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

 

 

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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)

We Need To Talk…

 

Really?

Really?

Sit down.

Yeah, you…

Alright, I get it. You can’t because you’re busy in the heart of Midtown and you still need to be cleaned before thousands will flock to you come daybreak.  Fair enough.

It came to my attention last week that you were showing off, right in the middle of the city for everyone to see. I don’t know if it was for Easter or Passover or because the warm weather finally made a return to our neck of the woods and I also know that it wasn’t the first time I caught you doing this either. After having you distract enough of my passengers and even myself as I made way up up 6 Ave. several times during the night, I felt that it was finally time to have a little heart-to-heart talk with you.

I love you. Really, I do. It goes way back to when you were one the few remnants of old New York that I could behold in pristine shape when much of your surrounds were in battered, ragged, and tagged shape. I got goosebumps the first time you came into view as I rounded the bend on Route 3 and could see you and your spire off in the distance, beckoning me as if I dropped in from a Kansas Tornado and had to make my way over to Oz off in the distance. Although you weren’t the most prominent landmark in the city since the early 70’s, there wasn’t anything that could compare to you. Not the lady in the harbor, nor your nirosta-topped cousin on the corner of Lexington and 42 St could match your soaring verticality, ornate lobby, or grasp that you held onto the collective psyche of this country. It came as no surprise that in classics such as Fail Safe and Independence Day, that it was you that the filmmakers ultimately chose to destroy when it came time to give the Big Apple its death blow. Although the accounts were fictitious, I still cannot bear to look at those scenes on film, and this was long before the real thing came to pass on 9/11.

Unfortunately, I *did* have to look at you putting on one of your luminous extravaganzas recently, and it wasn’t by choice. Let’s face it, even in 2014, you’re still out there by yourself. Nothing over 50 stories stands close to you and it will be quite some time before you’re unseated as the King of Midtown. A pile of “pencils” that will house the world’s super-rich is still taking form up on 57 Street and the supertall glassy spire that’s going to open in Lower Manhattan later this year still does not have the charm, bravado, and zeitgeist that you do, even though it’s been growing on me more now that it’s been topped off and the scaffolding is finally starting to come down the side of it. Your isolation and prominence makes you easy to see (as well as an easy target), which was proven when a few of my passengers looked at you too and asked me what was going on, as if I didn’t have enough to deal with now that the jaywalkers and tour buses are back out in full force.

Yeah, really

Yeah, really

Never mind that, though. I know that this will probably go in one ear and out the…um, make that window. Yeah, in one window and out the other. I’ll say it anyway for the record.

You’re a better than this.

A *lot* better than this.

All those hypodermic skyscrapers in Times Square put on a light show nightly and even the old New York Central Building on Park Ave. has gotten in on the act, showcasing the latest in LED and timing technology in some hyperactive bid to outdo each other to be the baddest, hippest, and coolest presence on the skyline at night. You don’t need that though.

Did you need it when a giant Ape climbed up you in 1933?

Or when a plane accidentally hit you in 1945?

Or when a steel column was hoisted up 100 stories in Lower Manhattan in 1972, taking away the title that you graciously and confidently held for 40 years?

No, and you don’t need it now either.

I anticipated watching your lights come on as dusk settled into night, but that was when you had one scheme that stayed on until you shut down for the evening at 2. On the dot, I could watch it happen as I crossed a bridge or caught you in between the gaps of the other towers, knowing that you were calling it a night and that in 3 hours, I would be doing the same. Now, I look forward to that moment so I don’t have to plant a face palm when I’m sitting at a red light, wondering what visual cacophony I will be subjected to as you luminously scream for my attention.

And you know what? It shouldn’t be like this.

All those tacky souvenir shops in Midtown have lots of kitsch in them but besides the lady holding the torch in the harbor, it’s you that they feature the most. Anything else that they display from your era has only aged gracefully – take a look at the towers involved in the race to the sky in the early 20th Century. They’ve been cleaned, modernized, and in some cases, converted to apartments but they’re still grand dames and they don’t have to resort to the lower common denominator to grab everyone’s attention.

Know what’s guilty of that, however? All those towers popping up in those Asian Tiger cities, as they attempt to assert themselves without having any of the romance or bravado that made Manhattan the place to be during the peak of American hegemony. Every year, there’s another glass monolith that takes away the title away from its predecessor and I read recently that a building in Saudi Arabia is going to stretch a kilometer into the sky. Do I care? No. Why should I? Skyscrapers, like everything else in life, are what they are because of the stories behind them. I may not like what’s rising at Ground Zero but should I ever lose it and decide to have kids of my own someday, I will cherish the opportunity to tell them about what used to be there, their untimely demise, and our resolve to rebuild and make the site a better place for future generations.

That’s what New York is all about, and so are you. Admit it – you’re the face of this town as much as Gabe Pressman, the rush of air from a subway grate, the lower East River Bridges, a giant sandwich from Katz’s, and yes, even the vehicle that I drive. You’ll never be the champ again when it comes to touching the clouds but you’re still the King of Gotham, no matter how much you’ll get bumped down the list in the coming generations. Yes, I understand that it’s the 21st Century and that the old way of manually changing the lights on you is gone for good but that doesn’t mean that you have to be a show-off on major holidays or on New Year’s; which was a spectacle unto itself and beyond words.

No matter, though. I still love you and always will, even if no one sees the goosebumps I get every time I approach the city every day for work.

Still the King

Still the King

 

 

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.

 

Someone Like You

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

-New Order

Match-Maker - Times Square

Match-Maker – Times Square

“We’re here. That’ll be $23.”

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

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

Love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we all know what that breeds.

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

Longer working hours.

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

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

At the buildings.

At the skyline.

At the people going by.

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

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

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

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

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

Love - Midtown

Love – Midtown