Who’ll kill the electric cab?

Nissan LEAF - West Side

Nissan Leaf – West Side

“Nice Taxi you have here!”

“Thanks, but it’s not mine. I just keep it clean as possible.”

“It runs so quiet, it must be an electric or hybrid vehicle.”

“No it’s not. The engines are nowhere as big as those in the Crown Vic’s, although this does run on gasoline. Some of the SUV’s and the Prius Taxi’s are hybrids but we don’t have anymore of the former at the garage I work out of.”

“What about the Taxi of Tomorrow? Isn’t that supposed to run on electric power?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

Now that we’re down to T minus 70 days and counting until the Taxi of Tomorrow hits the streets of the Big Apple, there’s been a lot more talk about it’s rollout, both in the news and by my passengers. As I wrote in an earlier post, many people incorrectly think that the Ford Transit Connect is the Taxi of Tomorrow but even though some of those have been on the streets for nearly two years now, none will be active as a yellow cab at the end of the decade should the full implementation of the Nissan NV-200 take place. It did lose out to it in the competition to be the exclusive yellow cab for the City of New York, but since the Crown Victoria is no longer being made by Ford, other models have taken the place of those that have reached the end of their life cycle, and the Transit Connect happens to be one of the more popular choices to replace the cars that have hit retirement age.

Come October, that all changes as the first of the NV-200’s will roll out. New Yorkers will have a custom-built Taxi designed for comfort, safety, stability, and durability (or so we’ve been told) that has been thoroughly tested and ready for the daily wear and tear that the streets will inevitably put on them. Since no one in the general public had been inside of one and none of the drivers currently employed in New York has driven one, the jury is out on whether the grandiose promises that the TLC and the Mayor have made about this new Taxi will be kept. One aspect about them remains in flux however:

What will they run on?

One of the questions I get the most by my passengers is how the cost of fuel is borne at the end of the shift. Many incorrectly think that the garage pays for whatever we use while we’re on-duty, but if you’ve kept up with my musings on here, you know better than that. Just like a rental car, the Taxis we drive have to be returned in the condition we took them out in – clean, ding-free, and full.

Of gas, that is.

Thankfully, my garage has a home station nearby that also serves as a de facto AAA emergency roadside service. The tow trucks that will take us back in case we break down are not based near my garage but in case of a flat tire, a dead battery, or other small problems that arise from time to time, one of the guys who works at the station will take the old taxi that’s been converted to a Saint Bernard on wheels and help us out. It’s a lifesaver since getting towed is time-consuming and as anyone is well aware of, time is money. To take that a step further, time lost during a shift is money lost.

The day drivers have it rough when it comes to getting gas since getting in and out of the Station at rush hour is one knock-’em, sock-’em game of musical chairs with everyone else who is trying to get in and out at the same time. At 4:50 in the morning, the streets are empty and the only thing I can count on is that I’ll see the same 5 or 10 guys out of my garage who are finishing their shift at the same time. We almost always agree on how good or bad it was out on the streets that night and we’ll trade barbs on what we went through during the previous 12 hours. In a field where it’s pretty much every driver for him or herself, it’s the only time where I feel like I can bond with those that put in the same hours and working conditions that I do.

Could all of this change in the near future? A few months back, Nissan helped launch 6 electric LEAF Taxis to join the 13,000+ gasoline and hybrid vehicles that currently make up the fleet in New York. All of them look like the one pictured above and have the same fare structure as the other Taxis. The real reason for their usage however, is to see whether they can pass muster and handle the day-to-day grind that will take its toll on them. Eventually, the city wants 1/3 of the fleet to be electric by the end of the decade.

Of course, that will have to coincide with the NV-200 being the exclusive model of Taxi by that time, even though none of the ones set to hit the street this year are slated to run via a charger and battery.

This brings up a host of problems that will have to be addressed. For starters, there are only a limited number of charging stations currently in the 5 Boroughs. Garages are expected to have the stations first before they become more widely available but for now, an app is needed to locate them.

Then there’s the time factor. Most of the Taxis in the overall fleet are on the road at least 20 hours a day, nearly every day of the week. Steady cars get traded off between partners and the others are dispatched out to the daily or nightly drivers. It’s not uncommon for a Taxi to rack up well over 300,000 miles during its 6-year lifespan on the streets before it hits retirement age and is decommissioned. Charging, for all the advances made in it in the last few years, still takes a while and has to be done on vehicles that are not on the road for two shifts a day. Once the time to fully recharge a battery drops, this can change and then can an electric cab can be on-duty for nearly the entire day (or night).

Last but not least, there’s the issue of the battery. Ask anyone who’s had to pay for a new one in a hybrid vehicle and you’ll probably get sighs and groans as a response. They’re not cheap and their replacement can easily wipe out the savings in gas in a heartbeat. The cars currently on the road haven’t had to go through that yet but eventually, they will and the cost will have to be borne by someone in order to keep them running. Their range between charges isn’t terribly far either and for someone like me who drives nearly the entire time in a 12-hour shift, 140-150 miles will be the minimum needed to ensure a safe and stress-free night at work.

No one ever seems to mention that for all the gas that an electric Taxi will save, it will still need an energy source. A plug may not give off carbon dioxide but the source of the power that feeds into it probably will. Given that Indian Point’s days are numbered and that a majority of the power that New York consumes today is from fossil fuels, how much greenhouse gases are electric vehicles really keeping out of the atmosphere? To me, it’s a shell game that everyone is in favor of without thinking everything through from start to finish.

Ultimately, the big issue that this will come down to is going to be the same one that affects so much of what New York’s future depends on, which is infrastructure. Charging stations will have to be widespread, do the job quickly, and be built to last. If 1/3 of the 13,000+ yellow cabs (which could number nearly 15,000 by decade’s end) are to be electric, they will have to withstand the wear and tear that the job will place on them, as well as repeated charges on a near-daily basis. There’s nothing wrong with pushing the edge of what’s technologically possible as a means of efficiency and to help provide better environment for all but when it comes down to nuts and bolts, what matters is whether the person on the street hailing a cab will get into an electric one over a model that’s more familiar and reliable.

Usage will dictate what ultimately fails and succeeds. The Second Avenue Subway will cost billions to construct but after years of delays, it will be worth it when tens of thousands of passengers patronize the line once it’s finally open for revenue service. Water Tunnel #3 will be in near-constant use when it comes online in the next few years and any of the new parks along the East and Hudson Rivers will be worth the cost once the attendance numbers and rise in surrounding real estate values are taken into consideration. If the new cabs are up and running at decades end and the average passenger can’t discern between those that run via the pump versus those that run via the charge, than the plan will be a success and New York will be looked at as a leader in alternative energy for the vehicles that service the riding public.

Until then, we can only hope that the vast amount of time and money spent on this new technology will not be seen as a wasted opportunity, unlike the ill-fated Chevy Volt. The taxpayers and Taxi riders of Gotham do not deserve a boondoggle, repeated on such a massive scale.

iPhone26 056Charging station – New Jersey


From the Home Office in West Caldwell, New Jersey

Apologies to Letterman

Apologies to Letterman

Sure enough, it’s been a year since I finished watching all 114 Episodes of Taxi. With the exception of Frasier, I had never gone through an entire run of a TV show on DVD from start to finish, to see how many story arcs there were and how they were wrapped up. While Taxi didn’t have a final installment worthy of the show that won 18 Emmy Awards, there were enough episodes and moments that were worth remembering, especially to this driver. While work has been relatively routine since my return from the Grand Canyon State, I thought that it was time for a Top 10 list of the best episodes of that landmark series and although I won’t be writing for any late-night talk shows anytime in the near future, I thought that this site would be an appropriate place for it in the midst of court orders, meetings, and crimes against yellow cab drivers making their way into the news once again.

So without any further ado, here are the Top 10 episodes of Taxi, with their original air date where applicable:

10) Who Will Be Miss Taxi?

Elaine (Marilu Henner) is totally shocked one day to find out that the guys in the garage have seen her enter a contest run by a New York Tabloid to become the next “Miss Taxi”. How could she be pictured in the paper when she never entered the contest? Simple. Louie (Danny DeVito) entered her into it and thought that the ensuing publicity would be good for the garage. Of course, Elaine advances in the contest even though she vows to stand up and speak about how the whole process objectifies women and is nothing more than a sexist, shallow contest, but when she has the chance, she cannot stand up for her convictions. Even upon winning the award, the City never knows how she feels and only the people in the garage find out at the end about her distaste for it, with the speech given from the hallowed turf of Louie’s cage. At that point, she’s on a roll but the ensuing passengers that come and go from her Taxi don’t care as she rambles on about her opinion regarding the process, as the words become drivel that fills their lives.

Don’t remember this episode? There’s a good reason why:

It never aired.

According to Taxi – The Official Fan’s Guide  by Frank Lovece and Jules Franco, this was a story outline for an episode that was never filmed. It later became the basis for the “Who Will Become Miss Barmaid?” for Cheers, which is where many of the writers and producers moved on to once Taxi went off the air in 1983. This episode could have been a classic for so many reasons – Elaine mentions on a New York morning show that she thinks one of the drivers “is pretty cute” but never states who, the tension of Elaine blowing the whistle on the entire contest only comes to head to those at the Sunshine Cab Company, and the ending where Elaine turns out to be the only one who cares about the superficiality of everything. While there was never a “Miss Taxi” contest in New York, old time residents of the City will fondly recall the “Miss Subways” promo that ran underground for years before becoming discontinued in the 1970’s. It’s hard to imagine anything like that now happening given how few women dive a Taxi and proliferation of eye-candy rating sites on the internet but this was a homage to the contests and pageants that were so important to American pop culture in the 20th century.

9) Tony’s Sister and Jim – 11/26/80

Tony (Tony Danza) has a plan to set up his sister Monica (Julie Kavner) with Alex (Judd Hirsch) since she’s visiting from Spokane and he thinks they’d hit it off together. Unfortunately, a little something gets in the way, which turns out to be none other the resident burnout Jim (Christopher Lloyd). Jim and Monica hit it off in the garage while Alex steps away to get ready. Harvard-dropout Jim’s refined side comes through for the first time as we see him talk classical music and have a normal conversation with the divorced-Monica. Although we don’t see his instrumental talent come out as we do later in Elegant Iggy, he holds his own at the French restaurant they later eat at and at her apartment when the couple are spending time together. Naturally, this upsets Tony since he can’t see what they have in common and still thinks that the more level-headed Alex would be better for his sister. After a nice demonstration of his muscles when he picks up Jim and nearly tosses him out, Monica restores order to the ordeal as all is right in the world and the two guys chime in on bottles to Monica’s flute playing as the episode ends.

The highlight of the episode is seeing a post-Rhoda and pre-Simpsons Julie Kavner in a simple role and a potential love interest for Reverend Jim. Throughout the series, Jim is seen as a misunderstood loner who means well and sees the world through a quite-unfiltered lens but underneath, has a soft side and an odd sense of refinement. This is really the first time it comes out and even though Tony’s lack of intellect makes itself known here, it’s apparent that he has not been hit in the head too many times as a boxer since he backs from protecting Monica and gives in to her desires, even if he still doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Jim. It’s a tender moment that shows that Jim is one of the gang, although he never fully acclimates himself with the others during the duration of the show.

Two more of your average cabdrivers in 2012

Two more of your average cabdrivers in 2012

8) A Grand Gesture – 5/25/83

As we earlier see in Jim’s Inheritance, Jim has quite a bit of money to his name now that his father has passed on. After giving a homeless person that wandered into the garage $1,000, Jim repeats the favor to the other drivers on the condition that they don’t hold onto the money but instead, give it to someone who could make good use of it. Alex hands it off to an elderly passenger in his Taxi, Elaine sits with one of her children and debates how to best split it up, Tony buys a color T.V. for an old friend of his who’s homebound, and Louie has the hardest time giving it away since his assistant Jeff (J. Alan Thomas) can’t grasp that Louie would ever care for anybody but himself. After much arguing, Jeff finally takes the money as they hug and Jim leans in and smiles from the background.

There are so many reasons why this deserves to be on any Taxi fan’s short list of great episodes. As I alluded to earlier, Taxi was cancelled twice on two different networks and the second time around was relatively abrupt, with a true final episode never being written. None of the proverbial loose ends were ever tied up and instead, we’re left with this. The notion behind Jim’s generosity would later be seen in the “Pay it forward” idea that Oprah Winfrey espoused but here, we get a deep grasp into the essence of each character. All of them followed Jim’s advice with different results. Tony finds an old friend and spent it all on a T.V. that today, looks hopeless outdated. This could possibly be in allusion to the conclusion of Zen and The Art of Cabdriving as the strongest message that Taxi sent during it’s 5-season run. Seeing the tears run down Walt’s (Scatman Crothers) face as he’s taken back by the generosity stood as one of the most dramatic moments on the show…until Louie attempts to get rid of his $1,000 allotment a little bit later on.

Jeff was always seen as a reluctant yes-man to Louie’s overblown dispatcher and de facto boss at the Sunshine Cab Company. It seemed like he spoke more here than during all of his other appearances over the years and to see him stand up for his principles was quite touching. What brought it to the next level was that this moment of confidence came at a time where Louie actually let his guard down and actually thought of someone else for a change.

7) Alex’s Old Buddy – 1/29/83

Alex brings a dog into the garage that has been living with his sister for years, but the 19-year old canine is on his last legs and is going everywhere with Alex before he moves onto the boneyard in the sky. Simka (Carol Kane) even comes by to give the dog a blessing from the old country but the good wishes are to little avail: Buddy is dying and Alex’s attempt to show that he’s alright backfires when the dog fails to perform the trick that he’s most known for. Alex brings him to the Vet to find out the bad news out but only uses that as a reason to let Buddy take over his life. He stays home with the dog as his date mistakes his food for that of humans and in a another funny scene afterwards, Buddy has become Alex’s resident-in-cab. At the garage, Louie suggests that it may be time to humanely end it for the canine but Jim interjects and offers a test. If he can do the trick, it’s not time for him to go. In one of the most dramatic and tension-filled moments on Taxi, Alex “shoots” Buddy so he can play dead and as all the drivers look on in silence, the dog slowly performs as he rolls over. The joy is short-lived however as the last scene in this episode shows Alex crying alone after putting having Buddy put down, even with Louie unable to help out his top performing-cabdriver and closest friend.

This episode is so different from that of so many other sitcoms that it’s almost impossible to know where to begin. Usually, new characters are brought in when ratings go into the tank but this was during Taxi’s final season on NBC and Buddy is only shown here. The tried-and-true formula of a problem being overcome here doesn’t apply either, as grief quietly takes over Alex before the credits roll. For all the joy, the plot possibilities, and the humor that a canine could have brought onto the set, it’s the image of Alex crying alone that resonated with viewers when all was said and don. The girlfriend he has and the passenger in his cab that meets Buddy are forgotten but the theme of him being a consummate, lonely cabdriver held the most true when he ends the episode on his own, as ultimately turned out to be the case when the show came to a close a few months later. Most protagonists get the girl, the promotion, and live happily ever after as all the loose ends are sewn up but the only loose end in this episode was the leash that would never be used again by his best friend. Had the series ended on this note, it would have been fitting given that Alex held the same occupation and marital status as when it all began.

6) Elaine’s Strange Triangle – 12/10/80

Another recurring theme on the show was the revolving door of men that Elaine went through during the series’ run, and this episode may have taken the cake for why she remained single throughout it. Over drinks at Mario’s, Tony sets Elaine up with a nice-looking gentlemanly patron that the others think would be good for her. Kirk (John David Carson) and Elaine seem like two people who are made for each other but later on, Kirk admits to Tony that he has a problem:

He’s not attracted to her.

No big deal, right? It wouldn’t be if Kirk wasn’t bi…

…and he wasn’t hot for Tony.

Tony has a hard time admitting this and an even harder time getting it settled so as usual, Alex has to step in to sort things out. He’s the only one that feels that Elaine needs to know the truth and since he wants to get down to the bottom of it, he ends up going with Tony down to the bar that Kirk frequents in order to get him to set the record straight. Sounds relatively straightforward until Alex gets pulled onto the dance floor by a “bear” and hilarity ensues. Tony walks in stunned and stereotypes gets shattered, all in late 1970’s I’m-coming-out vibe softened by a strong dose of comic relief.

This show was the popular at the same time as Soap, which was the first primetime series that featured an openly gay character. It’s a bit of a misnomer that Elaine was in the episode’s title given that she’s not shown at all during the scene that had the audience in stitches but as far as the writers were concerned, it was the men who were the focal points here. Kirk comes across but normal but isn’t, Tony appears to be macho but can’t face the truth when Kirk admits it to him, and once again, Alex tries to be the hero but ends up being a goat in the metaphorical sense. The situation he found himself in doesn’t define him as much as it catches him off-guard and his attempt at humor ends up backfiring, as the men end up liking him more as he tries to stands out from the gay bar attendees. There wasn’t anything uneasy or offending about this episode, but the joke had to be on the main character in order for the taboo to be lifted, which it was as programs and sitcoms in the following years dealt with gay characters much more comfortably.

5) Elaine and the Monk – 12/2/82

Simka brings in her cousin to the garage, a Monk (Mark Blankfield) that is visiting New York on his vacation. He belongs to a monastic order that has taken a vow of silence but since he is away from his monastery, he can talk while on his break. Unfortunately, he only has a week to enjoy the sights and sounds of the big city. Who better to show him the Big Apple than the charming, female cabbie in the garage? Elaine is more than up to it and in a scene that only features the two of them in the garage, they start dancing with each other to an old song as if they were in a 1930’s big-band era film.

The antics go on as they describe at the garage the places that they’ve seen around town. A what’s-what of New York is listed, including the World Trade Center and 5 Ave, but with only descriptions that leave the viewer wondering how much of them they saw as opposed to each other. Alex, on-and-off again with Elaine over the course of the series is jealous of Zifka’s encroachment on his confidant, as she responds that he’s jealous that he doesn’t have anyone in his life. Zifka leaves, stating that he’ll be over her place for dinner during his last night of freedom. At her apartment, we see the two of them getting along while being on the clock the entire time. Because he was late, they didn’t have time for a full meal together and as he’s about to fully express how he feels to her, the alarm sounds and he has to put his robe back on. The episode finishes in silence as they continue off from the dance in the garage and he heads out, back to the old country to continue the vows of his order.

This was Danny Devito’s directorial debut and it showed here, from the overhead camera shot of the dance sequence to his diminished role as Louie. Not that the cast and crew weren’t comfortable with the other directors, but they were so accustomed to working with him that the looseness of the humor and introduction of the new character were apparent to those watching. Zifka and Elaine had real chemistry and instead of the other guys vying for her attention, Zifka lets Elaine take on the reigns and show him the ropes, as his talent for dancing won her over effortlessly. Marilu Henner was a star on Broadway before hitting it big on the small screen and along with her turn in Fantasy Borough, she got to show what she learned on the Great White Way here. DeVito showcases her brilliantly while effortlessly weaving the singing and dancing into the plot and pulling the Cinderella-esque ending, with a glass of champagne substituting for the glass slipper. The silence lets the viewer contemplate what could have been between Elaine and Zifka, as the potential love of her life got away before her feelings for him ran their course.

4) Jim’s Inheritance – 10/7/82

Louie gets a call at the garage and it’s not good – Jim’s father has passed on. Louie tries to break the news as gently as possible to Jim but when told that his father has gone on to a better place, Jim thinks that it’s “Palm Beach” and not the afterlife. Jim goes on to work his shift to take his mind off of what happened and few days later, an Attorney for Jim (Dick Sargent from Bewitched) enters the garage to inform him that his father reinstated Jim into his will. The bad news is that Jim’s brother and sister want him to not have a part of it and instead, want to have him receive part the money through a conservatorship. Jim vows to fight but it’s an uphill battle as the drivers and his Lawyer fail to win the judge over and the money is held back from him. All that he’s given from his Dad is a heavy trunk with a few of his old belongings.  Even though Elaine finds it outside of his apartment on her way to see him, Jim wants to open it alone and the interplay between the two polar opposites comes to a head here as Jim takes a serious turn in his mood and is met on by Elaine’s attempt to stand by him through thick and thin. She grants his wish that he’s alone when discovering the contents which happens immediately after she leaves. Jim takes out his overweight Dad’s old suit and puts it on a chair in his apartment, as it quietly falls back on its own. A tape recorder pulled out afterwards is played, which belts out “You are the Sunshine of my Life” by Stevie Wonder, followed by an ending in a fade-out.

“Reverend” Jim Ignatowski stole the show from the moment he joined the cast full-time but this was one of the few times where we got to see the dramatic side of Christopher Lloyd shine through. Like Jeff Conaway and Marilu Henner, Lloyd started out on Broadway (actually, Off-Broadway) and later moved on to film and television. It was a testament to the show’s writers that they were able to show the seriousness that his character required here and have it measure up to the burnt-out persona that he was best-known for on the show. It made Latka’s (Andy Kaufman) wedding in Paper Marriage that much better when he performed the wedding in straightface, even though his denim outfit and lack of official title only made the farce that much greater. In Jim’s Inheritance, he has a hard time coming to grips with the loss of his Dad, even though he was estranged from him for much of his life. His family followed in the old man’s footsteps by succeeding in life while Jim couldn’t let go of the 1960’s, both in mind and lifestyle. He may not have ended up with the money, but his good heart won his Father over and because of that, he was left with a gift that money couldn’t buy, his Dad’s prized possessions. Even though the tape recorder looks like an anachronism today, the song and message that it sent were both as strong as anything else that Jim’s Dad could have recorded for his son to hold on to forever.

3) Zen and the Art of Cabdriving – 3/19/81

Jim picks up two passengers at JFK who discuss a self-help theory, which Jim later adopts. That night, he pulls in more than any cabdriver and later becomes Louie’s favorite as his totals outgross that of anyone else at the Sunshine Cab Company. Being the best cabdriver becomes an obsession to him and after working a bunch of shifts in close proximity to each other, he ends up leaving it all behind. He’s announced to the other drivers that that he’s reached his target and has achieved his goal, and that he wants them all to come to his apartment to see what he’s worked towards.

One night, they take him up on it and come into his quasi-illegal loft to see what this big goal was. Was it the start of a new commune? A drug den of sorts? A way to take his enlightened mind to the masses? Jim pulls back the cover over the windows to reveal that the goal he’s been working toward was…


Lots of them, actually. On all day. Watching a myriad of programs. Classical music? Check. A movie? Check. A forerunner of C-Span showing whether people of Delaware want to be called Delawarians or Delawarites? Check. The gang laughs and feels like they wasted a night since they’re been letdown more than they could have ever imagined and proceed to head out, but once they leave his apartment, they have a change of heart. Sure, they could stay for a bit and what’s the harm of watching a bit of TV before they head home? Before they know it, each one is watching something on a different screen and getting into it and in case they missed anything, there are VCR’s there to record what’s on for later viewing.

This is such a groundbreaking episode for a sitcom as the information revolution is still a full decade off but forewarned here by the most prophetic, Christ-like figure in the garage. Jim has probably achieved that state several times over the years beginning with his time at Harvard and subsequent dropping out of there but in this instance, it’s not a substance that allows him to “see the light” but rather, a method that most other people would have immediately brushed off. For Jim, it allows him to sing Sinatra with ease as the cab makes it’s way through Midtown (something I’ve repeated in jest on the same streets during some hellacious nights) and to make the presentation of his goal unabashedly. Just like the tape recorder in Jim’s Inheritance, the TV’s and VCR’s shown look hopelessly outdated but it only serves to show how powerful the message is. In in era of cable boxes and 36 channels available to subscribers, the gang is enchanted with the new technology and the niches that it appealed to. Had this aired today, what would they be seeing? The internet, DVR’s, and satellites allow for hundreds of options and viewing at any moment, which would be enough to pull nearly everyone in to *something*, at will. We can laugh at the limited options available to people in the early 80’s but I remember when we had a cable box with a wire going to the TV, with a few dozen options at any given time and of course, I always found something on when I needed to veg out. It’ s a reminder that for all the snickering that may have gone on after the “big announcement”, Jim was onto something that most people ended up catching on to, for better or for worse.

2) Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey – 9/25/79

This was the episode that put Taxi and Christopher Lloyd on the proverbial primetime map. The first season had some odd plot lines, like Alex going to Florida to see his long-lost daughter, John (Randall Carver) marrying a woman that he hardly knew, and the first of Bobby’s many struggles in the acting business. Less than a month into the second season, Taxi found it’s focal point and character that could relate well to anyone, in Christopher Lloyd’s “Reverend” Jim Ignatowski. He was seen briefly when he officiated Latka’s sham marriage to a call girl n order to keep him in the country, but it wasn’t until he took his driving test that America fell in love with the burnout stuck in a time warp. No writing could do justice to the “Yellow light” question that had Jim taking Bobby’s (Jeff Conaway) advice *too* literally, and slowing down every time he repeated the question. No one on TV has ever seen anyone so out of it, before or since, and the writers took Jim’s obliviousness to the extreme, even making it obvious to everyone else but him that he should be a cabdriver as he downed his sorrows in another beer at Mario’s one night.

It’s the sequence where he took his driving test that made this episode stand out but like the Fonz on Happy Days, the introduction of Jim to Taxi was what set this show apart from its peers and helped it to take off over the remainder of its run. I can personally vouch that although the TLC test to become a licensed hack wasn’t that hard, I needed to keep this sequence in the back of my mind as I took the test and watched the minutes idle away in the room at cabdriver’s school No, not just anyone can walk in and pass with flying colors and being a driver that enjoys the job is something reserved for a distinctive and slightly odd few. The bare walls and open plan of the testing room depicted here was probably nothing like the way things were back then, but the innocence and naivete shown in that scene was a reflection of the bohemian drivers like Jim that can no longer be found driving the Taxis on the streets of the Big Apple.

1) Elegant Iggy – 3/18/82

This episode started off so innocently enough – Jim ends up with two tickets to see the violinist Itzhak Perlman and has to choose between Elaine and Alex to accompany him. After having a wonderful evening together, Jim is riding the elevator with Elaine when one of the most important patrons of the gallery that Elaine works at gets in as well. One thing leads to another, and Elaine and Jim are invited to an event that she’s holding that weekend. Elaine is naturally nervous that Jim will embarrass her at this and blow her chances of advancing in the world of art sales and exhibition. She attempts to get out of it but Jim’s reaction to her initial rejection at the garage makes her have a change of heart, without a full change in attitude. The day of the event, Jim shows up in proper attire but has not fully convinced her that he’s ready to mingle with the highbrow set. A woman that converses with Jim at the affair is from another crust entirely but Jim just manages to laugh her small talk off and move on. The pianist scheduled to perform that night also calls out, leading the host to ask if anyone could fill in. Sure enough, Jim volunteers as a horrified Elaine looks on. After performing his “water cooler” trick with a bottle and playing “London Bridge is Falling Down”, Jim turns it up and out of nowhere, plays a classical piece. The audience is delighted, Elaine avoids permanent ridicule, and Jim walks out a happy man, even if he can’t quite figure out what just happened.

This episode is so brilliant on so many levels. Jim tries to woo Elaine with a Yoda puppet, which was all the rage back in the early 80’s. His appearance in full formal attire was a change from the denim-clad outfits he almost always wore on the show and the chemistry and affection that he felt for Miss Nardo-O’Connor in Elaine’s Secret Admirer continued here as he plays the perfect foil for her nervous self. We never find out over the course of the show whether she succeeded in running her own gallery and getting out of the garage but for one night, her attempts at making inroads with the highbrow set are met with success as Jim’s impromptu performance on the piano wins her over with the crowd she is rubbing elbows with. Everything in this episode had set up for an epic failure on his part but the 180 that he pulled out of thin air was a nice touch during a final season that saw a lot of heartbreak, tough issues, and unresolved storylines come to the forefront, as the certainly of the show’s future was in doubt on yet another network.

It should come as no coincidence that 5 of these episodes aired during the turbulent final season of Taxi and nearly all of the same 5 featured Reverend Jim as the character central to that particular episode’s plot. Andy Kaufman as Latka Gravas may have garnered his fair share of yuks and Randall Carver’s golly-gee John Burns was never featured after the first season but once Reverend Jim took his drivers test, the show went in a completely new and uncharted direction. Higher ratings, multitudes of awards, and a chance to have everyone else play off of a burnout with a heart of gold should have been enough to place Taxi on the same level as All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Seinfeld on the Mount Rushmore of sitcoms.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Shows today would have killed for ratings, writing, and an ensemble like the one that Jim Brooks, Dave Davis, Ed Weinberger, and Stan Daniels put together in 1978. For all the outdated aspects of the show – the Checker cabs,  the primitive-looking set, the archaic dispatching, cheap apartments in Manhattan, and celebrities walking into the garage for cameos, the interplay between the characters and the pathos expressed when viewing them today is just as powerful as when it first aired.

To top it off, it was as much as many people would see when it came into peering into the lives of the typical Big Apple cabbie of the era. While not as lighthearted as the show would present and not as apocalyptic as the seedy underworld portrayed in 1975’s Taxi Driver, the world of the hack of bankruptcy-era New York was one that needed to be preserved for future generations to look back upon as the rebuilding of the city would leave those memories in the dust in a matter of decades. Today, one can’t watch the show and not laugh at Tony’s miscues, Elaine’s attempt to balance her family and work lives, and to see if Bobby would hit it big and move out to the West Coast. The real shame of Taxi was that it was graduating from a sitcom to sound-stage set play with laughs when it went off the air in 1983. What was lost in humor was made up for in issues, conflicts, and resolutions that stuck with the viewer long after the TV set was turned off for the night. One could only cry at how good the writing would have progressed had it run to the late 80’s and each driver came to the realization that the ironically-named Sunshine Cab Company would have been his or her permanent, and final place of steady employment; especially as shows with increasingly watered-down plot lines, inexperienced casts, and inferior writing took to the air in the years following its second cancellation.

Taxi deserved to be the last great sitcom and as I alluded to above and in an earlier post, many of the writers later moved on to Cheers, which gave birth to Frasier right after it went off in 1993. Those latter two shows both ran 11 seasons and never had the deterioration in writing after the 4th or 5th season, which has been the downfall of so many sitcoms guilty of creative complacency and networks desperate to hang on to shows long past their prime. To be fair, all of the plot lines were not not happily resolved but it was easy to reminisce about how much everyone and everything had changed since they were first brought together from disparate origins. Looking back was just as easy as looking forward and the only hard feelings were felt towards those who could not be there before the big break-up that sent those who remained on their way to left’s next big adventure.

After nearly two years at this occupation, I don’t know how long I’ll have my job for but one thing I’m aware of is like every other vocation I’ve had, there will be a last day. I’ll pull into the Gas Station at about 4:50 in the morning, fill up, toss my receipt scraps out, gather my belongings together, cash out, tip the dispatcher, and quietly head off into the night. There won’t be a rush home and into bed to get ready for the beginning of my next day in 5 or 6 hours. A few weeks later from then I’ll take my deposit back from the garage and head out from there for one last time. Most importantly, I’ll leave on my own terms after my time behind the wheel as a hack will have finally run its course.

It’s a tragedy that the show I love and compare some of my experiences with was not allowed the dignity of ending the same way.

This one's for you, Angela

Goodnight, Mr. Walters


Racing Taxis - Meatpacking District

Whizzing Taxis – Meatpacking District

“Sorry for the delay, “I’m going to turn off of 7 Ave. South and get away from this Holland Tunnel traffic.”

“It’s all good. I still don’t know what we’d do without you guys. You’re the lifeblood of the City.”

“I know most of us don’t see it that way, but thank you for the kind words.”

Ever take your own pulse? I mean, *really* take it? It’s not that easy for someone who hasn’t been trained. Yeah, I suppose I could check my wrist, count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply it by 4. Heck, I don’t even know if it’s the right way to do it but it makes sense to me and should give me an approximation of where I stand. Thankfully, I give blood every 3 months or so and I get a reading of that, my iron, and my cholesterol thrown in for good measure before they stick me and draw some red stuff out for the bank. It’s more than a donation for me, it’s a way to get a small physical of sorts and to figure out where I stand, and what I may need to work on.

Now take 8 million blood-carriers and throw in some tourists, visitors, and undocumenteds for good measure and it’s a much bigger trick. Some people would go straight to the census data from 2010, others would read Crain’s or the New York Times for a week and maybe the superficial would check out the number of derricks in the sky and empty storefronts on the major avenues. The neat thing about my job is that I get to do all of those in a given day for one of the inevitable questions that I’ll get while out at night:

“So how’s business?”

Every winter, there’s a slowdown. How do I know? Because I’ve worked in retail, restaurants, offices, sporting facilities, and the occasional odd job and yes, each one of them saw a downturn after the holidays were over and the champagne bottles were put away. On the street, there are two dead giveaways that you’re in a slow period as a cabdriver, without even having to look at the receipt that I print out at the end of the night:

1) Over night = night’s over

2) Plastic planet

The reason that all of us love to work the weekends is because of the overnight hours and the difference from the same time period during the week. In the midst of all of the app debates that the TLC is dealing with is whether a city as big, as busy, and as street-hail oriented as New York needs a radical change in the way that people find their next ride across town. Rush hours are easy as the amount of traffic on the street and the mad dash of people heading home lead to a 5 or 6 hour period of near-nonstop hails with ability to flip fares easily, just like my tables back from my waiting days. Every night, there’s the time that I call “the wall” where I drop someone off, round a corner, and take a good look up or down one of the major avenues…

…and can see the street again.

The later that point, the better the night for us. Weekends are a different beast, however. There’s a slight lull around 8 or so as New Yorkers are busy home getting ready for the night’s adventures that lie ahead. After that – all bets are off. Last Friday was a perfect example as usual madness was amplified by the first warm day in this area this calendar year. It made for a faster shift since I had everything from interior designers to a bagpiper (yes, he played for me) keep me company and the extra vehicles kept me on my toes as well, filling in nicely for a 3 A.M. snack break.

Going back to the apps, the rationale for their existence is that they would help during slow times, when many of us are cruising the same streets in the same bar districts looking for the same 5 fares. Once in a while, I will turn down a street that looks dead as a doornail, only to find someone standing all by his or herself waiting for a knight in yellow armor to take him or her home safely. While those moments are full of joy and some of my best stories, they’re few and far between.

With an app, that all changes. It becomes much easier to see who’s out there and there they are and would even save us the trouble of waiting in line for people to leave popular establishments and firms that work them to the bone. Most drivers during the week make the exodus out of Manhattan around 1 or so but since I can’t get back to Jersey via mass transit overnight, that’s never an option for me. Knowing where to find people becomes a reality once the City that never sleeps proves that axiom to be partially wrong.

Then there are the payments. Aside from the plethora of late-night holiday parties, the month before Christmas is so beloved by us because people are in a giving mood and aren’t afraid to share the wealth. Of course, they show it to us in the best way possible:

By paying in cash.

I understand that so much has changed when it comes to money in the last few years but one thing that hasn’t is how we wish to receive our fares. Cash is, cold, hard, and instantly usable. If I didn’t have to pay for my own gas and could charge all my expenses and tips on a credit card, I certainly would. After the last fare hike 7 months ago, the percentage of fares that were paid on credit shot up from 50% to well over 60% on most nights, as people couldn’t quite stomach the first across-the-board raise for us in well over 5 years. Once the new year began, that ratio went even higher.

The hangover that many of my passengers had immediately after New Year’s was nothing like the one that they endured in the following months. Some nights, I was lucky to receive 6 or 7 fares in cash out of 25 or 30 total, which barely was enough to pay for my gas and any other expenses. While I always bring change, I never plan on depleting it at the end of the night but I came close a few times. It was obvious that even in a city as affluent as New York, that many locals had stretched their budgets thin and were working hard to cover the difference in their personal finances.

Thankfully, that’s over with now. The ratio has evened out a bit and the amount of vitality in the City late at night has started to pick up again. Even the vital signs are good, as construction, air traffic, Broadway attendance, and hotel occupancy are all healthy levels right now. While there isn’t a direct correlation between those and how much I take home in a given week, any upbeat sign is sure to trickle down to us to some extent.

One way that my health and the health of the City are not inversely related however is something that I’ve mused about time and time again, however:

Clogged arteries.

The last few times I donated blood, my “bad” cholesterol was over 200. Numerous attempts to change my diet, walk more, and get off my butt on off days haven’t made a difference and while it’s not enough to cause me problems, it bears watching as I get older and am more likely to be affected by the buildup. For the City though, clogged arteries are a good sign, as odd as that may sound.

While sitting in traffic may not be fun, seeing it is firsthand proof that things are looking up. Proof that people are out. Proof that people have somewhere to go, Proof that people have money to spend.

And most importantly, proof that New York is moving in the right direction.

Ask anyone in Detroit or Providence how traffic is there and they’ll probably laugh. They’d sign up for New York’s problems in a heartbeat. Traffic, infrastructure that’s bursting at the seams, and high apartment prices are not fun problems to be solved but they’re problems that are the result of a tragedy of the commons, on a different scale. Too many people want to be in New York but there’s not enough room for everyone. Who stays? Who goes? Who gets help from the City?

The next Mayor will have to tackle all of that while not undoing the progress that’s been made since the end of the crack wars and graffiti crises of the 1980’s. While the usual ebb and flow of seasonal volume will continue unabated for time immortal, the body poetic of New York will need plenty of TLC by those entrusted to ethically and honestly watch over the people and finances that they pay into the system. Given recent events that indicate that the opposite has taken place far too often lately, I still believe that the Big Apple is poised for a prosperous and healthy future, bearing that the mistakes of the recent past are not repeated by a new administration next year.

Most people don’t see it this way, but it’s obvious that the vehicle that I drive to earn my living is the lifeblood of Gotham itself. One could argue for the Subway as well but with more lines suffering through shutdowns because of maintenance issues and lack of service in several neighborhoods, the yellow cabs are increasingly the 24-hour option for those who work a nontraditional schedule and are relegated to living far from where they earn their paycheck. Anyone who doesn’t believe me can observe the vehicles making their way across the Queensboro and Williamsburg Bridges every day around 4:30, as the old, tired blood makes its way back to the heart, in exchange for some “oxygen-rich” blood that’s ready to serve the masses until the next changeover.

As odd as it sounds, those yellow cars seem to be in my blood as well, even if it wasn’t what I set out for when I went back to school.

Waiting for the changeover - Greenpont

Waiting for the changeover – Greenpoint

Raise the roof light

A typical weekend cherry-picker

A typical weekend cherry-picker

“So let me ask you something…”


“What’s the deal with the roof lights? Seems like half of the Taxis are off-duty right now but it’s Saturday night.”

“Well, not this cab. I don’t play that game and any cab driver worth his salt won’t have the off-duty lights on unless he’s legitimately going on break.”

I can’t even begin to describe how many times I’ve had this conversation or something similar to this since I started driving. One of the things we went through in Taxi school how was to go off duty, which involved three steps:

1) Lock the doors

2) Put the off-duty lights on

3) Log off and go take your break for as long as need be

Want to guess how many drivers actually do this? If I had to guess, I’d say that very few actually go by the rules like we’re supposed to. One of the perks of my job is that I can take a break whenever I wish, as long as my vehicle doesn’t have any passengers in it. It’s not something I do often but when nature or hunger pangs call, no one tells me to “get back to work” or to wait until a designated break time.

The big problem with the off-duty lights as currently construed is that it is *not* linked to the computer/gps that we have to log into before the start of a shift. What that means is that drivers can be on-duty with the off-duty lights on, with the ability to abuse the pickup of passengers via cherry-picking. Among all of the changes that the yellow cab industry will be undergoing in the next few years is an overhaul of this roof light system. In an ideal world, the lights would be gone and replaced with nice, bright LED green and red bulbs. The former would be for any cab available and the latter would cover cabs that would be occupied, off-duty, mechanically disabled, and so on.

Until then, the antiquated lights remain. For anyone unfamiliar with the way cabdrivers use them now, here’s a 101 on how to read them the next time you’re in the Big Apple:

1) Center light on, off-duty lights off: Cab is empty and read to take a fare. Hail away!

2) Center light off, off-duty lights off. Cab is occupied with a passenger.

3) Center light on, off-duty lights on: Cabdriver is most likely cherry-picking. God forbid you’re going to an outer Borough or to a place that the driver doesn’t want to take you to. You’re about to get an excuse from the driver that reeks of B.S., but you the passenger will be the one shoveling it once the Taxi speeds away.

4) Center light off, off-duty lights on: Cabdriver has taken a passenger to a spot that is more than likely within Manhattan or to a spot where the driver thinks he can “flip” (find another fare after discharging the passenger) the fare quickly.

Yes, it’s illegal to ride around cruising while keeping the off-duty lights on but if TLC got a complaint every time this happened, 311 would crash almost instantly. Keep in mind that the only time we’re supposed to ride around like in Option 3 is a half hour before the end of our shift, when the Taxi is on its way back to the garage and must be there at a designated time for the shift change. Lucky New Yorkers who live in Astoria, Long Island City, or Sunnyside can always get a ride across the Queensboro Bridge at 4:30 since hordes of yellow cabs are making their way back to their respective garages before the rush does them in.

I don’t worry about the changes coming – smartphone apps, outer Borough Taxis, the Taxi of the Future, or the new rooflights. Drivers who don’t own the medallions aren’t tied down to the vehicles and we have enough outlets to vent the problems that exist in our industry. If anything, Taxis need to change with the world around them and if it has to start with the way that passengers see and hail us, so be it. I just wish that all of these improvements would have more input from the people who actually make the system run instead of those who control the strings from above.

A checkered past

Checker Cab – Greenpoint

The fare hike that went into effect last week came and went without a lot of fanfare. Much was written about it over the summer when it was debated at a series of TLC meetings but many New Yorkers thought that those in my profession were due for a raise that was a long time coming. The big debate was not how much to raise the fare but what percentage of it would ultimately end up in the driver’s pockets and not in the hands of the medallion owners and garage operators. Lost amidst the hubbub of the hike and the throngs of groggy commuters returning to work this week was the other change that coincided with the new rates – that being the new logo on the side of the Taxicabs themselves.

The old Taxi look

For the last few years, all of the Taxis in New York had the look seen above, with the “NYC” in the official font next to the Taxi logo on the front door and the rate chart on the back door. On the back of cab was the strip as I call it – the checkerboard pattern that was found on cabs back when an actual company called Checker supplied the cars that roamed the city streets. As the models where replaced and the company went out of business, the pattern became smaller and smaller over the years, until it was finally relegated to just a tiny reminder of the way things used to be.

Until the fare went up last week.

The new Taxi look

This is how your ride in a yellow cab will now look on the outside. The “NYC” that was so prominent has been shrunken down, the fare chart has been simplified to two symbols, and the work “Taxi” has been replaced by a big, black “T”. The thinking behind it is that New Yorkers, and visitors, should know what a yellow vehicle that doesn’t carry kids around all day should function as, so why bother labeling it as such? All of the marketing wizards could do was come up with this but I guarantee that a bunch of us who actually drive the vehicles all day could design something just as informative and not charge the city an arm and a leg for it in the process.

What bothers me the most is what’s on the back and that would be nothing. Like the automat , the subway token, and the old “Walk/Don’t Walk” signs, the checker pattern on a Taxi has now been relegated to the dustbin of Gotham’s past. In order for the Taxis to charge the higher rates, the exterior had to be changed along with the upgrades to the meters. A few of the cabs this past week still sported the old design, which only had one advantage: Smart New Yorkers knew that they were charging the old rates and would hail them instead of a upgraded Taxi. This won’t go on for long but given how expensive everything is today, I had a few people tell me that they were attempting to do that when looking for a ride.

Economics aside, the new design marked another indication of the homogenization and globalization of New York. Pictures and symbols continue to expand as more people from around the World continue to visit the Big Apple. The less English they have to come across, the easier they can get around. Soon, the subway will be fully automated, Street signs will get bigger than they are now, and smartphone apps will ensure that no one will ever get lost again when navigating the city. It’s bad enough that the cabs have maps, GPS’s, and endless commercials on the backseat screen, all in the name of progress. If nothing else, a Taxi should say what it is, let anyone think that a black car has the same role that a yellow one does on the city streets.

Soon, the Crown Victorias, SUV’s, and Prius’s will all be scrapped in favor of the NV200, a.k.a. the Taxi of the Future. What seemed so common today will be old hat in the coming decades as change will inevitably take hold and thrust all of us into the future. These “upgrades” will be fully present in a new fleet that will be more environmentally friendly, accessible, and better designed, but the real shame in it will be in the scrapping of what made Taxis so beloved in the past. As all of this takes hold in the next few years, one question never seemed to cross the minds of the designers:

Would it have hurt to keep the checkerboard pattern as it was?

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.

Sliding Doors

Mind the gap!

“So where do you go when you’re driving this? I”m guessing Manhattan.”

“Well yes, that’s where I spend a majority of my time. Of course, I go wherever my passengers ask me to take them.”

“Which is anywhere in the 5 Boroughs, right?”


“And you can pick up anywhere in New York as well, right?”

“Correct, that’s what yellow means – licensed to take street hails anywhere in the City of New York.”

“Unlike the Livery Cabs (black cars).”

“That’s also correct, but you don’t want to get me started on them.”

I’ll admit, I don’t go to the movies. Ever. I can’t remember the last time I plopped down $10 of my hard-earned money in order to have the pleasure of sitting in a dark room with sticky floors, random cellphone conversations, and unruly kids. I don’t get a lot of free time during the week and when I do, I tend to be a bit more interactive with the forms of entertainment that I enjoy.

However, I *did* see the movie that is also the title of this posting. Most of you are unaware that I attended Vanderbilt University in the late 90’s before I was unceremoniously asked to leave for academic reasons. During my 3 years in the buckle of the Bible belt, I struggled with many facets of my life, including my studies, my social life, my identity, and dating. On one of the few occasions that I headed off-campus with someone  I was interested in, we went to the movies and of course, the feature we ended up seeing was Sliding Doors.

The premise was simple – Gwyneth Paltrow plays a young Londoner who got fired from her job and had to take the Tube home afterward. The plot splits in two as she made the train in one scene and when it was replayed, she ended up missing it. The concept of a parallel universe came to life as the rest of the film alternated back and forth between the two tales that result from the incident in London’s underground. What started of as an incident that millions of urbanites endure on a daily basis reverberated throughout her life, affecting her image, love life, and vocation following her termination of employment.

The film itself was interesting and came out at the height of Paltrow’s Shakespeare in Love-induced popularity. While I can’t remember every detail about the movie or the person I was with that day, the idea behind the plot stuck with me. Every day, there are tons of decisions and services that rely on a set schedule that I use to traverse the Big Apple and surrounds. Most of these run like clockwork but in an imperfect world, obstructions and unplanned events always seem to throw a monkey wrench into the best of my intentions.

Then of course, there’s my work environment. From the moment I pull out of the garage and start my shift, there are big decisions to be made. Car Wash? If so, now or later? Queensboro or Willy B. to enter Manhattan? Uptown? Downtown? Should I just follow the traffic and not fight it? Many people think that drivers such as myself have a set pattern that I follow to start my day out but more than any other job that I’ve had, this vocation quickly puts to death the notion of monotony and normalcy.

The conversation that I penned above is one that I have quite often. As I’ve mentioned before, passengers love to ask me questions once they realize that I’m not typical and the ones dealing with where I go when I’m available is one that comes up often. Each day has a different pattern when it comes to human and vehicular traffic. If every person and form of transportation could be tracked, I’m sure that it would be easy to see where everyone went after work, and how the social life in the City proceeds on a given night. In an ideal world, all the cabs would start off in Midtown or Downtown and eventually work their way to the residential and cultural areas before heading to the trendy neighborhoods that people eat, drink, and socialize in.

Of course, that’s much easier said than done. Nights don’t progress linearly like that. Where my first fare takes me determines where I go pick up my second one, and that one has a hand in determining where my third one will be found, and so on. Since I average 30 fares in a 12-hour span, it’s easy to envision how the beginning of my shift can determine where I’ll end up physically and financially at the end of the night.

Last week, the traffic was some of the worst I had seen since Christmas. 20 minutes and change to cross the Willy B, only to have my first fare hop into my cab and send me back across the bridge to Williamsburg. I had a feeling that I was going to a less-than-desirable locale during the rush, given that the cab in front of me sped away from the couple when they told him where to go. Sure enough, I cut through the narrow grid of lanes that the Lower East Side consists of and 10 minutes later, I dropped them off.

The beauty of all of this was that my next fare was only a block away and wanted to go to the Upper East Side. At that hour, the Queensboro Bridge was starting to free up and since I had very little turnover time and traffic to impede me, I brought my two passengers and their bags up to 1 Ave in decent time. Within an hour, I was flipping my fares over relatively easily and on my way to a solid weekday night.

So many times, I’ve had to take someone that I despise. Too many people have zero patience during the time of day where many of the arteries of the city are clogged up. Now that I’m pushing a year of doing this job, I let most of it slide off but I have to constantly remind myself that everything evens out in the end. For every bad fare or passenger that has absolutely ZERO idea where he or she is going, somebody will come along later in the night to make up for it. What always amazes me is that I hated having the person early on that added to the Hell of Rush Hour but without that first or second domino being pushed, the ride that made me laugh, smile, and think at 2 in the morning would never have fallen into place.

Even when I don’t have someone, there are always decisions to be made that have ramifications. Touching down on Delancey Street from the Willy B brings a plethora of choices when it comes to where to turn. A majority of the vehicles will be headed crosstown to the Holland Tunnel so my objective is to move away, and toward a street without any empty Taxis on it. This is how I work for much of the night – separating myself out from the pack. More often that I first would have guessed at, marching to my own beat has resulted in finding a fare that was so close, and yet so far from the nearest available Taxi. Waiting in line has its benefits late at night but for the most part, avoiding the lemmings pays off in the end.

People think that my job is easy, since Manhattan is just “one big grid” and most of the streets are numbered and logical. To some extent, that’s true. However, what was an open way could have an accident, a parked bus, or a work truck on it the next time I have to go on it. Like a giant maze with movable partitions, the city is always changing. It brings new meaning to the term “rat race” since all of us are always trying to get ahead on a playing field that is constantly testing our memory and patience.

Some of my most memorable rides have come when I had an instinct to turn the corner, wait a minute in front of a busy establishment, or go a certain way just because nobody else was cruising in that direction. Whether it’s fate or divine intervention, those fares often tell me how I came at the right time and how lucky they were to have finally found someone. It’s on those nights when I feel that everything falls into place, and I don’t have to worry about any numbers that I need to hit.

A few years after the movie came out, there was an episode of my favorite show called Sliding Frasiers. Instead of the train, it’s clothing that makes Frasier’s day split into two. One day in the life of Doctor Crane has a wildly divergent sequence of events that are shown in alternating scenes until the end of the episode, when both parallel takes converge into the same end result. For all of the time making a decision and the  effects of it, Frasier still ends up at home, content at the end of the 24 minutes and change. In a way, it’s similar to how my day winds down. Every morning at around 4:55, I end up at the gas station. There, I break down the contents of my cab while filling up and then head over to the garage to cash out for the night. All of the runs around the Big Apple and surrounds, even with the accidents and wild rides tossed in for good measure, still tie up nice and neat when all is said and done.

Like my passengers, I always arrive at my destination safely – even if I never take the same way twice to it.

Stand clear?!?!?!…