And Not To Yield

Looking Back

Looking Back

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

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

Waiting for the Procession

Waiting for the Procession

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



“And you’re doing this?”


“Are you all right?”

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

And so it went…

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

Class of '65

Class of ’65

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

“Oh, it’s beautiful.”

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

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

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

Front and nearly center

Front and nearly center

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

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

Facing towards G.S.

Facing towards G.S.

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

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

Deans and Anniversary Marchers

Deans and Anniversary Marchers

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

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



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

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

Alma Mater

Alma Mater








Condolences - Bed-Stuy

Condolences – Bed-Stuy




“Come in here.”

“Everything alright?”

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


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

“No shit…”

And so began the last Saturday before Christmas.

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

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

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

Officers - Bed-Stuy

Vigilance – Bed-Stuy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Officers - Bed-Stuy

Officers – Bed-Stuy

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

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

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

Crossroads - Bed-Stuy

Crossroads – Bed-Stuy




March - Flatiron District

March – Flatiron District

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

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

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

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

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

A lot of them.

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

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

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

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

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

Protest - Times Square

Protestor – Times Square

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

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

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?



The Big Apples

Original home run apple - Citi Field

Original home run apple – Citi Field

“So why is New York called the Big Apple anyways?”

“Beats me, but I can’t imagine any other nickname appropriate for this place.”

Two and half weeks ago, the 84th Major League Baseball All-Star game was played in Citi Field out in Flushing, Queens. For months, I did what I could to get a ticket to an event that will probably not take place again in New York for at least 20 years. The Mets website was the first place I looked back when there was still snow on the ground, but they wanted anyone who was interested in attending the Midsummer Classic to also buy season tickets for the Amazin’s 2013 campaign. No one in my Taxi was able to hook me up and even though I knew someone who worked the Fanfest at the Javits Center, there was still no word of a $600 or $800 chance to take off for a night and ride the #7 train out that night to see Baseball’s best slug it out. I ended up not working that night but thankfully, was able to come home and watch Mariano shut down the side and earned a well-deserved MVP in his final All-Star appearance.

All-Star apple and train - Citi Field

All-Star apple and train – Citi Field

Once in a while, I get that question posted at the top of this entry tossed at me. As I’ve alluded to many times, my passengers love to ask me question after question after question after…well, you get it. It’s bad enough that it’s usually the same variations of what I’ve already answered that night (Do you own this Taxi? How late are you out here? Anyone ever get it on back here? etc…) but the one up top is one of the few that I haven’t gotten around to looking up the answer to yet. Time and time again, I’ve referred to the city that I work in by its nickname, even though I don’t hear or see it as much as when I was growing up. Like graffiti, down-on-their luck starving artists, the Broadway font, and Milton Glaser’s I Love New York ad campaign being sung in the background, The Big Apple seemed to be depicted a lot more in the waning decades of the 20th Century. Heck, even the ball in Times Square was an apple for a period during the 1980’s, before returning back to it’s more familiar form. Yet throughout all of this, the nickname for New York has stuck.

But why not The Big banana, or even enchilada?

There isn’t one answer but whether it’s because of horses, jazz clubs, or even a brothel, there isn’t a soul that sets foot in the 5 Boroughs today that doesn’t know the link between apples and the City that has adopted them as an official moniker. The bond has become so synonymous that in 1980, the Mets even came up with a way to use the apple for themselves. Milwaukee may have Bernie Brewer taking a slide into a vat of beer and the south side of Chicago had an exploding scoreboard but after every home run hit by a Met, a giant Apple would pop out of a hat on the other side of the outfield wall. It was with that in mind that Major League Baseball decided to celebrate this year’s All-Star game by putting – what else – apples, all over the city. Lots of ’em, with the logos of the 30 Major League clubs and a few other designs tossed in for good measure. Why am I even putting this in here?

Because yours truly tracked all 35 of them down the week before the big game.

Mets apple and Taxi - Midtown

Mets apple and Taxi – Midtown

5 years ago, something similar was done for the Yankees. The House that Ruth Built up in the Bronx was hosting the All-Star game that year and during (the first) Yankee Stadium’s 86th and final season. As part of the festivities leading up to that 15-inning classic, a bunch of Statues of Liberty were put on parade around the City, as well as on Ellis and Liberty Islands. Being such a rabid baseball fan, I hunted every single one of these down, snapped a picture of it, and posted them all up online before I took off for the Summer to watch a bunch of Minor-League games on the road. I didn’t have a chance to buy any tickets for the game in the Bronx, but I’ll never forget turning on the radio in my Mustang and listening to the latter innings on AM radio in the wee hours of the morning, underneath the stars.

Washington Nationals apple - West Side

Washington Nationals apple – West Side

That was not the case this year but thankfully, I was able to visit firsthand all of the apples that were spread out and about. I had seen a few while driving around during my shift and on my off days, I took out the map that was printed in the paper and proceeded to find every one and cross it off, before pounding the pavement and moving onto the next. The hardest part was getting a nice shot of one without any distractions and given that so many were placed in high-traffic areas, that was easier said than done.

White Sox apple - Times Square

White Sox apple – Times Square

Most people would wonder what would lead someone to do such a crazy thing. Yes, I’m a huge fan of our national pastime and, yes, I probably had better things to do during my off days than to chase a bunch of fiberglass apples around New York during the heat of Summer. For me, it was part scavenger hunt, part checklist, and part walking tour. Some of them were in areas that I hadn’t been on foot in in quite a long time and they allowed me to get reacquainted with parts of the City that I was only familiar with from behind the dash. The All-Star apple was out at Citi Field and since I went out to see it when the Mets were away from town, I found the old Shea base paths in the parking lot and re-enacted the last out of the ’06 NLCS.

Shea's home plate - Citi Field lot

Shea’s home plate – Citi Field lot

A few others were on the far East and West Sides of Manhattan, which are practically no-man’s lands for pedestrians unless they’re on the way to somewhere specific in those parts of town. The Houston Astros Apple was in front of the Helmsley on 42 Street, which is where I dropped off National League All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel the night before the game. Several were down in Lower Manhattan, which sadly did not look much different than when I was down there in ’08 (except for 1 WTC being nearly complete the second time around). A big part of the allure of the whole parade was chasing them down on foot, which is how I learned my way around New York for years before I took the current job that I still hold.

Rangers Apple - Financial District

Rangers Apple – Financial District

I’m sure some people reading this will wonder why a 36 year-old Cabdriver even cares this much about a kids game played by overpaid drug addicts and egomaniacs and yes, I’ve often wondered the same thing myself. Given that I’ve seen cops ride on sidewalks, a video being filmed in the middle of 8 Ave. during rush hour traffic, and several fights and arrests while waiting at red lights during my last full week on the job, I realize that sports and recreation is one my ways of escaping the madness that so many of us who drive around New York have to put up with on a daily basis. No, they don’t solve problems, win wars, cure diseases, or make a difference in our day-to-day lives but sports are a big business in this country today and are a diversion during a time where so many of us have so much weighing us down. A nation’s lonely eyes once turned to Joltin’ Joe and for me my eyes will turn to many images, texts, people, and yes, activities when the nights grow long and the outlets are few for me to reach out to.

Time cover - 9/17/90

Time cover – 9/17/90

A little over 20 years ago, Time magazine did a cover story on “The Rotting Apple”. I was in 8th grade and read this issues in the Middle School Library when this came out – murders were at 2,000 a year, the Budget looked like it wouldn’t be balanced, people were once again fleeing for greener, suburban pastures, and race riots dotted many inner-city neighborhoods. Newly-elected major David Dinkins had his hands full and it looked like New York’s best days were in the rear-view mirror once again. Thankfully, that did not turn out to be the case but it took a massive infusion of capital, resources, a political shift in the City’s electorate, and a renewed questioning of New York’s role with the rest of America after 9/11 to bring Gotham back to prominence. No, it’s not a perfect place and much work has to be done to make New York the leader in innovation and immigration in the 21st Century but landing two All-Star games and having a unique form of public art on hand this Summer to make the steamy nights a bit easier for me to handle was another visible sign that the place that I call home during my working hours was on the right track and in much better shape than it was a generation ago.

Orioles apple - Meatpacking District
Orioles apple – Meatpacking District

Of course, the apples are gone now. I’ll still have youtube clips such at this “Big Apple Movie” (the bumper is at 1:50) to remind me of why I fell in love with New York in the pre-internet days, when TV was the only way I found out about the great city to the east of me:

It seems like so long ago and maybe when the next All-Star game is held in New York again in the 2030’s or 2040’s, someone will take out all of the apples out of mothballs and introduce them to a new generation of visitors, many of whom will find it hard to believe that the Big Apple was on the brink of insolvency and irrelevancy during the lifetime of some of its inhabitants.

Another reminder - Midtown

Another reminder – Midtown


Man on Wire

Man on Wire

“You sure must drink a lot of coffee.”

“I haven’t had a drop since I started this job.”

“Wow. How do you do it, then?”

“I’ve never fit in and staying up all night is easy for me. May as well get paid for it.”

I knew from a young age that I never fit in with the other kids. Not only did I sit down in front of Sesame Street but I’d also watch the evening news and The Nightly Business Report when I got a chance. When I was in the library in elementary school, I’d grab whatever reference book or Encyclopedia struck my fancy and go through it until I found something that stood out to me. When my parents got  lost behind the wheel, I was the one who knew where we were and which directions would get us back on track. I was intellectually hungry to know how, where, when, why, and what made people tick. Much of that curiosity was satisfied when I went to New York alone for the first time in early ’94 and drove out to California alone a little over two years later. There were no words to describe what it was like to see the words, pictures, and stories in books and depicted on television come to life right in front of me, as I got to use my knowledge and take my learning to another level by experiencing new places firsthand.

One of the moments I’ll never forget was the first time I drove out at night alone. I had just gotten my license and a pair of wheels (not much else functioned properly on that vehicle) but on a night not much unlike tonight, I took her out for a spin here in town. It may not have seen like much to anyone else but to be out alone with the buildings illuminated by artificial light, with hardly a soul to be seen, and with the top down on a room-temperature night was something that struck me as totally new and totally comforting at the same time. Most of all, I wasn’t tired like so many people were when they had to be out late for work or socializing. I begged to stay up past my bedtime when I was little to watch Sha-na-na or Dance Fever and even though they had been off the air for years by that point, the little boy that resented going to bed early finally got his due and loved every minute of it.

Looking back, it was easy to see why I loved that night and so many others like it since. Every job where I’ve had to be up during the day had been a struggle for me – from getting out of bed, staying awake and alert for the full 8 hours, and conforming to an office environment that never felt quite right, even on the best of days. One thing I learned during the struggles of a daytime vocation was that I had to keep myself stimulated in order to feel alive. No, it didn’t involve illicit substances or death-defying juvenile antics, but I had to read, write, learn, listen, and respond to as much as I could and add it to my base of knowledge, so I could find new fields that explore on my own time.

Even with all the books I have here at the house, all the pages bookmarked on my computer, and all the places I’ve been lucky enough to visit in the other 46 States that I don’t regularly get to, there’s so much more out there that I haven’t been able to have my senses come into contact with. The older I get, the more I realize that what I’ve learned will probably pale in comparison with what still currently remains unknown to me. For example, there’s the World Trade Center and a chapter of its history that I only recently started to inquire about further.

Several times in the 1980’s, I had the chance to go to the observation decks on the 107th and 110 floors. I remember the absolutely massive escalators leading up from the PATH terminus, the elevators having “Welcome” written in several languages for the tourists, photographs of each of the 4 views with the major buildings highlighted for the sightseers, the electric fence around the edge of the outdoor observation deck to thwart jumpers, and an autograph on the northwest corner of the South Tower, with a simple marking on it. Later on, I realized that someone had crossed between the Towers on wire around the time my parents got married, but I never read any further into it.

Three months before I graduated from Columbia, I stumbled into the auditorium at the Student Center where I had reviewed notes for class during many a lazy afternoon. That day, they were screening Man on Wire with a Q and A afterwards with one of the deans. It was free and open to all and even though I missed the first 15 or so minutes of it, I put my books away, sat down, and stayed until the end of the discussion.

I would tell everyone out there reading this to go rent it on DVD and watch it straight through, but that’s not why I’m writing this entry today. For starters, this isn’t a blog about movie recommendations and furthermore, I hadn’t been to a theater in years before watching that documentary; so therefore, I have almost nothing to use as a frame of reference. Most people I know have seen so many movies that they know what they like and don’t like and what they think of the most popular films in recent years. I’m the exact opposite as I have little use for Hollywood right now and spend my free time pursuing other forms of mental stimulation.

All of that is besides my point, however. Like so much else in life, it wasn’t the crossing that was amazing as much as the story behind it. It’s impossible to envision someone being able to freely walk into the construction site down at Ground Zero today once night sets in but Philippe Petit and his assistants did just that when the original World Trade Center was under construction in the 1970’s. The whole operation was so meticulously planned that the details behind the “artistic crime of the century” were nearly amazing as the actual act itself. Mastering the art of tightrope walking, gaining access to the construction site, learning the layout of the towers, and accessing the roof seem difficult enough, not to mention having to breach whatever passed for security back in those days. It may seem like a lot of preparation for an event that may never have happened, but when asked about it afterwards, he had this to say in his defense:

“When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk!”

And so he did.

It’s so difficult for me to look at those pictures nearly 40 years later. It’s not because the towers aren’t there anymore, or because the landscape of Lower Manhattan has changed, or the color resolution has changed 1000% for the better, or even because the air of today’s postindustrial Gotham has become cleaner than clean itself. It’s because I keep thinking that he’s absolutely, totally insane for what he did.

But there’s no doubt that he isn’t.

Sitting on the physical edge of 110-story towers as if it was a simple ledge is something that no one else would ever want to do, but he wanted to do it. He had a goal, a way to attain it, and the patience to follow through. Who am I to criticize him? There was a time when picturing machines heavier than air gliding effortlessly around the world, or messages being sent to anyone, anywhere, anytime at the click of the button, or even diseases invisible to the naked eye being wiped off the face of the Earth would have seen eternally impossible but someone had the courage to challenge the status quo and push the boundaries past the known realm to see these ideas become reality.

No matter how preposterous it seemed or how much effort was required to carry out the dream.

From what I have read, some have criticized Petit for what they perceive as his enormous ego. I never thought it was big at all and unless one completely clouds out friends, family, and spirituality, it’s almost impossible to have one’s Freudian impulses out of whack. It was ego that sent explorers across the Atlantic in search of riches, new lands to conquer and ultimately, a new home away from crowded, feudal Europe. Ego led to the writing of a document that separated us from a country intent on plundering our wealth of resources instead of treating us as equals under the law. Years later, ego led to the laying out of the “greatest grid” of streets in the greatest city in the republic which had the courage and daring to break away from the largest colonial power the world had ever seen. A few generations later, ego after ego took part in the greatest race for height of the 20th century, which ended in the construction of two massive towers that were over 95% full on the day they were destroyed at the dawn of the 21st century. Each age of individual gain involved less and less physical space that had to be conquered than the one before it but involved more mental blocks that had to be overcome, as the World became smaller over that time but the contents of it became larger and more complex, and therefore, presented more challenges for those that wish to rise over them.

All of this came to a head on August 8, 1974 as millions watched mesmerized during Petit’s 8 walks back and forth between the towers over a 45 minute span. One Police Officer who watched knew that he’d never see anything like it again but little did he know how utterly prophetic his words were. It was apparent that day that no one would ever string a wire between the towers and use them as a means of crossing the 1,300-plus foot height of their rooflines again. What was not obvious that day was that we’d never push a boundary like that on U.S. soil in anyone’s lifetime.

Sure, new companies have been formed and new inventions have come along that have revolutionized the workplace, the standard of living, and the way people interact with one another, but so much has changed in this country that it’s increasingly hard for one big idea or one big person to come along and challenge the conventional wisdom of the day. Groupthink, conformity, increased domestic surveillance, and a security state have all led to a dearth of creativity that will hurt America for generations to come; assuming that the Republic even survives in its current state for that long. Toss in another fiscal collapse similar to what happened 5 years ago and it could be the end our way of life forever.

A few weeks ago, I went into Bryant Park after a night out at work which saw me interact with the usual cast of characters that I come across during a typical shift. None of them measured up to the person I had gone to see in the reading room that day. Vivacious, humorous, and uplifting, the 63 year-old that spoke that sunny afternoon was there to promote his latest book, which dealt with knots. Seems like a simple premise until you realized that the person had been tying and retying knots for decades and that that person was none other than Philippe Petit himself.

It was one of those days that stuck with me for a long time after I paid for Why Knot? and To Reach the Clouds. Once again, something that I had only seem in film and print had come to life before my eyes, much as the places in New York and America had for me during my jaunts away from my cozy suburban abode. The crowd that grew was much larger than anyone had anticipated as those walking by through the park or on their way back to the office after lunch realized who was speaking and how he had everyone’s attention who was in attendance. Most striking of all were how many people that were in the park that day were *not* aware of the speaker at all but rather, were on their phone/Blackberry or idling the time away in the midst of a presentation by one of the most engaging personalities ever to set foot in the Big Apple.

When it came time for me to have the books autographed by him, I mentioned that I was surprised that he wasn’t left-handed. Not only is yours truly sinister in the way my brain is wired, but nearly all of the women that I’ve most admired and have been attracted to over the years and many of the notables that I’ve emulated were in the minority when it came to which hand they’d place a writing utensil in. Philippe mentioned that he was indeed right handed but thought of himself as more ambidextrous than just about anyone else.

Surely, who would argue with that?

Before I left to shoot my first rounds of Petanque in weeks, I told him wholeheartedly that he was beloved in New York. While I’m sure he’s been told that more times than I could count, I’m sure it’s something that one would never get tired of hearing. Personally, it would be something I’d want have someone  tell me, though I wouldn’t be sure for exactly what I had done with my life and my God-given talents.

And that’s where the problem lies.

The old Chinese saying is that a journey of a thousand miles begins with single step and for me, the problem is figuring out what direction that, and the thousands of others that come past it, would be in. Years of reading, writing, and schooling have shown me that for all that I know and have codified, that there’s much out there that I have yet to learn and accomplish. Every time I think about how hard it is, I pull up the picture of the view down from the South Tower of the World Trade Center as Petit took his first step and danced among the clouds on that Summer morning decades ago.

I’d give anything to experience that feeling for myself someday.

Man off Wire

Man off Wire

Meet the Met

Dressed to the nines

Dressed to the nines

As many New Yorkers were well aware of, the Metropolitan Museum’s annual gala was held this past Monday. Of course, yours truly worked that night, as has been the case nearly every Monday night for the last year and three-quarters. Given how slow New York tends to be on the first workday of the week, it was a notable event for me since one of my fares needed to get up Madison Ave. at 6:30 that night. Sure enough, I never got my passenger to her destination as the combination of black cars, taxis, buses, and flashing lights combined to bring the thoroughfare to a halt. The person I had in my cab understood the circumstances, asked me to turn down 72 St, and quietly paid her fare.

Once that ended, I was on with my night. It ran like any other Monday with the exception of my way back down 5 Ave. after dropping off a few fares off in the 90’s off of Park. I didn’t know what to expect since I did not work that night of last year’s gala and I wasn’t sure how many black cars would be idling in the street.

Of course, that turned out to be an insanely high number.

Readers of this blog already know of my disdain for the for-higher-vehicles that match the color of night and tend to fly like it as well. Yes, they have an important role in the transportation economy of the City, as any corporate hotshot or celeb will tell you but for the rest of us, they can be hell on wheels. Rarely do I see one get pulled over for a driving infraction or an illegal street hail and even more rare than that will be a ticket issued to one for idling in the street too long and double-parking. There was lots of both of those as I snaked my way downtown and made my way past New York’s premiere social event of the year.

Given how nightlife and society have changed over the years, the Met Gala is arguably the last annual event that draws a red-carpet ambiance to the Big Apple. Awards shows and ceremonies like the Tony’s draw a niche crowd while larger events like the Grammy’s rotate between venues every year. Film premieres will showcase those starring in them as well as other flash-in-the-pan types that are hot at the moment and none of the ones that I drive past or read about in the paper seem to have the pizazz of those during the heyday of the Hollywood Studio system. What we’re left with is a museum hosting the only event left of its kind in New York, but even that has changed over the years.

As the above link succinctly states, the event was originally known as the Metropolitan Museum Fashion Ball. Yes, that’s right – fashion. Not shamu’s begging to attend and showing up in couch retreads, but an actual event attended by society’s elite in gowns that were part of the Museum collection. Patrons were rewarded for their financial generosity and the list of attendees read like a Who’s Who of elite in New York. Most of them were not known by the general public and the event had the appearance of debutante balls and “coming out” events that helped to characterize the gilded age.

And then Anna Wintour entered the picture.

What fun would it be to have the largely-unknown constituents of the upper crust attend the event each year when celebrities that people could identify with more would be a bigger draw and hence, make the event more newsworthy? Just as she changed who appeared on a coveted magazine cover each month, she used her sway to determine who would get one of the exclusive invites each year. Not since Studio 54’s short but brilliant reign as the center of Gotham’s nightlife were socialites, models, designers, singers, dancers, actresses, the affluent, and just plain popular able to come together in one place at one time. I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the two as I saw throngs of those wearing Halston and Diane Von Furstenberg screaming to get into Rubell’s and Schrager’s haven of hedonism on youtube videos, just as throngs of spectators stood behind metal barricades on Monday night. Some twisted part of me wishes they were rooting me on as I made my way down what is still regarded as New York’s most glamorous avenue, but reality sunk in as yet another vehicle stopped in front of me and threw its flashers on. Those who were waiting for hours outside for a glimpse of those who could care less about them would never see the folly of their ways.

One could also make the argument that those they were screaming for were also fools in their own right, as the cost of admittance to the invitation only event was rumored to begin at $5,000. While the cost of admittance was never cheap, it was originally borne by those who had a stake in the Museum and the exhibits that were shown there. The theme of this year’s event was “Punk: Chaos to Culture” , which was perfectly fitting given that the embrace of the grungy, industrial chic that punk espoused has come full circle nearly 30 years after it’s original heyday. Those who actually dressed up in punk outifts for the gala probably weren’t alive in the late 70’s and early 80’s. just as they’re unlikely to visit the museum and see the accompanying exhibit that ties in to the event. That’s not an issue since it’s prestige and fundraising that came first and not the chance to renew ties with those responsible for the exhibits that are curated there.

A few of the yellows that were in crawling in line with me picked up passengers leaving the event but it was a big o-for for me. About 10 blocks down, I picked up someone nicely dressed who was loosely tied to the night’s festivities:

“Hey there, where to?”

“Park and 22nd.”

“Sure thing.”

Once she was off the phone, I chimed in as appropriately as I could:

“I bet you had something to do with that soiree back at the Met.”

“Yeah (laughing), I did. I work for one of the hotels near there and it’s been crazy today. I had to make sure that everything went off without a hitch for J. Lo. Tomorrow begins the real work as I have to write all the press releases for those staying at our hotel. The work never ends…”

Maybe their life isn’t so different from mine, after all.