The Big App

Spotted on a phone left in my cab

It was reported last week that a new app is now out that helps passengers find empty cabs that are nearby and traveling under 10 MPH. Of course, it’s free for them download but a monthly fee for us and I’m taking a wild guess in saying that the developers expect us to recoup the cost by having enough extra fares. While this seems like a good idea, I’m not so sure if this is going to work as envisioned.

For starters, this wouldn’t ever be used by us at rush hour. Ever. Rush hour tends to be one big long fare broken up among many passengers. To be sure, I will get pulled out to the outer Boroughs now and then during peak periods but if I’m in Manhattan, it’s just one nonstop whirlwind. I have my spots where I know people are streaming out of work and eventually, that mass will work their way home or to where the social hotspots of the night happen to be. Scanning the paper and listening to my passengers is how I take the pulse of the city and once in a while, the other drivers I keep in touch with will inform me of any particular clubs or parties that are letting out and in short supply of Taxis.

Then there’s the issue of when to check our phones. Commissioner Yassky kindly reminded us in the article linked above to pull over when needing to do that but let’s face it, how many times have you seen one of us pull over, throw the flashers on, and check our text messages?

Exactly.

Hands-free devices are great for calls but there’s too many times where I have to actually pull up the screen on my phone to find out what I’m looking for. Thankfully, I have plenty of red lights to help me out with that but when cruising along, my focus is totally on what’s ahead of me and where my next fare is, since so many of them are so poor at getting noticed (hint: wave your phone when you hail – we can see them real easily!).

My bigger concern is the pace of life and how this would speed it up even more. The idea of using an app to find out where we are is great but if there’s one thing us cabdrivers know, it’s that the rules don’t apply during the lean periods. When the streets are bare, drivers will do *anything* to get a fare, and that sure includes breaking traffic laws and rules of common courtesy. The fare that’s half a block ahead at two in the morning might be someone else’s when he cuts across five lanes of traffic to claim it for himself and there’s no doubt that another cab could easily steal a fare that has already “claimed” you via the app. Eventually, someone will come up with a better mousetrap and the app in its planned form will become outdated like a Motorola phone. What would that make us?

A for-hire-vehicle, which wouldn’t be that much different than a black car…and you know how much us and them get along.

No, yellow cabs will never become black cars in a literal sense but there’s something to be said for having the exclusive right to take street hails. It’s the essence of who we are and what we do and like so many other jobs in the 21st Century, the definition of that line of work if being radically altered by mobile technology. Yes, I am guilty of that in a small way, not only because I love my iPhone but because I was actually interviewed by a company that’s currently developing something similar. It’s called Hailo and so far, it’s been a success in London. There isn’t a date yet for the Big Apple rollout will be but before that happens, yours truly will probably be involved in a test run on some way, shape, or form.

Given what I’ve said, that probably sounds hypocritical but I’m willing to give it a shot and put my own personal preferences aside. My opinions are strong but I refuse to pull a Quinn and force someone or something from being in New York without letting the people of the city decide for themselves if they want it. Ideas deserve a shot in the marketplace that is New York and even though the Taxi industry has been too slow to embrace change and technology, hopefully these new apps will make life easier for us and the riding public that we depend on every time we hit the streets.

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Get out

Where ejected fares go to die

“Hey there, where to?”

“York and East End.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“York and East End Ave.”

“Sir, that’s impossible. Those streets are parallel.”

“Okay, just give me one second.”

So I did. I remember making the turn off of Broadway to start heading uptown shortly after taking this fare in. As usual, throngs of amateurs were out on that Saturday night, desperately waving for a ride in a vehicle such as mine while I had to make sense of a person who apparently had none of his own.

“Any idea where you’re going sir?”

“York and East End.”

“Maybe ya didn’t understand me the first time. I need a real address, or a building name, or a street number, or something I can pinpoint.”

‘Please, just give me a few more moments.”

Which the next red right gave me. Once I made the left turn past The Alamo it was time to straighten this out:

“Last time – where am I taking ya?”

“I know it’s on York and East End…”

“Get out.”

“What?”

“Ya heard me.”

“What about the meter? I owe you money.”

“I don’t care. It’s obvious that you’re on something and ya don’t know where in the hell you’re going. Just get out.”

“But…”

“GET OUT!”

And so he went…

I’m a nice guy. Really. I am. For all the crap we put up with week in and week out, it takes a lot of to get me red in the face. I don’t even like kicking people out of my cab and it can be incredibly difficult to do, given that we cannot physically pull anyone out of the back seat and that it’s easy for a passenger to file a complaint against a rude or uncourteous driver. There have been countless instances where I’ve had to deal with rich bitches, oblivious hipsters, clueless tourists, and those who pull the average IQ of an American down a notch or two but one thing I have to remind myself over and over again is that “All this too shall pass” and the high turnover rate of a typical shift will soon render an ignominious fare into a memory.

Then there are a few fares which continue to stick out for the wrong reasons. With apologies to Emma Lazarus, the city has continued to give me it’s tired, poor, heartless, strung-out, moronic, and just plain stupid, all in an attempt to get somewhere while ultimately going nowhere in the end:

“Hey there, where to?”

“Penn Station.”

“Alrighty. We’ll jump onto the Henry Hudson and get off somewhere in the 30’s. Do you have a preference as to which entrance you want me to drop ya off at?”

“I’m not sure, I’m supposed to meet someone down there.”

“Oh, is it a friend?”

“Yeah, he has the money I need.”

“What?”

“I was in a cab before and ended up here. I didn’t have enough to pay the driver so he kicked me out here on 125 St.”

“So you’re not taking a train from Penn Station?”

“Yes.”

“And you don’t know where your friend is down there?”

“Yes.”

“And let me get this straight, you got into a cab and expected the driver to take you all the way down to Penn Station but you don’t have any money to pay him with?”

“Actually, could you help a brother out and spare me a dollar? I don’t have…”

“Get out.”

“Just…”

“GET OUT! For God’s sake, PLEASE don’t pull something like this on your driver again…”

“Okay!”

And off I went back downtown…

It’s incredibly difficult at times to figure out which fares have “disaster” written on them before they come into my Taxi. There are parts of town and times of the the day that lend themselves to finding characters that are more shady, but some of the best people I’ve ever picked up were standing all alone in the most desolate and forlorn areas of the city, grateful that someone had come out of nowhere and stopped to take them home at the most forsaken hours of the night. What bothers me is that many of the people that I regretted picking up were in the midst of others who were hailing at the time, beating them out for the privilege of testing my patience.

Thankfully, that’s the only saving grace from these horror stories. As so many people do with the dating scene in New York, it’s easy to dump someone and move onto the next one when it comes to fares. For every person I’ve wanted to toss, there have been scores that I’ve wanted to have for an extended period of time. There’s nothing like talking economics with a financial whiz, current events with a city government employee, or hearing a designer, planner, or scientist talk about what he or she is working on and when the project will be complete. It’s hard enough to concentrate on the street ahead of me sometimes but it just be just as difficult to find out as much as possible from a fascinating passenger in a 5-minute span, choosing what I want to ask and soaking up as much as I can from what the person is saying. If Einstein was a cabdriver, even he’d be amazed at how quick most fares went while the few stinkers seemed to take up a disproportionally long time to resolve.

When I first started, I had no idea that so many New Yorkers would brighten up my day week in and week out. I figured that half would be decent to take to their destination and that I’d be able to stomach the rest. Two weeks in, I knew that 85% of them were a pleasure to deal with, 10% were rough, but bearable, and that 5% needed a real good smack where it counted. All these months later, that ratio hasn’t changed; only the way I’ve dealt with them has.

Last Saturday was one that seemed relatively typical for the summer. The air was on most of the night, lots of locals were out on vacation, and tourists could be found everywhere until the wee hours of the morning. If you consider the bridge and tunnel type to be one of them, then this is how one of them proceeded to treat me:

“Hey there, where to?”

“Yo, I’m going back to New Jersey. I just saw the new Batman movie!”

“Okay, where in Jersey?”

“I’ll give you $100, look my name is even Bruce Wayne! Hold my Red Bull for me…”

“Um…”

“I’m serious! Where’s the light in this thing?”

“Where in New Jersey are you heading home to? I have to enter it in before we pull out…”

“I’m Bruce Wayne, you have to take me!”

“Here, take your drink and…”

“I’ll give you $200, just take me home.”

“Sorry Bruce.”

“What?”

“Get out.”

“But I…”

“GET OUT!”

“Okay, okay!”

Needless to say, I never figured out if Bruce, his Red Bull, or his teenage friends ever successfully made it out of Gotham. The real hero of the night had other people to help home, even if his crusade was only for sanity in a maddening city.

Take a Hike

Soon to be a bit more likely

Well, it’s official: I’m getting a raise.

I shouldn’t put it in a traditional sense, since all of us who drive a yellow cab in New York are getting one too. The vote passed yesterday and once the end of September comes, it will take effect across the board.

Lots of people have asked me about it and had I not had previous commitments the last two days, I would have gone to the rally and meeting down in Lower Manhattan to watch the process continue to unfold but regardless of time constraints, it’s been an issue I’ve kept up with over the last few months.

Personally, I’m completely in favor of this. A lot of the comments on various publications covering this story were from irate people who were tired of the garbage that they put up with in Taxis – rude drivers, talking on the phone, aggressiveness on the streets, a lack of knowledge of city landmarks and geography, and an unwillingness to take anyone who required a crossing over or under a body of water. While this is true to some extent, I’ve said time and time again that not all of us are like that and a great deal of drivers take care of their passengers and only want the best for them, even if it’s easier said than done during the peak periods of traffic.

For all the legitimate gripes about the lack of raises over the years and silent erosion of our pay via inflation, it’s ultimately about the passenger; as it should be with any business. No one has to take a Taxi in a place that’s so well-covered by mass transit as New York but tens of thousands still do every day, even with all of the other options out there competing for their money. To drive a cab in New York is to run your own business in a sense. No, there aren’t any employees under my watch and I don’t have to pay for land and raw materials but in theory, how well I run it should determine how well I do and how long I can keep my head above water for. Because of the medallion system and the limited barriers of entry for owners, it’s a lot more complicated than it sounds and the high turnover rate among drivers is proof that it takes a bit more than elbow grease and an understanding of the city to make it in the long-term.

Will it help that my average fare will go up by $2 and the ride to JFK will increase by $7? Sure. I have no idea whether Taxi plan for the outer Boroughs will go through or if the extra medallions will be sold and on the streets, nor what the price of gas will be in two years. In spite of the (amazingly) good intentions of the TLC and the Mayor, there’s only so much that is in our control when it comes to this profession. So many have fought hard for our rights and a fair share of the revenue that flows into the coffers of the owners and operators. Now that we have a victory under our belts, we still need to remember that the fight for fair treatment and respect from all parties is still far from over.

Fare deal

The current fare structure

Much was written this week about the proposed rate hike that could go into effect over the summer. Most New Yorkers shudder when they see a service that they frequently use go up in price but many have also noted that there hasn’t been a rate increase since ’06 and an across the board hike since ’04. Although I’ve only been driving since late July, this is welcome news. Usually, I like to ask questions of my passengers, learning about what they do for a living and where they’re from. As soon as I stop, it’s their turn and many of the ones they will ask me will deal with what my shift entails and what I take home at the end of it. I’m taking a wild guess that many people reading this are thinking the same thoughts to themselves, so I may as well go through it on here for clarity’s sake.

Your average cabdriver will *not* own his medallion, for starters. As I’ve stated on here before, the cost of one has gone up dramatically in recent years. The typical one will now fetch well over 3/4 a million dollars and even with a down payment and financing backed by the revenue generated during shifts, it’s still out of reach for most drivers. Therefore, a majority of drivers (like myself) lease their cabs. Shifts are simple – 5 ’til 5 and even though we don’t have to keep the cabs for a full 12 hours, lots of us do to maximize our earning potential. As I work my way down 2 Ave. in the later hours, there are hordes of empty Taxis making their way over the Queensboro Bridge to go back to their respective garages, which is my way of getting a handle on how much the activity in Manhattan has tailed off for that particular night.

Leases involve a fee or as so many of my passengers put it, it’s what I pay in rent every night. It averages between $110 and $130 for the night drivers at my garage with the ones who work during the day paying slightly less for the privilege of driving a Taxi. All of the surcharges that go to the State and the MTA are added in automatically to each fare depending on the time and the destination and of course, we never see a dollar of them when the numbers are totaled up. Then there’s a $4.77 tax or as I look at it, another 1/2 fare deducted from my night’s take and finally, there’s the big misconception that so many people have about our industry:

You don’t pay for your own gas, right?

Don’t I wish!

The last thing I do at the end of a shift, right as the sun starts to come up, is top the tank off across the street from the garage. I’ll toss my extra receipts out, take my license out of the holder, and clean up if need be while I’m filling up, and then dig in to my take for the night to shell out the amount that it took to get around the city for 12 hours. If I’m driving a Crown Vic, it averages out to $53. Transit Connect? $35. The Hybrid SUV? Only $22. The vehicle I drive makes a big difference as to how my night goes since it’s found money if I can save on gas or be behind the wheel of something that will help me do the job more cheaply. Along with the Times, AMNY, Metro, and Crain’s, I almost always read the Economist, if for no other reason to see how the oil market is faring. Gas peaked at a notch over $4 a gallon a few weeks back but thankfully, it has slowly retreated as the summer driving season has started to take shape.

Most people have no idea of the little things that we also have to shell out for all the time. Dirty vehicle? Congratulations, a visit to the car wash is in order. I’m reimbursed $4 for each one but some cost more than that and yes, I do tip the workers who dry it off afterwards. Speaking of tipping, dispatchers and gas station attendants get some from us too. I don’t know and I don’t care what they make but handling the game of musical chairs that takes place around changeover time every day is much more stressful than anyone unfamiliar with the industry would ever realize. Taxis break down, need minor repairs and fluid changes, have broken meters, are regularly due for inspection, and the people who drive them are also prone to lateness and calling out. Not all taxis come back in the same order in which they leave so whatever is dispatched out depends on what’s on the lot and what needs to get off of it first. Only steady drivers get the same car every shift, which can be a pain when a certain driver is late getting back to the garage for the switch-off at changeover time.

Sure enough, I’ve had my unexpected surprises in the months that I’ve been behind the wheel. Broken ball joints, flat tires, a dead battery, and a ticket for having a headlight out have all thrown monkey wrenches into various nights that were running smoothly before the incidents took place. There’s no worse feeling than having to head back to the garage for repairs, knowing that the time lost can never be regained back and as the old saying goes, time is indeed money. Everything will average out over the long run but so many of us tend to look at what we make per night and forget that the big picture is what counts when earning a living as a driver.

Going back to the issue at hand, I’m in favor of a hike as long as a few stipulations are met. The first is obvious, and that’s whether the Mayor and TLC Chair are in favor of it. Last I heard, Bloomberg and Yassky were on board with this because of the rising costs of gas and lease fees the last few years that we’ve had to fully eat. Second is whether those lease fees will also concurrently go up as well. If the garage and medallion owners take out too much of a chunk of the increased revenue, then there isn’t a benefit for those who drive at all. Owners were up in arms when the Outer-Borough Taxi’s were formally introduced recently and should the plan go through, they will have the right to take street hails anywhere in the city outside of Manhattan below Central Park North. Since that’s expected to cut into medallion revenue, the owners were bitterly against this plan when it was proposed and now that seems to be coming into fruition, they will need to come up with a way to make up for the lost income…which naturally, would have to come out of our pockets somehow. It’s an endless battle that will only intensify once these apple green-hued cars hit the streets in the not-so-distant future.

Finally, there’s a meeting this week. This bleary-eyed driver will probably drag himself into the city and down to Beaver Street to see what the city, drivers, and any passengers who bother to make it in will have to say about the changes. There’s a chance that I’ll speak, if for no other reason than to toss my two cents in for the drivers who won’t even bother to make it or do anything about their salary. Even though many of my “coworkers” could use a few more lessons in etiquette and civility, I know a ton who work their asses off to earn a living and only want the best for themselves and their families. Hopefully, this hike will be a first step into making it easier for us hacks who provide so much for a city that isn’t always grateful to us in return.

Taxi TV – Lots of revenue but none for the driver

Those three dreaded letters…

The Yellow Sea

“Hey there, where to?”

“I’m going to J.F.K…”

There’s virtually nothing else that can be said in such a short span that has as bit an impact on a shift as the above quote. Entire nights can be made or ruined depending on what time the run out to the location formerly known as Idlewild is made. Some cabdrivers are known to speed away from people who wish to go there, before the trunk can be popped for the mound of luggage that will further cripple many a sciatic nerve and daily fuel budget. You, the intrepid reader, will no doubt already know that yours truly has never refused to fare to this locale, if for no other reason that some of the most memorable nights have involved a fare to the largest Airport in the Tri-State area.

In all seriousness, J.F.K. is a city unto itself. No map of the 5 Boroughs would be complete without it and it would easily swallow up Central Park’s 840 acres 5 times over with room to spare. Like the rest of New York City, the process of building and rebuilding there is never ending, especially with Terminal 6 having been recently torn down. We went over the fare system enough in Taxi School and it was only a matter of time after I started driving that I was guaranteed to get someone who needed to get there from Manhattan A.S.A.P. Sure enough, this mentality is what causes so much consternation and agita when it comes time to haul someone to their flight in time.

As I always tell people with a hint of humor and hubris, “LaGuardia is a bitch to get around but easy to get to while Kennedy is the other way around. It’s a Man’s Airport and one that New York can be proud of”. Much of the reason for this is the absence of the Bushwick Expressway, which would have made the run from Midtown a lot faster than the trek down the World’s Longest Parking lot and past the remnants of the ’64 World’s Fair. Man will probably walk on Mars and find a cure for the common cold before Mass Transit will overtake the auto as the preferred way of reaching New York’s International Gateway, even with the AirTrain fully operational for a number of years now.

J.F.K. presents it’s own unique set of parameters in terms of how it breaks up a shift. At rush hour, it’s every cabbies nightmare since every main route, alternate route, shortcut, and cut-through through a residential area will inevitably be met with red lights and/or traffic that will result in the passenger questioning the route that was selected. The $45 flat fare from Manhattan (it’s the standard rate from anywhere else in the city) sounds like a  great deal until the details are hashed out. Most passengers hate paying the toll, even though some MTA crossings can considerably shorten the ride. Some passengers will be in a huge rush and have no idea how long it takes to get there, since their inbound flight was a red-eye or was delayed for so long that the ride to their hotel or destination was lightning-fast on empty roads. A few will be from Europe and not bother tipping since, well…because it’s not customary to do that over there.

And then there’s the $64,000 question of how to return.

Once a passenger is dropped off at the proper terminal, the cabdriver has two choices:

1) Head to the dispatch line, a.k.a. Central Taxi

2) Get the Hell out of Dodge and back to Manhattan

But of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that…

Sure enough, the line of empty cabs waiting to head out of that line can be big and slow to move, leaving the occasional crazy cabdriver to hop up on his cab and take in the scene, out of sheer boredom. It’s like any other Taxi line, with a dispatcher and a “FIFO” (first in, first out) rule but the trick is figuring out how long it will take to get out. During Rush Hours, rainy days, or busy travel periods, it can quick and worth the driver’s time. Otherwise, I can catch 3/4th of a sporting event on the radio before I have to wake up, start the engine and pull out. Who doesn’t like saving on gas? Probably the same person who wants to wait around while at work. Yup, it’s just that exciting…

Passing the time at Central Taxi

This is the case if you’re close with the other drivers, and c’mon, lots of cabbies love to watch others, take pictures, and record what the world throws at them, right? That’s why I never managed to get in on the backgammon and domino games that can get pretty heated during the lean times in the waiting area. I’ve seen quite a bit of money get thrown around, to the point where I wondered if the drivers were going fast during the rest of their shifts to make up for gambling losses. Sure, I’m awful at these contests but apparently not enough to get roped in as a way for the others to make a few bucks. The only contact the others had with me was the queries whether I worked for TLC since I was taking pictures of the action. This, after a few of my passengers wondered if I was like the other cabbies when I forgot to shave and got testy easily. I guess I just can’t win sometimes…

All games aside, it’s nearly impossible to picture Gotham without Kennedy. Every ticket that we get from the dispatch booth proudly proclaims that J.F.K. is where “New York greets the world” and given that the Big Apple is home to people from every corner of the globe, it would only make sense that this slogan is what we see before flying down the myriad of ramps to pick up fares that have just arrived. One thing about the airports that I have to explain to people is that the long wait is only something that we have to go through once in a night. Anyone *not* going to Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx entitles us to receive a shorty ticket from the dispatcher at a given terminal. In other words, if I’m back at the Airport within 90 minutes, then I can cut the line and basically be on my way with a new ticket, within a matter of minutes. There’s been a handful of nights where I’ve had 4 shorty’s in a row and didn’t get the fare back to Manhattan until well after midnight.

For buffs of the past like me, nothing could compare to seeing Eero Saarinen’s old T.W.A. Terminal, even if it’s only from the outside. Arguably the greatest building constructed in the Big Apple in the 1960’s, it’s a reminder of how much air travel was romanticized before deregulation took hold, and how even modern architecture could become outdated so quickly. Even though it’s been integrated with the rest of Terminal 5 now, it’s painful to see this relic from the past as a gateway and a reminder of what used to be. There’s so much to be overwhelmed by in today’s security-conscious age that buildings like this and the original Penn Station mark their times not just by their design, but by how we viewed travel and transportation.

At the time of their apex, both of those gates of entry were the world’s greatest in the city that had the most people, the tallest building, and the best transportation system that the planet had ever seen. The almighty dollar certainly took over and starting with the monolithic boxes that spouted up during the postwar building boom, utilitarianism became paramount over all else. Nowhere is this more apparent than at J.F.K. Sure, it gets high marks from passengers for it’s ease of entry and mobility but let’s face it, when was the last time a trip to the airport was an exciting event for you? What makes the experience at Kennedy so mediocre is the harried aspect of the experience. Reflecting the cabdrivers who are herded like cattle to the passengers waiting for a ride, people today are treated more as numbers and statistics rather than fresh-faced arrivals from afar. If there’s any plus to having a return fare back to the city, it’s that I get to have an extended conversation with my passenger(s) as they make their way home or to a hotel. It’s will never be a re-creation of the past like Pan Am, but it is all I can do to greet the world as best I can.

The old way of taking flight at J.F.K.

52 Street

A record from another time

Once upon a time, I had two parents. Both living, both married to each other, and both raising me. I can’t recall a whole lot from those days but they had steady jobs, a good disposition, and taste in music. Lots of it. Even though I went to bed early at night and never went out much of anywhere with them, I was lucky enough to listen in on what was spinning at 33 1/3 rpm Not too long after I graduated from a diet of 70 jars of baby food a week, I moved on to such staples as Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits, Endless Summer by the Beach Boys, The Village People’s Macho Men, and of course, The Piano Man’s classic, 52nd Street.

Granted, these weren’t 8-tracks blaring out hard rock or disco but rather, these were on vinyl and the largesse came not in the component that held the music, but in that which played it. We had the most beautiful wood-paneled stereo system that the 70’s could crank out and every time it came on, it let you know that nothing else in the room mattered. I could never see the record spinning away in a halcyon state since I was short but I’ll never forget the album covers or the light that shone against the dots on the side of the revolving turntable. No, I never made it to Studio 54 in it’s heyday but I was lucky enough to have the next best thing at home, along with the most ideal family living situation in my 30something years that I’ve been alive.

Flash forward to the holidays in 2011, long after giant stereo systems were replaced with mp3’s and life turned into an existence between an unstable living and ad-hoc employment situation. Much as records needed to be played faster when shrunken down, so was the case with my day-to-day existence. As the city became smaller and more familiar to me, so the days and pace quickened, to the point where 40+ fares in a 12-hour shift could be pulled out of my back pocket. I had a whole string of these in December until a seemingly innocuous fare turn the most unexpected of turns.

It began, like so much else at the end of the year, in Times Square. A waitress heading home after work slammed the door of the cab in front of me and walked toward my Taxi. This meant that I was going to be making a run to an outer Borough, which I had yet to refuse in nearly 5 months on the job.

“How ya doing? I saw that Taxi reject you up at the light.”

“Such an a-hole! I’m going home to the Bronx. Right off the Deegan and you can take the Madison Ave. Bridge to get up that way.”

“Sure thing. There shouldn’t be much of any traffic since it’s late and all the work is over on the Wills Ave. Bridge. How’d your night go?”

“Pretty good. Work was busy and the tourists were good to me. How about you?”

“Just the usual holiday rush. Lots of Europeans in my cab tonight, especially Italians. Must be a good exchange rate right now.”

So off we went, crosstown until we got to Madison Ave. where I made the left to start the long journey up to the Bridge. Hardly a soul could be seen until another Taxi pulled up next to me. We rode in near tandem for a few blocks and at 52 Street, we were even at the red light. When it turned green, we were just about to go through when a cab crossed the intersection through the red light, hauntingly.

*Beep*

Nothing.

*BEEEPPPPP*

Still nothing. I was quite scared as both the cab next to me and I laid on our horns, to no avail. The Prius that ran the light did so quietly and ominously and both of us went through the light after him.

*WHAM*

And then a scream…

I threw my car into park and ran out, and so did two other drivers. All of us rounded the corner and halfway down 52 Street towards Park Ave when we saw the cab up against the curb, with the driver unconscious and hunched over the steering wheel, and the fire hydrant that he crashed against knocked over and on the sidewalk.

“Holy shit, just as I thought.”

“I’ll call for help.”

“Let me see if I can flag a cop down. I still can’t believe he went through the light like that.”

I ran back to tell my passenger what happened and looked for an officer heading uptown, but to no avail. 30 seconds later, I called 911 as a secondary precaution.

“911.”

“Yeah, I’m on Madison and 52. Someone in a cab went through a red light and he’s out now.”

“Is he breathing?”

“I don’t think so. Looks like he had a heart attack or stroke. We can’t get in the car either.”

“I’ll call for help. You were on Madison and 57th?”

“No, 52nd. 5-2. He’s on East 52 between Madison and Park now, up against the curb. I don’t think there were any passengers in the vehicle at the time.”

After giving my name, profession, and number, I hung up and ran back to the car. By now, the Police were there and because the doors were locked, the nightstick came out. I could hear the whaps as I ran back to my Taxi.

“I’m sorry for the delay, but I had make sure help was coming. You don’t have to leave since I’ll take you home now and I’m going to turn the meter off early for the time which we sat here.”

“Thank you so much. You did the right thing in calling for help.”

“I had no choice, we’re not allowed to touch others so I had to stay hands off.”

“I understand.”

“I can’t believe out of all the intersections in the city at this hour, he rolled right in front of us. That would have been awful if it happened during the day.”

“I know! At least the help arrived.”

Neither of us spoke as we made our way uptown, over the Harlem River, and eventually onto West Kingsbridge Road. I was white as a ghost the entire right, thinking I had watched someone die in front of me for the first time in my life. As soon as I dropped her off, I flew back down the FDR and made my way back over to the accident scene, parking on Madison Ave. By that time, the car was being loaded onto a flatbed to be towed away, with the street blocked off with yellow Police tape.

“Officer, I was here 45 minutes ago when this happened and I saw the driver out over the steering wheel. Is he alright?”

“Yeah, he had a massive heart attack but the paramedics revived him. He’s in the Hospital now and should recover.”

“Oh my God, that’s great to hear. Thanks for the information.”

“No problem.”

I don’t recall much else from the rest of the night, except for the usual assortment of financial workers, bartenders, and nightcrawlers making their way into my cab for the ride home. I didn’t have to go up Madison Ave until my next shift, but it was never quite the same when I crossed the intersection that the wayward cab crawled through that fateful night. I took the medallion number down and passed it on to the guys at the garage, but they weren’t aware of who the owner or leasing agent was. Inquiries into various print and online news agencies turned up nothing either, but that certainly would not have been the case had the driver passed on.

Years from now, the memories will pass on. Much like the 21 Club or Toots Shor’s, the scene will only stand out for those who were there to witness it for themselves. The location will still exist for any witness who wishes to walk through and think about what took place there, but the pace of life will become so quick that it will be hard to do so; while stepping away from a world that will be incrementally faster than today’s. I don’t know if the Prius, the mp3, the Christmas of 2011, or even the notion of hauling passengers around in yellow vehicles will be outdated in 20 or 30 years, but I do know that some things in life stick with you no matter the pace or scale of change.

Especially the one that took place on 52 Street.

The hydrant, a week later

Porn This Way

Just to balance this post out

The last few weeks were nothing but a blur both at and away from work. Most of the fares I took had something to do with the holidays, whether it was taking shoppers and their purchases home, picking up workers staying at the offices late, or the occasional Santa who dressed up for the purpose of letting it all go and getting drunk. There were a few exceptions to this and one of them took place a few Mondays ago late at night.

I dropped off someone in the Meatpacking District and decided to turn uptown to see if anyone was still coming out of Penn Station. Someone hailed my cab and after letting him in, things took an unexpected turn:

“Happy Holidays! Where to?”

“East Side, 3 Ave in the 30’s.”

“Sure thing. How’d your night go?”

“Not too bad but you know how it goes. Tried to get my rocks off and that didn’t work. Heading home now.”

I’ve had these types of people before but not on a weeknight and certainly not anyone that came out and stated that right off of the bat. I didn’t even mention my work situation or how I owe a boatload of money on my student loans but out of nowhere, came this question that hit me like a ton of bricks:

“How would you like to make $10,000 tonight?”

“I beg your pardon!”

“I’m being serious. I’m offering you $10,000 in exchange for recording you getting off and I’d only film you from the neck down.”

Go on…

“You see, I’m a producer of porn. Even though I’m gay and you’re cute, you’re not what I’m after. Well, in terms of a romantic relationship. But you’re the kind of person I’m interested in for the market.”

“The what?” I was amazed that I didn’t drive off the street but getting crosstown was never so difficult, even with a light amount of traffic.

“You heard me. Most people think that porn stars have these great bodies and tons of stamina but in reality, what sells now is average. The average body and look. Most people who want to watch others fuck are looking for those that remind them of themselves. That’s what’s popular these days.”

“I see.”

“That’s good. I’m having a hard time fully seeing you but it’s dark out.”

Sure enough, I turned on the dome lights and let him get a good look at me, even though I had no idea what he was thinking. I let about 30 seconds of silence go by before he spoke again:

“So, are you average?”

“Well, I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to.”

“I can already tell that you’re not interested.”

Needless to say, it was at this point that the cop cars and armory vehicles that were forcing me to take a detour because of the Charity: Ball came into play and threw a vehicular monkey wrench into this conversation.

“You’re getting quiet.”

“That’s because 50 cabs are trying to converge in front of the Armory here and I’m trying to get around.”

“It’s alright. I can tell that you’re quite scared to do this.”

“Whatever gave ya that idea?”

“I can see your look through the rear-view mirror. You’re too hesitant even after what I offered you.”

“It’s new to me. What can I say?”

Of course, not much else. Eventually, it was one in a ton of fares that seemed right out of a bad sequel of Scrooged.

And sure, I could have used the money. Would I really do that, and risk my reputation? Have a copy floating around the internet? Start a more lucrative career whoring my body out for anonymous masses to get off to?

You already know the answer, but the people I picked up from the Ball later that night didn’t. They were complete opposites of Mr. Boogie Nights and part of the reason why I couldn’t leave the job I love, even if it would take months before I’d make $10,000.