Choke

March - Flatiron District

March – Flatiron District

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

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

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

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

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

A lot of them.

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

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

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

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

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

Protest - Times Square

Protestor – Times Square

25

Handed out at my garage

Handed out at my garage

 

“So how do you feel about the change in the speed limit next week?”

“No comment.”

It was exactly a month and a day ago that the speed limit in New York City was dropped to 25 M.P.H. for the first time in over two generations. For those of of us who were following the proposed change, it came as little surprise as the State Legislature passed the resolution before it broke for the summer and the City Council followed suit shortly afterward. With much fanfare and ballyhoo, there was a massive ad campaign notifying drivers of the drop, as well as signs located at all of the major entrances into Manhattan.

At first, it was something that was at the forefront of my mind. Would there be a ticket blitz? Would the traffic lights be re-timed in accordance with the drop? Would there be an increase in congestion to go along with the slower flow of vehicle speed? So far, there hasn’t been any sign of that as the recent foul weather and Grand Jury protests have done more to slow things down than any change to an existing law could ever do.

That doesn’t mean that the battle is over yet, however. The changing of the default speed limit has come along with the re-configuration of several key intersections, the renewal of the push to ban horse-drawn carriages from city streets, and an expansion of the bike share program that city sponsors. Should all of these proposals come to fruition, they will continue the assault on blue-collar vehicle drivers that was started under the Bloomberg administration, with further changes still likely next year and beyond.

As I’ve stated before, all of this ultimately ties into the Vision Zero initiative, although some changes aren’t directly related to any particular aspect of it. I have to remind my passengers often that the term “traffic-calming” is the buzzworthy term that describes the idea behind the changes is, as many of them are unfamiliar with what the city is accomplishing by remaking the streets and the way people move about them. Much as the circuitry in my brain has been hardwired to think and progress in a certain manner, so is the way I move from Point A to Point B as I take my fares to their particular destinations. A brain is much easier to reset than any street however, no matter how good the intentions by the DOT may be.

Drive 25

Drive 25

 

 

The Cart

The Halal Guys - Midtown

The Halal Guys – Midtown

 

“Hey there, where to?”

“The cart.”

“53 and 6, right?”

“Is there any other?”

In the midst of all the fares that I’ve taken around New York, there have been a few instances where someone’s gotten into my Taxi and asked to be taken here. Not on the way to somewhere else, but just to “the cart”. All of us who drive a yellow vehicle for a living need to eat at some point during a shift and quite often, this is where we put our ride into park, get out, and have our dinners.

Even at my garage, this was a place we talked about fairly often. Once in a while, I’d catch a whiff of this when I got back after a long night out. Someone would get their dinner here, load it up with sauce, and then come back to eat once their ride was fueled up and parked on the lot. What is about this place that people were drawn to, whether they were workers, nightcrawlers, or anyone in between?

When I first started driving, I didn’t eat during my shift. I’m used going long distances and times between things in my life, mostly because how I focus and think. I almost always have a zillion thoughts and tasks going and I bounce around between them but once I’m in the driver’s seat, that all changes. Work *is* my focus, even if I’m in a deep conversation with someone in the back seat. More times than I can count, my passengers comment on how I don’t have the radio on or a bluetooth in my ear that I’m using to argue with someone and even in the wee hours of the morning, I tend to keep things pretty quiet as I’m cruising around. It’s only when nature calls and I can’t keep her on hold any more do I venture outside of it and back into the real world. Over time, I found my favorite spots – for walking, relieving myself, checking my phone, and eating; and when it came to the latter, there was no better locale in all of the Big Apple than the set of carts scattered around the corner of 6 Ave. and 53 St. in the middle of Midtown.

During the day, this is no-man’s land for cabdrivers. I say that jokingly because everyone is seemingly there when the workday ends for the rat racers and more times than I can count, I’ve ended up having to drop someone near this spot right in the midst of the madness. Just like a rainy day, a fare is easy to find near here in the midst of the rush but hard to move around, because of the proximity of this locale. With Central Park north of it, Times Square to the west, 5 Ave to the east, and 42 St to the south, there is no easy escape from New York’s most prominent hotel and street-food eatery when the masses are still out and about.

At night, it’s a different story.

Because of its width and timing of the traffic lights, 6 Ave is my preferred way to get uptown if I’m not taking one of the arteries on Manhattan’s periphery. Even when I have to get up to the 59 St. Bridge, I love taking 6 up and entering the corporate canyon that the XYZ Buildings of the 1960’s helped to create. Everything goes by so fast when you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle during the overnight hours but the exact opposite feeling takes hold once I park it and step out, seeing the monoliths that frame the plaza where The Halal Guys set up shop every day.

It’s such an odd location given the number of suits that pass by it but it’s easy for the tourists to each and there’s plenty of room to sit down and enjoy the creature comforts of a good chicken and lamb platter. One fellow driver told me that the New York Hilton offered them 7 figures to move but just as is the case with the companies surrounding them, the guys who work that corner know that it’s all about location, location, and location.

Or should I say, locations?

It was in the news a few weeks back that The Halal Guys are expanding and will soon be available to millions more potential customers around the United States. This is noteworthy for a few reasons, the most obvious being that street food in New York is big business and not a passing fad, even when it’s not hot dog and pretzels. In addition, the main location in Midtown is not enough for New Yorkers, as they can now go down to 14 St. to get their fix for a good platter. Anyone who’s ever eaten from a food truck and watched it move from parking space to parking space can vouch that having it at one spot is a good thign and draws life and vitality to sidewalks, even if restaurant owners feel that it’s direct competition. Last but not least, the ethnicity of America is changing and it will probably come to pass that we’ll see a national chain of Halal fast-food joints within the next 20 years, just as Taco Bell became the first one to serve Mexican food in such a manner from coast to coast.

For me, I’m happy with the original location. The only Nathan’s hot dog I’ve ever eaten was on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Ave’s in Coney Island and the only Shake Shack burger I’ve ever enjoyed was in Madison Square Park (after waiting on line forever, of course). Part of what makes food appealing to me is what makes so any other aspects of my life appealing as well, and that’s where I get it from. When it comes to  sounds, colors, smells, books I’ve read, and the people that I’m lucky to have come across, what seals the deal for me is where the interaction took place. Years after a particular event happened or a building that I love has been torn down, I go by and fondly recall what took occurred there. Smelling pretzels from a street vendor takes me back to the ’80’s when I didn’t go into New York often and I thought that 5 Ave. was the most exclusive street on the planet (which is up for a bit of a debate in today’s global economy).

Things change at an ever-increasing speed but for a sentimentalist like me, so much of what I come across in this world has been stuck in time, even if it’s only in my mind. I love my other mobile vendors to eat from in New York, like the Taco Truck on 14 St. just off 8 Ave. or the trucks on Bedford Ave. on my way back to my garage but there nothing like the spots that I keep coming back for a slice of comfort away from home. Years from now, the Halal Guys may be an empire on the level of the one Ray Kroc founded over 6 decades ago and I may be eating their dishes in a state or city far away from the bright lights of Manhattan. Nobody will ask me to take me there and I probably won’t be having my dinner at 3 in the morning when that day finally arrives, but it’ll be easy to think back to the times where I put everything on hold for a few minutes and savored the best that a plate of chicken, lamb, rice, lettuce, and sauce had to offer.

For this cabbie, the old saying doesn’t apply: You *can* take it with you, by memories if nothing else.

Taco Truck - Meatpacking District

Taco Truck – Meatpacking District

Zero Tolerance

Safe Driver Pledge

Safe Driver Pledge

 

Vision Zero came a bit closer to reality this week when the City Council passed 11 bills and resolutions aimed at forwarding the Mayor’s ambitious traffic-calming agenda. No longer will it be an idea aimed at lowering traffic accident and fatalities, but it will actually be taking root in the physical design of roads, plazas, and enforcement, with the intent on lowering the amount of deaths on New York’s streets down to a goal of none.

While this is quite an ambitious goal, much of it’s implementation remains to be seen. So far, there has been a crackdown on speeding in the Five Boroughs, a re-timing of the traffic lights on Atlantic Ave. to coincide with the lowering of its speed limit to 25 M.P.H., and the retooling of accident-prone intersections like Broadway and 96 St. in Manhattan. While this is good news, much of the agenda is unfairly targeting those in the business that I currently earn my vocation in.

I won’t lie – we are to blame for some of the discontent that people feel towards motorized vehicles in New York. I don’t think that any cabdriver that strikes and maims a pedestrian should be allowed to drive for a living again and that a fair number of us give everyone in my profession a bad name. With that being said, I do think that we are still be unfairly targeted. Jaywalkers? They don’t get tickets. MTA Buses? I see them blow lights all the time. Sanitation trucks? Ditto for them as well and while emergency vehicles need to speed to get to where they’re going, some of their tactics are a lot more dangerous that I would have been led to believe before I worked into the wee hours 4 nights a week.

My point? If this is going to be shared sacrifice, then let’s see everyone chip in together. Bikers are still getting away with riding against the flow of traffic, as many of the offenders don’t have the right head or body gear on in case of accidental contact with a larger vehicle. Bus lanes are fine as long as the public at large realizes that Taxis are being told to stay out of them at nearly all costs (which is fine until someone wants to get off on the right side of 1 or Madison Ave’s), and no one gets a free pass to recklessly speed as they please; whether that would be the Mayor’s entourage or the juvenile whizzing up the FDR at 4 in the morning on a Saturday night before shattering his ride into a thousand pieces.

There are so many issues in New York of greater importance right now and like the proposed ban on carriage horses, this one is easy to rally around since opposing it makes a person seem in favor of the old and reckless streets of yesteryear. Once the schools perform up to par, housing is accessible to all classes, transit fares are held in check, taxes and utility rates increase slower than the rate of inflation, and people are coming off of the public-assistance rolls instead of onto them, then quality-of-life issues can more up to the front burner.

One death on the streets of New York is too many but so is one at the hands of gangs, cops, unsafe buildings, guns, and other factors that are magnified in a place of 8 million people. If the people truly want streets to be completely safe at any cost, they then should be prepared to realize that the price may be just a bit too high to bear. Zero tolerance of any evil, wrongdoing, or negative externality may look great on paper but so did communism and socialism. Utopia’s never work out as planned but *someone* has to pay the price to an ever-increasing cost of achieving perfection while the attempt to reach that status is in progress.

Even with a 2/3 reduction in murders since the height of the crack epidemic in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, some people feel that there are still too many citizens who die at the hands of violence every year. It’s been so long that many have forgotten how things used to be and only remember the last 5 or so years. Ditto for fuel efficiency of cars and industrial buildings, urban blight, and maintenance on parks, bridges, and subways. There will always be room for improvement and even in my line of work, I always push myself to learn something new every day about the city and ways to get around it. What I need to remember is that most of us have come a long way in our respective fields and lives and though perfection is worth striving for, it will always remain elusive and just beyond reach.

Bill of Rights (for cabbies)

Bill of Rights (for cabbies)

Bringing Down the House

Roseland Ballroom - Theatre District

Roseland Ballroom – Theatre District

 

Can’t read my, can’t read my, no he can’t read my poker face…

“Lemme guess, ya went to the Lady Gaga concert tonight at the Roseland Ballroom.”

“Oh yeah!”

“How was it?”

“It was greeeeaaaatttttt!”

The last few weeks were notable in the annals of Gotham’s nightlife for two seemingly unrelated reasons. The first of which was the closing of the Roseland Ballroom and although it had been around since 1919, it called 52 Street home only since 1958. I attended one concert there and aside from the girl I was with bailing on me, the most memorable part of the night was that like every other attendee there, I had to stand for the entire show that Hot Chip put on. Given that the building’s prior use was as a skating rink, it only made sense that even after it was renovated in the early 90’s, that the giant floor remained without seats and column-free. Long gone were the days of ballroom dancing there as big acts coveted the space in recent years, due to the site’s location and mid-sized capacity. Sure, the Garden and the Barclay’s Center are the top-of-the-line spaces today but as was the case with Lady Gaga, performers loved playing at the Roseland because it was “homecoming” of sorts as many of them attended concerts there when they were growing up.

What many people didn’t notice was that right before the Roseland shut its doors for good, none other than the Godfather of House passed away. Francis Nicholls passed on at the age of 59 but to nearly everyone, he was known as Frankie Knuckles. Frankie was a DJ and I mean a real, innovative, groundbreaking, DJ…and not someone who took a device, plugged it in, and let it play his favorite songs for 3 hours. Like David Morales, Todd Terje, and Junior Vasquez, Frankie provided the soundtrack for so many people that needed to let off steam via the radio or at one of the city’s late night wonderlands. I passed by many of them during the day when I was growing up but since I was (and still am, to some extent) the shy, suburban brainiac that has dance moves worse than Elaine Benes, I never saw the inside of the establishments that helped make New York the glittering Oz that lay off to the east of my humble abode.

Growing up in the ’80’s and ’90’s meant that house music was the soundtrack to my Friday and Saturday nights. See, in those days, we didn’t have the internet. No cell phones either. Just a radio next to my bed and some videos on MTV sprinkled amongst the Hair Bands, 3rd British Invasion groups, and still-emerging genre known as hip-hop was all I had to get my fix. Once in a while, I’d get the cassette tapes synced up right and record American Dance Traxx, which counted down the top dance songs in the United States each week. Once I started driving and staying up late, I had Hot-97 going constantly (it didn’t flip over to hip-hop until 1993) and later on, the new ‘KTU. The ups, downs, heartbreaks, agonies, lonely rides home, and everything in between took place with 120 bpm’s of soothing grooves in the background, until the night ended or the next misadventure began. Somewhere, I had aspirations of manning the 1 and 2’s but that never happened and a short-lived stint on WRVU in Nashville was as close as I ever came to running the show myself.

Marquee - Chelsea

Marquee – Chelsea

“Oh, it was real good. Maybe even better than the Halal Guys on 6 & 53.”

“They’re out all night, right?”

“Well, I see them there late on weekends but on Monday night, I got there around 2:50. Grabbed my chicken and lamb, sat down in the cab to eat because it rained and when I got out to throw the container away, they were gone.”

“But that’s a busy spot.”

“Not on Monday. Marquee wasn’t open. Neither was Greenhouse, The Box, or any other club in Manhattan for that matter. That’s why I ate there when I did.”

“Tunnel and Twilo used to be right on that black.”

“Not anymore. Now it’s the Hotel Americano and the McKittrick there.”

Nightlife drives so much of our business. Not just taking people to and from the clubs but seeing what’s open, what’s closed, and what areas of town are “it” among the nightcrawlers. Wanna find out what ‘hoods are jumping and desirable? See where the impresario’s are plunking down their hard-earned money into a place that will probably have a shelf life of 5-10 years. New York is littered with the shells of venues that would write books if they could talk but are no longer relevant to the 20something looking to impress a date. Chelsea had the Roxy, Splash, and the Sound Factory but one by one, they closed as the scene moved further west. Tunnel and Twilo were huge a few years later and soon, Bungalow 8 and it’s fusion of celebrity, food, drink, and decor set the scene for the Lavo’s and Standard’s of today. Now, the Meatpacking District holds sway when it comes to where New Yorkers spend their hard-earned money, but that statement alone is an indicator of how much the scene has changed in recent years.

Back in the day, dance clubs were much more inclusive. All walks of life came out in their Monday, Saturday, or Sunday best to party until the wee hours of the morning. Although house is widely known to have started in Chicago, it was in New York that it took off. Around the same time, people sampling James Brown, Motown and Stax records up in the Bronx were sowing the seeds for the shoots that later blossomed into rap and ultimately, hip-hop All that was needed was a good set of Technic 1200’s, a stack vinyl, headphones, a mixer, and a venue.

And music was never the same after that.

New York *had* to be the place where it took off because it’s where everyone came together – not just through Ellis Island, but in basements, warehouses, converted roller rinks,  theaters, and in the case of the Empire Roller Skating Center, a former garage used by the Brooklyn Dodgers. The first dance craze that swept America in 50 years had a brilliant, brief flash in the late 1970’s but once Disco has it’s last dance, the movements that were still bubbling up during it’s heyday came to the surface and left their mark on the following decades.

Rap had it’s MC’s and house had it’s DJ’s and for the first time, *they* were the stars of the show. Other forms of music had a singer, a band, or a singer with a band in the background, playing standards and favorites for the audience. Once everything went electronic, the rules changed. Diana Ross could be mixed with Abba, followed by Blondie or Maceo Parker and people going out loved moving their asses off to it. Just as all history is revisionist, all music that came along only made the mixes better, the nights richer, and the samples that much deeper. No one knew what was next but everyone knew that a skilled mixmaster at the helm could put it all together.

Former Studio 54 Locale - Theater District

Former Studio 54 Locale – Theater District

No doubt that the good ones did, including Frankie Knuckles. One of my biggest regrets in life was that I never got dressed to the 9’s (or 8’s) and went out on a Saturday night to hear someone like him work his magic. Slowly but surely, the clubs that were made famous by him and the other DJ’s that I grew up with closed one by one. The most tragic tale of all was that of the Palladium on 14 St. Opened in 1927 as a concert hall, it was renovated by none other than Studio 54’s Steven Rubell and Ian Schrager in the ’80’s. After it re-opened, it was featured prominently on Club MTV and boasted a now-outdated set of monitors that could show videos in various arrays and patterns. While successful in it’s second incarnation, it was bought by NYU, torn down, and replaced with…

…Palladium Hall, which is a dorm now inhabited by students who have no idea why it’s called that or what used to sit on that site.

Palladium Hall - Union Square

Palladium Hall – Union Square

More importantly, many of those students are now living off of their parents credit cards and giving this cabdriver plenty of headaches when he has to haul them around New York in the wee hours of the weekend.

Everyone will point to Giuliani for cracking down on the club scene in the waning years of his mayoralty but had he not done that, most of them would still not be up and running today. Like malls, roller rinks, and bowling alleys, the clubs that were patronized by the masses is now a relic of America’s Past. Too many people would rather plug into something on a weekend night than go out to hobnob with strangers. Those that do go out do not dress outlandishly anymore or have killer dance moves. Rather, they come equipped with a different form of currency for nightlife.

The black card.

I hear it referenced all the time on the job and it’s usually a giveaway that the person who has it is a douche bag. VIP rooms and bottle service are only recent phenomenon that has made clubbing, like so many other aspects of New York life in the 21 century, a haven for the well-to-do. Every year, the bouncers get bigger, the vehicles that people drive to and from the venues get nicer, and the price of admission and bottles goes higher and higher. I hear big numbers being dropped all the time and one of the craziest stories I’ve overheard in my Taxi involved someone who wandered onto the wrong floor of a new and popular hotel where many flock to get their groove on. Two huge guys guarded the room as someone behind them was counting a massive stack of $100’s, as the wayward imbiber quietly closed the door and went back to where the action was.

All of that aside, what has changed in New York was the movement away from the DJ or the MC. Iphones, playlists, the internet, and electronic mixing have all combined to make the art of in-house music production easier now and with that ease has come a complete lack of cohesion on the part of many who have been entrusted to provide a soundtrack for a given night. I don’t care for celebrity playlists and none of them can take a Top 40 hit and remix it by speeding it up, sampling a beat behind it, or extending it for an additional 3 or 4 minutes. House and early hip-hop emphasized dancing, partying, and a come-as-you-are mentality that made everyone a part of the action. Now, it’s about the scene, snapping selfies, telling everyone that you were there, and moving on to the next “it” establishment, only to repeat the process all over again. Former Village Voice writer Michael Musto explained it perfectly when he stated that “The time is over. Things changed.” when referring to the demise of the club scene in New York when he was growing up but it took a lot of changes in locales, music, economics, and conventional wisdom to put the final nails into the coffin.

Sure, the current club-hopping among the uber-wealthy is good for my line of work but it makes for lousy venues and the lack of true mixmasters today means that I can’t find what I love on the radio anymore. No one’s going to look back fondly when Avenue or 1OAK closes down and everyone has to be spotted at the next hot spot that’s even more lavish, exclusive, and expensive.

Like so much else today, the romance has been sucked out of nightlife and New York is certainly worse off for it.

 

 

 

 

Speed Limits

City Limit - Greenpoint

City Speed Limit – Greenpoint

 

It was with great fanfare recently that Mayor De Blasio announced his “Vision Zero” initiative. Given the rash of pedestrian fatalities in the 5 Boroughs so far this year, it was only a matter of time before Hizzoner found a cause that everyone could rally around. With his popularity taking a hit after the Charter Schools, nepotism, and snow removal controversies this past winter, continuing the trend of pedestrian safety that was started by his predecessor was certainly a smart thing to do. Whether it’s a policy that’s actually worthy following is another matter altogether.

For the record, I have stated online and to my passengers that 30 is where the speed limit should be.

No higher, and certainly no lower.

No one would argue for the former but plenty of people can’t wait to put the proverbial (and literal) brakes on motorized vehicles in New York and lower it as fast as possible. How many deaths is too many? One is, and we certainly have more than that annually. While I don’t feel that blood should be spilled due the raging nature of those who treat thoroughfares as urban highways, the issues is much deeper than just slowing everyone down for the sake of it.

The other day, a bunch of guys in my garage were talking about this. They felt that all bets would be off once it’s down to 25 M.P.H.,. Why not 20? 15? Heck, let’s just go along with the plan and shut the meter off when the Taxi goes over the speed limit. If we ever get to that point, I can guarantee you that a lot of us would get up and call it quits before proceeding to look for work in other fields.

Like virtually every other aspect of civic life, there are already too many laws on the books. That’s not enough for everyone who comes into office looking to make his or her mark, however. Existing laws only serve to move the equilibrium. Crime’s too high? Make them stricter. Once the crime rate goes down, the noose has to tighten a bit more, and the cycle continues. The only question is where does it stop, since common sense never plays into whether the existing rules and regulations are readily enforceable.

Take a good look at the cars on the FDR during the overnight hours, the Mayor’s cavalcade burning rubber through Queens, or any New Yorker in a rush to get to Penn or Grand Central right after work. All of them are in a big hurry to get to where they’re going, limits be damned. Of course, none of them will be targeted under a crackdown in the name of pushing the fatality rate even lower. If not them, then who?

I don’t think I even have to say it.

We’ve endured roller-coaster gas prices, higher lease fees, a six-cent health surcharge, the dispatchers at JFK treating us like the shit that we endure from them, and more aggressive “enforcement” on account of the NYPD in recent years. Although we have so much to give to New York, in terms of value, revenue, and positive impressions, we are not a golden goose that can be raided over and over again at will. If the Mayor wants to cut the number of deaths on the street to zero, everyone’s going to have to contribute. That includes the jaywalkers, livery cabs, buses, speeders, bicyclists, drunk drivers, the MTA, and motorists with suspended licenses. As a group, the Taxi drivers have the best record of any subset of drivers in Gotham but none of the others pull in the bucks where we do and if you’re going to figure out what’s first in the line of fire, the old adage applies here once again:

Follow the money.

For now, we still go. Any change in the speed limit would have to go through the State Legislature and that doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon. After that, the traffic lights would have to be re-timed and hordes of signs such as the one pictured above would have to be taken down and replaced as well. While I think that improvements could be further made to the flow of vehicles and certain intersections in the city, a goal of zero deaths by collisions is impossible to achieve. The day that getting into an accident becomes illegal by penalty under law is the day I take my hack license out of the holder at the end of my shift for the last time.

And that’s when we’ve truly hit absolute zero.

 

The Last Days of Bloomberg

The once and future Hudson Yards - West Side

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

“Hey there, where to?”

“30 St. between 1 and 2 Ave.’s”

“Sure thing. How’d your day go?”

“Long.”

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

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

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

“Not really. I”m going to miss Mike.”

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

“What don’t you like about him?”

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

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

“Fair point.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are here - Times Square

You are here – Times Square