. Central and Gramercy Parks filled in some of the streets with a superblocked green space and the topography of the northern part of the island dictated that some streets (like 116) would not be able to stretch from river to river. Mother nature also showed some resiliency over mankind’s attempt in impose an order of enlightened rationality, without having to tear apart the existing urban fabric like what was done in Paris by Baron Haussmann. Although part of the Village was indeed demolished to make way for the southern extension of 6 and 7 Ave’s in the early 20th Century, very little changed when it came to the layout of Manhattan’s arteries, unless one takes into the account the reworking of the Avenues into one-way streets in the 1950’s.

That was until Mayor Bloomberg came along.

Led by Transportation Commissioner Jeanette Sadik-Khan and City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, many thoroughfares were remade into “Complete Streets” during his 12 years as Mayor. Inspired by European cities, autos would no longer gain precedence when it came to deciding how the space on a given street would be utilized. Widening streets would no longer be an option, traffic calming measures would be implemented, and for the second time (the first being under Mayor Koch in 1980), bike lanes would be added to allow for the easier and safer movement of two-wheeled non-motorized vehicles. Hardly a week goes by now where someone at my garage isn’t complaining about bikes flying the wrong way down the lanes, traffic caused by them, or tickets being given out by the NYPD because a passenger wanted to be discharged in a lane and someone had a quota to fill that day. Toss in the addition of protected bus lanes on 1, 2, and Lexington Ave’s and the midtown bus lanes on Madison Ave being expanded from rush hours to all hours, and the ripple effect from the changes ended up affecting more than just those who had to make a living on the same streets that were becoming less and less spacious for motor vehicles.

So where did Broadway fit into all of this?

To put it simply, it didn’t.

North of Union Square, Broadway was a diagonal street that also served as a double-edged sword. When it crossed 5 or 6 Avenue’s, the result was a square that allowed for more sun and air to reach down to the streets, as well as for buildings like the Flatiron that were able to break free of the rectilinear mold that so many others were cast in. Where Broadway messed things up was in the traffic flow, as intersections that were two-phased were now forced to become three-phased. None of the streets were given sufficient time to get all of the traffic through the intersections. This called for some changes to the layout of Broadway and during Bloomberg’s tenure, an extraordinarily bold step was taken:

Broadway would be closed off to all traffic.

This didn’t take place along the entire length of it but through Times and Herald Squares, Broadway would no longer flow through them as it did for generations. There was significant outcry at first as drivers bemoaned the loss of more street space and were fearful of increased traffic on parallel routes. Even though this change was made before I started my current occupation, I could see that some of these fears were justified. Times Square is a complete mess now, as the increased space given for sidewalks has been nowhere near enough to compensate for the massive expansion in retail and office space that recent rezoning has allowed for. It’s torn apart nearly every night and since only one street flows out of it now, backups are quite common well after Midnight on most nights, when most of the rest of the City has quieted down.

As for 6 Ave, it flows better through Herald Square as the green phase on the lights is longer than it was when Broadway still went through it. While it is a plus, most of the rest of the Avenue of the Americas still gets congested during rush hours as the office buildings along it empty out and the buses jockey along the right-hand side of the street to get ahead of each other. Where Broadway still messes up the pulse of the City is in front of Lincoln Center, as it has to content with Columbus Ave and 65 St for valuable green time where they all cross. Since Broadway is a two-direction street north of Columbus Circle, further changes are not likely along it. Where changes will be seen is in how those outside of Manhattan will get from Point A to Point B.

The concept of Select Bus Service, which allows for express buses in dedicated lanes has taken off in the Outer Boroughs in the last few years and will probably be expanded under Bill de Blasio. If it gets people out of their vehicles, that’s great but already there has been an outcry along Nostrand Ave in Brooklyn as only *one* lane can now be used by cars that make their way down it. As New York grows in population and more people move to those Outer Boroughs, the ideas that first took root in Manhattan will branch out down major streets one by one. The difference is that Manhattan has a density seen in only a few other places on the Earth, while the Outer Boroughs have a lot more room to work when it comes to converting the layout of the streets there. Subways and until recently, metered Taxi service are lacking in many commuter and immigrant neighborhoods which has made the expansion of buses the preferred method of mass transit growth throughout much of the City. While many in Manhattan asked for SBS, many outside of it haven’t and it remains to be seen whether complete streets will be opposed more as the program takes off any further. Social engineering was easier in crowded Manhattan but in a less dense environment, would the conversion be met as receptively?

Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that as the county known as New York still remains my home base and the one that I’ve gotten to know the best. One of the reasons I loved walking around it when I was still getting to know the layout of neighborhoods was that the traffic was so bad, and this was before the boom in tourism, drop in crime, and growth in people returning to New York from the suburbs led to more vehicles on the streets of the Big Apple. The number of yellow cabs has been capped for years, even though that’s set to change as more Outer Borough Taxis are added to the mix and the 1,500 medallions that were recently sold come online. It’s only a matter of time before Bus and bike lanes are expanded and more turn restrictions are added along the two-way crosstown rues like 23 and 34 Sts. Of course, emergency vehicles and the NYPD can turn wherever they want, but who’s going to ever pull *them* over?

I couldn’t imagine having to learn Manhattan by foot now, as Citi Bikes have permeated into every nearly nook and cranny south of Central Park and the attitudes of those riding them have threatened to make even the most relaxed of cabdrivers want to teach them a lesson or two. The calmness of backwater neighborhoods has been replaced by a frenzy that will only see temporary dips during the next recession, only to grow even further as upzoning results in more people needing to get around with less room to do so.

Someday when I’m not driving anymore, I’ll pick up where I left off in the ’90’s and set to re-explore what I can on foot. It won’t be the same as then, as everyone has their heads buried in their phones now and would rather let their apps be their brains instead of learning in ins and outs of neighborhood nuances on their own. I will fight the good fight and do my best to go where I want when I want, as more plazas, fences, security barriers, and closings will be put into place, all in the name of “security”, “flow”, “throughput”, and “efficiency”. The City I grew up with is still the one I desperately hold onto, even as it’s being remade into a playground for those who are totally unaware of the way things used to be. I know full well that I can’t go back, but I’ll refuse to go go forward without being dragged into the future. I can only hope that the planners and leaders of tomorrow take into account all modes of transit and show consideration for those who need to make a living on the street, no matter how they choose to get around.

“Don’t you think that bikes need some of the street too?”

“Look at this traffic. Do you think that anyone needing an ambulance is going to have one come on two wheels?”

Broadway, interrupted - Herald Square

Broadway, interrupted – Herald Square


Tagged - Long Island City

Tagged – Long Island City

“Hey there, where to?”

“30 Ave. in Astoria.”

“No problem – we’ll take the Upper Level of the Bridge and down 21 St. Is that alright?”

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

“I’m guessing you work over at NBC since I picked you up right in front of it.”

“That would be correct.”

“What department are you in?”

“I’m in news.”

“Well, since you’re in news and I’m taking you home to Queens, I’m sure you heard about what happened earlier today over at 5 Pointz.”

“Actually, I do international. What went on there?”

(I proceeded to hand her my phone, with the pictures I took on my way to the garage of the building.)


“Yeah, really.”

Planes, Trains, and changes - Long Island City

Planes, Trains, and changes – Long Island City

It came quite a shock to New Yorkers a few weeks back when they woke up one morning and saw the reports that 5 Pointz had been whitewashed over in the middle of the night. I actually worked that same night and nearly went right by it on my way back to Greenpoint, after getting the junk washed off of my cab at 4:30 in the morning. Because that section of Long Island City is nearly dark after hours, I had no idea of what went on there until my alarm went off, I pulled up Twitter, and saw that it was trending. At first, I was hoping that the Landmarks Preservation Commission had finally designated the building hands-off to developers but the first image that came up edifice completely painted over in white, done under the cover of overnight darkness.

Artists, preservationists, locals, and New Yorkers who had followed the saga for years where shocked at what was considered by many to be an artistic crime. Sure, it seemed likely that the building was going to come down sometime early next year, another victim of the gentrification’s relentless pursuit into the Outer Boroughs. This was different than battles of the past though, since 5 Pointz had a facade that was exclusively turned over for the use by graffiti artists from around the Big Apple as well as around the world.

There was a big gathering there over the Summer to celebrate 40 years of Hip Hop as many DJ’s, artists, dancers, and those from the Boogie-down Bronx back in the day made their way over to celebrate a musical movement that rose up out of the decay of postwar New York and redefined what Americans coast-to-coast listened to and ultimately, embodied in their dress, manner, and style. There were rumors at the time that the complex’s days were numbered but it wasn’t until a few months later that another rally was held at the same place, This time around, it was with the specific intent of gathering support to landmark the building and send a message to developers that they had to look elsewhere to sink their capital when it came to upgrading former (and sometimes still) industrial neighborhoods.

Jammin' - Long Island City

Jammin’ – Long Island City

Yours truly went to both rallies – partially because of historical interest, partially out of curiosity, and partially to do whatever was possible to save 5 Pointz from the wrecking ball.

“So what do we have here?”

“Signed subway maps, a petition, shirts, have a look…”

“This one’s big enough – I like mine baggy. What lines do you have?”

“A and 7, both in black and white.”

“I’ll take the 7 since runs right by this place.”

“That’s what most people say. It’ll be $25.”

“Here you go. What’s your name by the way?”


“Well, thanks for signing this. Good luck with everything!”

A few minutes later, turntables 1 and 2 stopped for some speeches by anyone who wanted to express how they felt about the impending decision on the sites fate. I couldn’t say to listen to them since call time at work beckoned but all I can remember was the disgust at all of the “glass tissue boxes that were popping up around the City” and a mantra that Yogi Berra would have been proud to hear:

“It’s ain’t over until we say it’s over!”

The crowd cheered  in a scene somewhat reminiscent out of The Warriors, but it turns out to be short-lived as I passed by it a few days later.

Most of the building was whitewashed that first night and the Police said that anyone throwing up a tag on it from there on out would be subject to arrest. Sure enough, a few teenagers learned that the hard way later on that week as they attempted to put their name on it with a simple writing utensil. A Pyrrhic victory was the last thing that anyone who danced, laughed, and snapped away that afternoon would have described what took place but once the writing wasn’t on the wall anymore, that’s when it was truly over.

Hendrix - Long Island City

Hendrix – Long Island City

The owner said that he wanted it cleaned up so when demolition started, no one would have to bear the sight of watching years of tags, murals, and illustrations meet their demise. Instead, it was done in the same manner as so many heists over the centuries – in the middle of the night while no one had any advance notice. No, it wasn’t Washington crossing the Delaware but one could make the argument that the British were just as surprised as I was when they woke up and realized that their cause was for nothing.

Or was it?

Opponents of the works that were applied over the last 20 years would make the claim that graffiti is *not* a true art form, as its very anti-authoritarian and method of application ensures that its days are extremely numbered, before a piece is painted over or cleaned up. While no one will ever see anything from Panic hanging in the Met, that doesn’t take away from the significance of what was there. 5 Pointz was famous because of where it was, what it represented, and what it challenged artists to do:

Which would be improving their craft.

Most graffiti that popped up overnight in the 1970’s was just a simple tag, that everyone wanted to leave behind. It wasn’t art as much as it was a signature – a way for those without a voice to leave one, if only for self-satisfaction. Real art took time and space, which usually ended up on the side of a building or on a Subway car that would make its way to Manhattan for the oppressors to see. The greatest works of graffiti that are in my New York History books or on Youtube clips are only there now and not in actual existence anymore, washed away as part of a relentless assault on quality-of-life crimes that culminated with the election of Rudolph Giuliani in 1993.


Work in Progress - Long Island City

Work in Progress – Long Island City


That wasn’t the case at 5 Pointz. Artists took their time planning what they created, and executed their work as painstakingly as possible, knowing that being to be able to display their work there was one of the highest achievements that a street artist could boast. One of the biggest lamentations after the whitewashing of the facade was that thousands of New Yorkers who took the 7 train in and out of Manhattan every day would no longer see the newest pieces as the Subway rose and fell out of the Steinway Tunnels. That was one of my fondest memories of attending the nearby Taxi School, broke and desperate for money as my loans from Columbia were coming due.

No, graffiti didn’t die with the demise of 5 Pointz but its role with the City at large has been re-examined as the site is prepared to make way for luxury condo towers. The British artist Banksy put a piece up a night a few months back, sparking off a frenzy as to where he would strike next and how much his creations were worth. Real artists were not down with his schtick though, as they merely painted for the love of the end result. While I never fully understood some of the angst and anger behind what was drawn, I could appreciate something that they poured their heart as soul into, just as much as I loved and will always admire the works of Money, Mondrian, and Warhol.

Rest in Power - Long Island City

Rest in Power – Long Island City

The greatest tragedy was that the art forms that came to prominence one night at a time under the cover of darkness took its greatest blow in the same conditions as well. Whether anyone questioned the legitimacy of the art itself only had to look at all the Police that were there at the Save 5 Pointz rally and in the weeks afterwards, as it turned from a Mecca of art to one of mourning. Like everything else in the city that has been a victim of creative destruction over the generations, the community will find a new cause, a new rallying point and maybe, a permanent home where a museum can flourish for future generations. 5 Pointz will probably serve as a smaller and more poignant reminder of what Penn Station did for the greater Metropolitan region 50 years ago. While the mistakes made on the West Side of Manhattan are finally starting to be undone, it’s not too late to learn from what took place in Long Island City a few weeks back. Graffiti is as much an art form in New York as the music that came out of Tin Pan Alley or the Swing that flourished in Harlem during the Jazz Age and needs to be commemorated just as much as those places were as their respective neighborhoods changed during wave after wave of capital and demographic renewal.

The real tragedy will be if 5 Pointz suffered an ignominious fate without helping to win the war of urban artistic preservation.

Whitewashed - Long Island City

Whitewashed – Long Island City


“I thought I found the connector – it’s just a reflektor”

-Arcade Fire

Reflection - Bryant Park

Reflection – Bryant Park

“Hey there, where to?”

“505 W. 37.”

“How’d your you day go?”


“Sorry to hear that. At least it’s over now.”

“Thank God!”

I have something closely resembling this conversation 5 times every week, for nearly every week since I started my current occupation. It’s never enjoyable to feel like that life has been reduced to a routine straight out of Groundhog Day but for the late-night cabbie, that turns out the be the case more often than not. *Twice* on Monday alone did I have someone come into my cab and utter nearly the same words:

“Didn’t I have you before?”

Sure enough, both of those people did.

One of them was a restaurant owner that I had to take to his establishment in the West Village. A month or two ago, I took him and his S.O. home to Jackson Heights in Queens, right over the Willy B. and onto the BQE before briefly becoming reacquainted with Northern Boulevard. The other fare was one of my many late-night wait-in-line types, which happens outside of a Midtown box housing professional office drones or a club housing those fortunate enough to have money and time to blow on bottles service on a weeknight. Cruising the streets has its advantages since many of my most interesting fares were found in the middle of nothing during a time where nothing seemed possible. It can also be extremely hypnotic once the familiar pattern of hitting the proverbial and actual cruise control kick in and the City become reduced to a museum best viewed at 30 M.P.H.

The real issue comes in finding people, and I mean people in the sense that they are personalities and not clones of the ones that I picked up earlier in the night, or the week, or even previously past that. I always want to push the edge of what I know, what I learn, what I experience, and what challenges me to the point where I have to re-evaluate my intellectual hierarchy and update it with what I’ve recently taken on. Many of my best fares have been interesting enough to where I completely kept quiet and just let them talk – endlessly, incessantly, and with abandon. One I feel like I’ve already heard what they have to say, they’ve lost me, even if I’m not lost in a physical or metaphorical sense.

Recent census estimates have put the population of the Big Apple at 8.4 million people and according to “The Naked City”, everyone in New York had a story. That quote was famous during a time where New York had not quite yet become the world’s Capital and could actually claim to have grit, toughness, and a setting made for any film noir that wanted to set itself there. This was reflected in the built environment in the cornices, alleys, Belgian block streets, and abodes leftover from pre-consolidation New York could still be found. The world’s tallest building could easily be found in New York but so could Hell’s Kitchen, waterfront piers dominated by Teamsters, and clotheslines behind every tenement that covered the edges of the gilded center of Gotham. There was contrast, clash, and class divides that allowed for anyone and everyone to take part in the land that epitomized the siren emanating from Emma Lazarus’ poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Over the years, that changed. The zoning revisions of 1961 allowed for bonuses for creating plazas and combined with changes in design, resulted in a place that took the best of international style modernism and replicated it for for the masses while simultaneously dumbing it down. When Lever House and the Seagram Building were first erected, they won accolades for their minimalism replicated on such a fine scale. The design may have been elementary but as Daniel Burnham once stated, “God is in the details”.

And were they ever in those buildings.

Bronze-tinted glass, window-washing equipment built into the mullions, public plazas, perfectly proportioned columns, setbacks, and plazas allowed for the City to open up. Not just when it came to space and flow, but in order. Now, there was room to relax, unwind, see the sun…

…and reflect.

Which is exactly what happened.

Whatever intellectual stimulation was brought upon by the changes in these buildings’ design was outdone by the changes on the physical landscape that resulted from their groundbreaking design. America was triumphant, prosperous, and fully confident in its destiny as much of Europe and Asia lay in ruins but at the same time, it was full of what led to its currently-visible downfall:

Arrogance and hubris.

The atom may have been a proponent for peace but it was the epitome of what the mentality was in the Cold War era – technology over art, rationality over intuition, and economics over aesthetics. We could design whatever we wanted with whatever new materials, style, and engineering would allow but there wasn’t any sense of heart or soul in the end result. Frank Lloyd Wright brought an organic, prairie style of architecture to a nation that had largely found inspiration from the Old Word but at the same time of his death, the country turned to a bunch of modernists from that Old World to produce a language and even a vernacular for the second half of the 20th Century.

What resulted was absolutely devastating.

The 1961 Zoning law allowed for bonuses should a development include space for a public plaza or arcade. More importantly, it allowed for an unlimited rise without setbacks, unlike the Zoning Law of 1916. Buildings erected after that was enacted into law could rise uninterrupted but only after they were reduced to 1/4 of the total base. What was a city of “waterfalls” and “wedding cakes” soon turned into a bunch of shoeboxes with barren, windswept plazas at street level. They may have been great for lunch but they were terrible for street life and amazingly, even worse when it came to to their facade. The reason for this was simple:


Masonry was the preferred choice of exterior for so many buildings in Gotham’s history but as technology and design changed, so did the means to express that change. Load-bearing walls were no longer needed as steel became strong enough to fully bear the load of a tower. This was true by the time of the building boom of the 1920’s but it wasn’t after WWII that changes in design and aesthetics caught up with the progress of the underlying engineering.

As copycats proliferated around the City, Seagram and Lever House became less of an anachronistic anomaly and instead, became the standard that no one could possibly measure up to.

But that didn’t stop SOM, Emery Roth and Sons, Yamasaki, and anyone else prominent enough to earn a commission during the Mad Men-era to design their own glass  box on 3, Park, or 6 Ave’s.

By 1970’s, whatever charm lay on the streets of Manhattan’s recently-cleared El’s or grand, landscaped thoroughfare was obliterated in favor of corporate headquarters that were less concerned with civic grandeur and more interested in the bottom line. The people that were housed in these vertical cube farms were increasingly commuting from farther distances and less interested in staying in Manhattan after work. Any proof of this could be seen in their bases, which lacked retail amenities and interaction with the passerby on the street. Worst of all, these skyscrapers ended up turning Manhattan into a fun-house on a scale never seen before.

But there wasn’t anything fun about being trapped in a corporate campus full of mirrored monoliths.

Winston Churchill one said that “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”. It should have come as no surprise that a few generations after we started to mass produce our houses, workspaces, meals, and cartoons (Hanna-Barbera, anyone?), that the offspring in the ensuing generations turned out to be mass-produced as well.

And there’s where my typical night comes in.

Too many times, the person getting into my cab is a clone of someone I previously had. I can guess their language, destination, thought pattern, or occupation just based on a few cues that don’t even call for an accompanying neon sign. It’s pathetic on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin in explaining it. For starters, New York was always a place where immigrants came to find themselves and enter into America but increasingly, it was a destination for those seeing extreme wealth at all costs. The division of labor espoused by Adam Smith reached it’s zenith in Gotham at one time as nearly every occupation on Earth could be found somewhere within its confines but increasingly, a service sector and knowledge economy came to dominate, headed by a few select fields that weren’t important on the grand scheme of things but had their literal headquarters somewhere on the island of Manhattan. Most of all, New Yorkers was a place where people clashed – not civilizations on Huntington’s scale but classes. Think Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities (yes, I know it took place in the Bronx) or Gangs of New York for the vibrancy that resulted when various groups were thrust into a social setting that could only have taken place in Gotham.

But Churchill’s quip came to be reality and as the buildings became more square and transparent, so did the people that inhabited them and eventually, their offspring. Nothing bothers me more than getting someone in the back seat that either works 90 hours a week in finance, is perpetually glued to the phone in his/her hand, or can’t speak without sounding like he/she came from the San Fernando Valley and wanted to be a mallrat. Those people are a dime a dozen and drain all the life and vitality out of a metropolis that should be home to 8 million stories – unique, wild, zany, fascinating and ultimately, colorful stories.

But that’s not the case.

Instead, what I come across pales in comparison to what used to be. I’ve had at least a dozen passengers tell me that their Dad, Uncle, or Grandfather drove a Taxi in New York in the 60’s or 70’s, to which I always say the same thing:

“I would have killed to have done it back then.”

No, I’m not the next Son of Sam but I do wish for a City with edge, gruff, grit, a bit of danger, and most of all, characters.

Most nights, I’m the biggest one of those in my ride, and that’s not saying a whole lot!

What bothers me the most now is that too many people are plugged into the outside word to think, reflect, and create on their own and I know this firsthand because I’m partially guilty of this too. What separates me from them (aside from the fact that I’m up front and behind the wheel) is that I do my best to listen, react, and ask when I come into contact with someone new.

For jobs that I come across all the time, it’s just this:

“Do you like it?”

To which I hear, “Not really…”

When I get someone that is a professional wardrobe stylist, a music promoter, or a short story writer, that’s when the fun begins and I feel like I’m in school all over again.

But sadly, those instances are too few and far between.

Onward, I go. I know I’ll spend more nights ahead watching the soulless masses enter my cab one fare at time, taking in news and information from others but offering so little original thought in return. Once in a while, I will get proven wrong and find a moment of joy in the midst of a sea of bland mediocrity and regurgitation of someone else’s ideas and commands. The division of labor is still dynamic enough in an economy this trepid that new positions are still being created at the expense of the masses that have been laid off in the name of downsizing, reorganization, and offshoring. Thankfully, those in the transportation field don’t have much to worry about, as our ilk will continue to enliven the City until robots come along and the trains, buses, and taxis, are fully automated.

While our positions many not be paramount in the grand scheme of things, no one will ever accuse us of ever being carbon copies reflections of those who also hold the same position.

Not that I’ve ever had to worry about that during my time in the Big Apple!

New York Central lightshow - Midtown

New York Central lightshow – Midtown




A Tale of Two Cities



“Hey there, where to?”

“Battery Park City – North End Ave. just off of Chambers.”

“Sure thing.”

“How’s your day going?”

“Oh, I’m tired. How about you?”

“Not bad for a guy who turned another year older today.”

“Well, Happy Birthday!’

“Thank you.”

“How old are you?”


Well, you don’t look it *passenger laughs*.

“Thank you. I would have voted today had I lived in the 5 Boroughs. Did you get a chance to go to the polls?”

“Nope, too busy at work.”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and in my case, it was the times that I was in the midst of. My birthday came and went without much of a hoot but the real issue that day was the Mayoral Primary in the city where my vocation called home. Much was written about over the long, hot summer about who would represent the democratic side as the City’s first Lesbian, pervert, Asian, repeat African-American candidate, and 6’5″ candidates duked it out for the right to represent the donkeys in the November mayoral election.

What was more surprising than the broad crop of candidates who largely repeated the same drivel in debates over the course of the middle of the year was the lack of ideas that they had. There was a broad consensus that the Big Apple had become too impersonal, Manhattan-centric, and excessively catered to tourists and those who had returned form the suburbs during the city’s revival over the last 10+ years. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in politics from reading about it, it’s that the pendulum will swing back the other way if it moves too far in one direction.

And that’s exactly what the signs were pointing at for the vote in November.

For all the hype and hoopla, the Primary race was such a hot-button issue because it was nearly a given that whoever emerged as the victor in September would also be the victor two months later. Sound bites aside, New Yorkers were concerned about solutions to long-term problems. Where would new jobs be concentrated, and in what fields? Could people who moved to Gotham afford an apartment or a down payment on a condo? Was stop-and-frisk racially motivated or a real crime deterrent? Would Unions finally be given retroactive pay raises and if so, who would pay for them? Would the Subway fare go up every two years and if not, who would fund the MTA? These were pretty serious questions that demanded answers that were more just rhetoric.

Enter Bill de Blasio. The former Public Advocate was under the radar for most of the race, as Christine Quinn held the early lead due to name recognition, only to cede the lead to Anthony Weiner. Of course, his last name held true to form as another sexting scandal and the questionable reaction by his wife ultimately did his bid in, leaving both Bills do fight it out for the right to have their name on the Democratic Party Line.

Eventually, de Blasio won over the hearts and minds of New Yorkers en masse. The ads featuring his African-American wife and racially mixed son struck a chord with New Yorkers looking for a shining example of multiculturalism in the most racially mixed city on the planet. When the votes were tabulated, Bill Thompson fell just short of the 40% needed to force a runoff, ensuring that de Blasio would be the heavy favorite two months later.

As many New Yorkers were well aware of, the centerpiece of de Blasio’s campaign was not only on affordable housing, jobs, a rollback of Police powers, or even on Municipal Unions , but on an idea that has reared its head in American politics once ever generation:

Class warfare.

In this case, it was summed up by the simplest of quotes that anyone could relate and latch on to.

“A tale of two cities.”

The premise was simple. Under Michael Bloomberg, the City as a whole had prospered. Business was up, so was tourism, and cranes were once again dotting the sky. The aftermath of 9/11 and the financial collapse of ’08 were a memory and new York was becoming a greener, more diverse, and more racially integrated City than it was when Rudolph Giuliani left office in early ’02.

But not everyone had reaped the rewards equally.

As a Taxi driver, I spent a vast majority of my time in Manhattan since that’s were the business and ultimately, the money is. No New Yorker would ever doubt that New York County was the economic heart of the Big Apple, with the outer boroughs supplying the vocational lifeblood that kept it going during working hours. What New Yorkers *did* doubt however was whether the 12 years that Bloomy spent in office favored growth and gentrification at the expense of the forgotten areas of the City, which was exacerbated during and after Hurricane Sandy a year ago. Manhattan was quick to get back up into it’s feet but the south shore communities on Long and Staten Islands were much slower to recover, as many properties were still in a state of limbo at the time of this writing.

The weather ultimately served as a metaphor, for what was going on over the last decade and change. There wasn’t a corner of Manhattan that remained unchanged by development, gentrification, and preservation, as was evidenced by all-time highs in housing prices and willingness of national retail chains to move in and be a part of the action. While this was great for the City’s economy, it made those left on the outside looking in wondering when they too, would see more of the action that was rejuvenating the Big Apple.

Many would argue that a rising tide would lift all boats, but that only holds true if you have one and aren’t drowning in the water. Taxes remained stubbornly high, wagers held stagnant, and the silent killer of inflation was evident in the rigor mortis of the water, electric, and transportation utilities. Meager gains in pay were quickly offset in rising prices for basic staples such as gas, food, essential services and of course, taxes.

Was this the City that we wanted New York to become? Would a postindustrial society have a land of the very rich and very poor as it’s centerpiece for the tourists of the world to see? Was all of this inevitable given the way things were currently progressing?

Not according to de Blasio.

Although the election in November is almost a month away, it’s nearly a given that he will defeat Joe Lhota and hold the most powerful position in the Big Apple until 2017. No matter the agenda that eventually becomes enacted, it will mark a radical departure from what New Yorkers have become accustomed to over the last 20 years. Drops in crime, Charter Schools, rezoning, and a shift away from Great Society-era social programs will cease to become hot-button issues in exchange for a platform that will more than likely include the disenfranchised minorities and lower-income earners that will have helped de Blasio win the office of the mayor of New York.

Is this all justified, however?

Many New Yorkers were outraged when Bloomberg stated last month that billionaires needed to move to the Big Apple to help the financial health of the City. They saw it as a continuation of the worst aspect of his time in office, which was the nanny state telling the citizenry what was good for them. Cigarettes? Bad. Trans fats? Don’t eat ’em. Sodas? Forget about them! While I don’t indulge in any of those habits, I never believed that it was the governments role to tell people what they could and couldn’t do with their own money and free time. It changes nothing and only breeds contempt and consternation. Was there any wonder that people were fed up with misguided paternalism?

That attitude became fully exposed for all in my industry to see this week when the Taxi of Tomorrow hit yet another setback. Years of planning, design, and integration with the Outer Boro (a.k.a. “Apple Green”) Taxis went up in smoke when a court ruled that medallion owners should not be forced to buy one model of Taxi as the older ones were cycled out. It’s a huge blow for the City as it appeared unlikely that not only would the October 28t launch date of these new rides would be pushed back, but might never happen at all given that both mayoral candidates have stated their opposition to the plan. No one that I’ve spoken to in my garage, behind the wheel, or on the street knows what’s next, except that a plethora of models will be bought and integrated into the city fleet as the Crown Vic’s continue to rapidly dwindle as they hit the end of their lifespan as New York Taxis.

Regardless of what vehicle would be my office as I made my way around Gotham on a nightly basis, it was obvious that change blowing in, long before the current President wholeheartedly endorsed de Blasio to be the 109th Major of New York. As David Byrne eloquently and passionately wrote in The Guardian earlier this week, New York needs room for those who will serve the cultural, artistic, and creative innovators of tomorrow. While they may not make money directly, they could be the next Steve Jobs or Philip Johnson of tomorrow, leading a movement that sets the current conventional wisdom on it’s head. Even Byrne (who several of my passengers have seen riding around on his bike on the Lower West Side) admits that he is now part of the 1% and far way from his humble musical beginnings, he realizes that he had a chance to move to New York and chart his own course in the process, ultimately helping to redefine music by means of the punk and indie movements.

Under the trajectory taken during the Bloomberg administration, a story like that would be almost impossible to envision now. Lots of people may tell the penniless and hungry members of tomorrow’s creative class to “move to Brooklyn” but that is no longer becoming an option. The real challenge for de Blasio will be making this a reality while maintaining the gains that the City has made over the last 20 years. As much as I hate hauling the rich finance douchebags from work to their new apartments to their black card-required nightspots, they pump a disproportionate amount of money into the city’s economy. Trickle-down economics may be easy to criticize but it’s hard to ignore in a place with a $70 billion budget that serves well over 8 million people a year. New apartments for the uber-wealthy may be empty for a sizable chunk of the year but those that are fully occupied could be vacated for greener pastures should the tax rate shoot up in the coming years. The Shutdown in Washington will come and go but something like that could affect an entire generation.

Which was the case post-WWII.

While the Great Society will never fully return, a move back in that direction would halt the momentum that has led to the growth in New York that remade so much of the physical and social fabric of the City that I love. While I have never called it home, I’ve watched the changes over the years in the same way that I see the world go by during my shifts:

From afar.

Yes, a car is in the environment in which it travels but being inside of it is just the same as watching a narrative unfold from the view of the third person, just as being a spectator at a play or sporting event. I don’t think that I will ever call New York home but I know that no matter where I go in life once I hand up the keys and put my hack license away, I will always love and care for the place that has served as my oz off to the distant east. Anyone that wishes to be at the control behind the curtain would be well versed to remember that new York is, and always will be, the place that has gained the most from the sum of its inhabitants. Nowhere else on Earth could take 8 million people, run them for less than $100 billion a year, and come up with the contributions that New York bestows to all corners of the world, all with only 600 murders a year and an overall crime rate that most U.S. cities would envy. Certainly, is a formula like that worth dividing in order to sustain a campaign long on rhetoric but short on a new way to raise the tide for the betterment of all?

“Hey there, where to?”

“Silver Towers.”

“End of 42 St, I go there all the time.”


“Did you vote today?”

“There was an election?”

Is there any wonder that we ultimately get the Government that we deserve?




This week's issue - Midtown

This week’s issue – Midtown

The Village Voice died today. Or maybe it was yesterday. Hardly anyone noticed because it’s demise had been so gradual, like the whittling away of a once-great public artwork over time as the elements wore it down to a smooth and shapeless veneer.

One of the first things that I did when I got off the Subway alone for the first time in ’94 was buy the Village Voice. Back then, you actually had to pay for it and the amazing thing was, it was worth every damn penny of its cost. It had a reputation for being edgy, uninhibited, groundbreaking, relevant, hip, funny, and just plain different. Porn stars getting their spotlight in the media? Check. Real astrology with sass? Check. The best movie and restaurant reviews in town? Check. Check off having to lug around a guidebook that served as a blueprint for how to plan your next week in the Big Apple as well. Half of the reason I snatched one up was because Stern was running for Governor that year and even though no one gave him a shot to beat Cuomo or Pataki, he was a legitimate Libertarian Candidate and he was given his moment in the sun every week in New York’s edgiest newspaper.

When I grabbed the copy shown above, it was not only a reminder of how things changed since the tail end of the 20th century but a shell of it’s former self as well. Those ads on the back that were the best of their kind to be found anywhere? Gone. Michael Musto’s gut-busting Gossip Column? Also gone as of earlier this year. The award-winning features that redefined bohemian life in the middle of Manhattan, as well as the boundaries of print journalism itself? Replaced by a bunch of news feeds that were in nearly every other free daily paper in this country. At the time that the Village Voice started to transition into a homogenized, slimmer version of its former greatness, I went to school down in Tennessee.

Yes, you read that right.

Even though those years spent in Nashville were nearly for naught, I did enjoy my Wednesday’s on Vanderbilt’s campus when I had some free time at lunch and could read the Nashville Scene as all the sorority girl on campus picked through their salads around me. What struck me was how similar to the Voice this paper was, even though Nashville had almost nothing in common with New York. It was great to see a thriving, local publication that featured the Music City and the arts that people flocked there to partake in but deep down, I had a suspicion that the Voice wasn’t as unique as I would have liked.

Boy, did that turn out to be true.

As I returned back to the northeast and slowly got my act together, a bunch of seemingly innocuous events took place that when combined, spelled the downfall of what was once America’a most radical publication this side of Rolling Stone. First there was this interweb/www-dial-up/modem thingy that everyone was getting into their home. It struck like wildfire, made Al Gore boast like hell wherever he went, and threatened to revolutionize and redefine anything it came in proximity with.

Which naturally, included print media.

Who needed to go places to see what was happening when you could do so from the comfort of your own home? I never subscribed to any newsgroups, listserves, or .alt’s but it was great to get the AP feed from yahoo or the latest sports news and scores from, anywhere and anytime. Guttenberg’s movable type made printing available for the masses but as humanity became more fruitful and multiplied over the globe, a new medium would have to get the word out more efficiently than a simple printing press. While most men were busy looking at porn, I was occupied with information and how much more of it I could soak up between my ears. I easily felt that I would never have written so much if I wasn’t able to take in what others had already published, and codified it into my belief system.

The biggest thing that did the Village Voice in however, was competition. At first, Time Out was only something that was available in London and any newspaper that someone was hawking to commuters on the way to work had a price to pay for it. Within a few years, Time Out New York became the de facto magazine for keeping up with what was going on around town and the two most popular printed dailies were available to anyone who could grab one.

For free.

Free? Really? Nothing in New York was free. Nothing. If it was, there was a catch to it or a survey that had to be filled out or a mailing list one would be put on once personal information was handed over but for over 10 years now, it was possible to get yesterday’s news in your hand without having to download it and print it out at home.

But award-winning journalism, it was not.

That’s not to say that the articles weren’t that good. Some of them were but the vast majority of the headlines and stories were condensed down to little sound bites. While this was good for picking up more news than would have been previously possible, it diminished the value of each one. Like multitasking, each byline had to be squeezed in with a pile of others with the end result being a giant collection of quantities with no lasting value. For in-depth stories that took more than 30 seconds to read, it was increasingly up to magazines like The New Yorker to fill that niche but in the 21st Century, who had time to listen to Malcolm Gladwell and David Denby espouse about the current trends of the day, unless one was highbrow and had the leisure time to polish Eustace Tilly’s hallmark every week?

This left the two publications that served the masses to weather the storm also known as the demise of traditional print media. Both the New York Post and the New York Daily News had their close calls in recent years, with the former nearly ceasing publication in the early ’90’s and the latter stumbling under some tough years under British magnate Robert Maxwell’s oversight. Whether one likes or hates the last of the old-school daily papers, it’s nearly impossible to picture a metropolis with so many stories as New York not having newspapers that are opened up and read like actual books. Tabloids exist for a reason, and that’s to sell themselves. While not as sensationalistic as their counterparts in the U.K., the ones in New York allow the City’s story to be told, rehashed, and even lambasted on a daily basis. Both papers have columnists and sports writers that New Yorkers love and hate but as anyone will vouch for, those feelings incite passion.

And passion is what drives the gears that move society.

The Village Voice lost that a long time ago, long before it also became free and could be found anywhere a box could be placed on the sidewalk. I couldn’t stand some of its headlines, the incessant cursing in the articles, and the blatant disrespect for tradition and values that the paper espoused but even as it stood side-by-side with the countercultural and beat movements it rose up with, it was the voice of an age and time that was so key in the City’s history. Fun City may have come and gone with Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell but the Voice was one of the gifts that that generation bestowed on Gotham, for future generations of New Yorkers to read, ponder, and even learn from. While the journalistic format that the paper adopted will live in for generations, I feel zero attachment for the online publications that have filled the vacuum left behind by its demise. DNAinfo, Gothamist, and even HuffPost NY fill an important void today but they’ll never capture the heart, minds, and even zeitgeist of the times of this information age.

It’s an inevitable shame that the majority of the Baby Boomers will be hitting retirement age in the next few years and soon afterwards will be leaving us en masse. While there’s no stopping that, I find it hard to fathom that the Voice also has to go down along with them.  Publications like the Voice have become so ingrained in the City’s collective unconscious that movies set in the Big Apple have almost always featured a scene or two in which a daily newspaper was prominently featured, as a reminder of how important they were to the image of New York. When the last of those old-school dailies folds, all the voices that had an outlet in them will be silenced, along with those who made their living telling their stories every day.

And who would want to live in a City that couldn’t even properly chronicles its narrative week in and week out for posterity?


“You think it’s so unlike me
Why did the city change me?
Red sky, my eyes closed
The fire came so slow”

                                                       -“Bellona” – Junior Boys

Metlife Building - Flatiron District

Metlife Building – Flatiron District

“So do you make more money during the day or at night?”

“Well, I’ve never worked a day shift, so I can’t answer that.”

“But you do alright at night, correct?”

“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be out here. I’ve always been a night owl and this fits perfectly. Besides, if ya don’t like being out at night, ya shouldn’t be here to begin with. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be at night than in New York.”

It was 10 years ago this month that the City was plunged into darkness in the first blackout to hit the Big Apple since 1977. I wasn’t working in New York or in school at the time, so I heard all of the accounts on AM radio as I stayed in Jersey for the week. I almost expected a repeat of what happened during the “Summer of Sam” but the widespread riots, looting, and panic were largely absent during this time around. Once the power came back on, it was business as usual and even though my beloved Yankees made the World Series that year, there weren’t any reports of the Bronx Burning as the cameras rolled during the games at the Stadium.

Although it’s been a long time since the last electrical failure in the 5 Boroughs, I think it about it all the time during my nights out on the street. Most of us take modern conveniences for granted until they go out, which is certainly true when a train gets stuck underground or rerouted to another station far away from your original destination. I’m guilty of this too, as I love to push myself to extreme when I’m on duty. It’s easy to do until a tire, headlight, or the on board GPS goes out, and I’m at the mercy of Veriphone or the mechanic on duty at the garage.

One of the best things about my shifts are watching the long day’s journey into night, and seeing how everything changes during and after the sunset. No matter the weather or how many times I work a given week, there’s always an adjustment period as the sky darkens and all of the artificial lighting and kicks in. Not only is it harder to find fares on most nights, but a lot more attention has to be paid to the surrounds as the Taxi is in motion.

For me, it goes a bit deeper than that. Not only do the people and locating those who wish to hail change, but the way that things look and appear also change. Construction sites are barren during the overnight hours unless the temporary lighting stays on but during the day, I will round a corner and see 6-8 floors added onto a building since the last time I was able to check its progress. The lights of Times Square can be seen for blocks away, as the city’s outdoor mall for tourists turns into the set of Blade Runner for those who stick around after shopping and eating at chains that can be found back at home. Because the streets themselves are so clogged, the view down them hardly changes, but that’s not the case throughout most of the rest of the City. It’s amazing to see how the areas around the transit hubs look totally different when the people are gone, and the view and vistas open up down the avenues.

From the top of the Chrysler Building to the view down an industrial street in Bushwick, it’s the way the City looks at night that gets me through the trails and tribulations of my job. Even when 99% of my fares are great, I can stew over the 1% that treated me like a peon, a pawn, a robot, or just inhumanely. Every job I ever had featured at least one person who pushed me around the hell of it, even if it was unintentional. This is the first one where I call the shots and the only person who pushes myself, is myself with the upside being that no one sees me at my worst, after one of the fares that changes your life or demeans me for no reason walks out, leaving me wondering what just happened.

That rarely happens however, and for every moment that nearly leaves me in tears, there are scores that make me cry because they are so fleeting and temporary, and I wish I could hold onto them for the times when the joy in life seems to be lacking. The last month or so has thankfully has seen more than their fair share of those, as the near-perfect nights have led to several instances of me pulling the Taxi over and feeling the breeze as I explore a part of an outer Borough that I rarely get to.

I should be past this stage in my life, as my birthday next week has once again reminded me. When I was younger, everyone said that I would stop staying out so late and settle down when I got older. Since so many of my fares always seem to guess my age incorrectly and think that I’m just as young as they are, especially the drunken trust fund-baby twentysomethings that I take home on the weekends. It’s nice to hear but it also hurts because I know that’s not the case deep down. I don’t think New York is powerful enough to keep me young forever, or to take my physical and emotional aches and pains away as they accumulate over the years. I never got into the City enough when I was growing up, and into the clubs and hot spots that no longer exist except in people’s memories. Making up for lost time now was not what I set out to do when I took this job, but it’s been a pleasant benefit to a job that has consumed much of my waking hours and changed the way I view humanity.

Many people come to the Big Apple bright-eyed and busy tailed, expecting to change the City and hit it big there. Most of them will fail to some extent since few will make it to the top of their chosen profession. What the migrants to the Big Apple fail to realize is that the City *will* change them, even if it’s gradual and over time. It’s not so much an assimilation as it’s a change in mentality that makes anyone become a New Yorker, even if the accent never fully kicks in.

Over the last two years, that’s what’s happened to me, and I know for a fact that I’m all the better for it.

Chrysler Building vista - Bushwick

Chrysler Building vista – Bushwick