Taxi 2.0

   As the calendar turned to 2019, it was apparent that the yellow cab industry in New York City was turning over a new leaf as well. The city council passed a cap on the number of for hire vehicles over the previous summer, temporarily freezing them for a year. Taxi medallion prices, which had been in a precipitous decline for a number of years, were finally bottoming out – although at values as much as 80% off of their peak in 2014. Even the ubiquitous Ford Crown Victoria was nearly gone from the cityscape, as the Taxi of Tomorrow was finally becoming the dominant model of cab that one could hail. For many drivers however, the biggest change that they were up against was one that nobody saw coming, as TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi announced in early January that she would be stepping down sometime in March; claiming that it was a “mutual decision”. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer even went as far to say that she didn’t know “…if there’s ever been a better commissioner at the TLC or anywhere else”  and thought that de Blasio was making a “big mistake” in letting Joshi step down, while many of the drivers under her watch were finally glad to see her go; even if all the problems that they were confronted with could not be directly blamed on her.


TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi (far left)

   Regardless of how people felt about yet another sudden change in the de Blasio administration, everyone felt that her time as Commissioner was quite tumultuous.  Having been appointed by the current New York City Mayor  early in his first term , Joshi previously served as Deputy Commissioner for Legal Affairs and General Counsel for the TLC in the latter days of the Bloomberg Administration. During her nearly 5-year tenure as Commissioner, the industry was rocked to it’s core as the meteoric rise of services like Uber and Lyft threatened to put the yellows out of business once and for all. Joshi, in recent speeches, stated that her job was a tough one to navigate because of the challenges that these companies brought to the table, but that the rollout of wheelchair accessible taxis, utilization of data from TLC passengers, and changes in the licensing of drivers were bringing the cabs on New York’s streets into the 21st century.


Congestion pricing rally – 3 Ave


   What may have finally been the impetus that let to her resignation was one of the sticking points that reared it’s head again in recent months, namely the proposed congestion fee that would have been placed on all green and yellow taxis, as well as FHV’s, entering Manhattan south of 60 St. 10 years ago, then-mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed something similar for all vehicles entering that zone of Manhattan but that was shot down the New York State Legislature. The current plan would not have placed the fee on private vehicles, but instead on those taking people around the most densely populated part of the city, with the irony that many of those passengers having elected to leave their cars home in the first place. Joshi was stated on the record saying that the current plan would be devastating to drivers that were still struggling to make ends meet, while the mayor was in favor of the fee as a means to ease gridlock in New York.


New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai

   Lost in the middle of all of this were the challenges facing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. With bus ridership down and subway ridership leveling off after years of steady growth, many in the Big Apple were turning to other means of transportation to get around town. While the recent additions of NYC Ferry and Citi Bike were filling in some of the mobility gaps for New Yorkers, others were turning to FHV’s and rideshare services to get around parts of the city that were transit deserts. In addition, the MTA was desperate for additional revenue to handle maintenance and capital improvements that were desperately needed to keep the system in good repair and ensure that gains in additional ridership could be handled. It was bad enough that every Uber and Lyft fare wasn’t contributing 50 cents for the MTA surcharge (unlike the taxis) but that their stratospheric growth was siphoning ridership from trains and keeping the buses from sticking to their schedules.


FHV Drivers – 3 Ave

   All of this came to a head last month as the proposed congestion fee was weeks away from taking effect right after the first of the new year. A rally in front of New York Governor Cuomo’s Midtown office on 3 Ave drew drivers who were tired of the proposals to tax and surcharge their fares even further. One driver had even left the industry after being in for 40 years, citing the inability to make a living under the current conditions. As sparse as the turnout was, it had a hand in temporarily stopping the surcharge’s implementation with a Judge blocking it’s implementation via a restraining order. As of this writing, it was unsure if or when it would ever become law, as officials were considering taking a closer look at the proposal and who would pay under an revised plan.


Drivers – 3 Ave

      As lawmakers squabbled with more meetings, rallies, and protests against the surcharges yet to come, the new year was not much different than those of the recent past for those who worked behind the wheel. Further redesign of accident-prone intersections, continued additions of bicycle lanes and pedestrian plazas, and the restriping and redesign of 14 St for buses in anticipation of the now-cancelled L train shutdown in April were further proof that both the Mayor’s Vision Zero initiative and emphasis on dedicated right-of-ways were working and would be further expanded in the coming years. A record-low number of pedestrian fatalities, along with record-low speeds recorded in Midtown, combined to only exacerbate the reality that drivers of all types were facing in New York – namely that it was becoming even more difficult to get around, let alone earn a living, on the streets of the greatest city in the world. In spite of that, some people, including an economist and a former city transportation commissioner were among the many that were seeing the problem for what it was, and putting the blame on the right sources. For all of the mistakes made in the past, there were hints of positive changes in the industry for the first time in quite a few years.


Upgraded Passenger Information Monitor – Greenpoint

   A tiny evidence of that showed up in the cab of yours truly last week. For the first time, one of thew new Passenger Information Monitors awaited me as I got inside of my Camry for a weekend night’s shift. Thin, sleek, and user-friendly, it was a vast improvement of the duller and less-informative ones that had graced taxi interiors over the last 5 or so years. Rollouts in anything government-operated tend to be slow and sometimes clumsy but in this instance, it was smooth as I quickly adjusted to the new interface once I was out on the streets and taking fares. If there was a possibility that this minute aspect of my cabdriving experience could be improved upon, then maybe there was some hope that everything else work-related would change for the better as well. As usual, everything had to just be taken one fare a time…

New Order


City Hall rally – 4/25

   Over the last three years, much had changed in New York’s taxi industry – most of it, not for the better. The Nissan NV200 (Taxi of tomorrow) became the dominant model of cab, Mayor De Blasio’s vision zero initiative continued to rework the city streets in favor of slower speeds and reconfigured intersections, and even the license changed to a universal one that applied to all yellow, green, and black car drivers. Without a doubt, the biggest difference in recent years was the onslaught of TNC’s (Transportation Network Companies) that flooded the city with thousands of extra vehicles. The end result was nothing short of a 21st century tragedy of the commons, as traffic speeds slowed, driver take-home pay plummeted, and morale hitting a low not seen in generations. All of this came to the head in recent months as 4 drivers in various sectors of the industry committed suicide, citing an inability to compete with the extra cars on the road and earn a living.

The one death that hit everyone the hardest was Douglas Schifter’s. Early in the morning on February 5th, he pulled up his car to the east side of City Hall Park, took out a shotgun, put it up to himself, and pulled the trigger. The suicide note left behind blamed the current and previous mayors as well as the current Governor for allowing too many autos to flood the streets, as well as the TLC for the heavy fines imposed via tickets. Those sediments, and the rest of those that he penned shortly before his demise, echoed the ones that he wrote for a black car publication that had long sounded the alarm of what drivers were forced to endure in recent years. Of course, they had gone unheeded but there was a sense that what happened on that gray, winter morning was a turning point in the long-running saga of New York’s for-hire transportation industry.


The Rev. (and city councilman) Ruben Diaz – 4/25

Rally’s for him, and subsequent ones, reinforced the notion that something was going to be different from here on out. Drivers of all sorts of vehicles came out, many in opposition to each other, to stand up for their job while at the same time, pressuring the city to tackle the runaway growth of the TNC’s. This brought up a massive conflict of interest issue, as yellow drivers (such as myself) claimed that the medallion taxis were granted an exclusive right to pick up street hails and therefore, needed the TNC’s curtailed and brought up to yellow standards. Fares needed to be leveled across the board, licensing and background checks had to also be made level, and the number of FHV’s (for hire vehicles) needed to be capped at a level that would guarantee enough income for all of those who drove. Drivers of Uber, Lyft, and other companies of the sort wanted their livelihoods kept, even as those services continued to add drivers ad infinitum. The numbers were quite startling with some claiming that there could be up to 100,000 FHV’s on the city’s streets by next year, with still no end in sight to the stratospheric growth. Clearly, something had to be done to stem this runaway expansion.

The first of what was expected to be a series of meetings took place at City Hall on April 30th. Led by Rev. (and city councilman) Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, proposed legislation was put forth that would address many of these issues head-on. Various drivers, former drivers, advocacy groups, and unions testified about the changes they had seen and offered various solutions to the problem. The only point that they could agree on was that there were too many cars on the street, but as to what their limit should be still remained up in the air.


Drivers testifying to the city council – 4/30

Yours truly went to the rally on the 25th and the meeting less than a week later. The former was the first time I had ever set foot in City Hall Park and the latter was the first time that I had ever set foot inside of the building itself. Not having a representative on the council (I live in New Jersey) has made it tough to get my voice heard at times but thankfully, there have been a few people in government on our side and plenty of people in the yellow cab industry who have tirelessly work in order to save what’s left of our profession. It has been heartwarming to see constructive steps being taken although many of these issues have been at the forefront for a number of years now. That it took a series of medallion foreclosures, the loss of income on the part of yellow drivers, and a series of suicides to see action on the part of the city council was nothing short of disheartening at best and evidence of a lack of effectiveness on the part of the TLC and New York City government itself, at worst.

Over the coming months, I hope to get this site back up and running again. Much of what I loved about this job has faded away in the 6 1/2 years that I’ve been doing it; nearly in proportion to the income I take home nightly. Many have asked me whether I still love this job and my response is always the same:


If I *didn’t* love it, how could I keep doing it?

While I’m ready for whatever vocation lies ahead of me in life, I will keep driving during the overnight hours for as long as I have to, until that last shift finally comes. In spite of the struggles that myself, and everyone else, has faced in this industry, I still believe that it’s not too late to save it from implosion, although our time is rapidly running out.

At this point, the city owes it to all of us who put our heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, and hours in to get it right this time around.


East gate, City Hall Park – 4/25




Who’ll kill the electric cab?

Nissan LEAF - West Side

Nissan Leaf – West Side

“Nice Taxi you have here!”

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

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

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

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

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

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

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

What will they run on?

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

Of gas, that is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iPhone26 056Charging station – New Jersey

From the Home Office in West Caldwell, New Jersey

Apologies to Letterman

Apologies to Letterman

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

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

10) Who Will Be Miss Taxi?

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

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

It never aired.

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

9) Tony’s Sister and Jim – 11/26/80

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

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

Two more of your average cabdrivers in 2012

Two more of your average cabdrivers in 2012

8) A Grand Gesture – 5/25/83

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

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

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

7) Alex’s Old Buddy – 1/29/83

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

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

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

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

He’s not attracted to her.

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

…and he wasn’t hot for Tony.

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

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

5) Elaine and the Monk – 12/2/82

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

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

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

4) Jim’s Inheritance – 10/7/82

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

1) Elegant Iggy – 3/18/82

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one's for you, Angela

Goodnight, Mr. Walters


Racing Taxis - Meatpacking District

Whizzing Taxis – Meatpacking District

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

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

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

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

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

“So how’s business?”

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

1) Over night = night’s over

2) Plastic planet

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

…and can see the street again.

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

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

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

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

By paying in cash.

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

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

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

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

Clogged arteries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for the changeover - Greenpont

Waiting for the changeover – Greenpoint


Your average cabdrivers in 1978

“So how long you’ve been doing this?”

“7 months.”

“Surely you’ve seen Taxi Driver.

“Nope. I don’t have time for movies. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve been in a theatre to see a new release and that’s not changing anytime soon.”

“How could you not see a movie in that long? That’s so odd.”

“I’m a white cabdriver and I’m talking back to you. Isn’t that odd enough?”

And so it goes. The above gets repeated often enough that I needed to put it on here and I can spit out the routine word-for-word, even after pulling a 5-shift week. Even though I don’t have any desire to see any movies anytime soon, I have gotten around to a certain TV show that somehow, has become near and dear to my heart.

For those of you that never bothered to dust off your 8-tracks and bell bottoms, Taxi aired from 1978-83 and won a slew of Emmy awards, given it’s relatively short run. It was on ABC for the first four seasons and then moved to NBC in 1982 before it’s final cancellation a year later. Like The Wonder Years or Soap, it seemed to have run for ages because of the legacy that left behind and the careers that the show helped to launch, which is probably a telling sign of a sitcom’s true legacy.

So sure enough, I got the DVD’s of each season and went through them – one by one, following the story arcs that were loosely woven through each season and looking between the lines for any trends that someone else may have missed. You’re probably thinking “Pat, it’s a sitcom. Seriously. What could be taken out of it beyond the 24-minute dosages of entertainment that were meant to be consumed and digested?”

Glad you asked.

Much like Sesame Street, Taxi was one of the few shows that gave me my first impression of the Big Apple. Many people growing up today have no idea how truly, awfully bad New York in the midst of the fiscal crisis of the 1970’s. Garbage on the streets, Subways covered in graffiti, a sky-high crime rate, and don’t even get me started on the South Bronx. Yeah, the Yankees had a nice resurgence but as Howard Cosell noted during the World Series, the Bronx was indeed on fire.

That was about the most excitement the city saw during that time. Go ahead and watch the closing credits of Barney Miller, The Jeffersons, or All in the Family. Notice anything? The City looks like shit. Total shit. The air is dirty, cars are really big, and damn, those buildings are boxy, giant, and unimaginative. No wonder everyone wanted to get out and go away from New York – even to suburbia. I can still remember the commercials during those shows when I was kid and couldn’t find anything else when flipping the dials on the cable box around. A Native American cried as litter was being tossed out of a car, Milton Glaser’s iconic ILOVENY logo was plastered all over everything as a hopeful catchphrase, and Mayor Koch made a simple plea: “New York, let’s clean up New York”. It was a world of few channels and much effort to bring the city back from the brink of collapse.

And much of it could be seen on Taxi.

The muted color palates, Checker cabs, and desperation that the drivers on the show faced were the signs that hit close to home. Elaine worked in an art gallery, back before skinny Europeans and millionaires took them over on the Far West Side. Tony was a Boxer in the days when the Golden Gloves could lead to a career that people aspired to. Bobby was an actor who actually studied Shakespeare and wanted to be on Broadway more than anything else. What they all had in common was that they drove a cab in the hopes of ultimately landing full-time jobs as blue-collar workers. A lifestyle like that was worth slaving away for in those days, when one could pull a Madonna and come to Manhattan with nothing. Squatting and crashing on couches was the norm for many then, even if one never saw his or her dream fulfilled.

And that’s where Taxi stands out among it’s television brethren. Looking back on the sitcom format now, there’s zero doubt that shows with a laugh track are 20th Century relics. All of life’s problems aren’t tied up neatly at the end of each show and social issues aren’t meant to be addressed on a “very special episode” with the laugh track turned off. It’s heartbreaking to watch Elaine get jilted by another guy or to see Jim grieve at the end of an episode, only to watch the credits roll to the sound of Bob James’ melancholy theme. It also hits close to home to me because I have nights where I want to pull over, put the cab in park, and just let out a good cry, knowing that I’ve been given a bigger dose of humanity than I can handle.

Although I haven’t made to the end of the series, there are no surprises lurking around the corner on the show. No happy weddings, no babies, no endless introductions of new characters to pump up sagging ratings. When the show concluded in 1983, all of the drivers are still working at the garage, even though none of them planned on being career cabbies. For many of us, this vocation is not something that we plan on doing forever but as I’m fully aware of, it’s easy to get hooked on the money, the steady hours, and the abnormal sense of a routine that driving a yellow cab brings. As the show went on, it was easier to see everyone as a cabdriver and not hacking to get by in the meantime.

Your average cabdrivers in 2012

Even the set lightens up over the seasons as well. The biggest shame in Taxi was that it was cancelled a year before The Cosby Show launched. Thursday night on NBC became “Must See TV” and included such hits over the years as Cheers, SeinfeldERFriends, and fittingly, the last great sitcom in Frasier. Taxi could have lasted quite a while longer and possibly, the success of one of the main characters could have been written into the plot. Of course, that would just be wishful thinking given how the series concluded.

Just as no sitcom comes close to depicting real-life conditions, Taxi isn’t an exception to that rule. I don’t go out for a beer with my coworkers when I get back to the garage, I have yet to play a game of cards, and the vehicles I drive don’t go through the streets of the city at 20 miles per hour. The show was great at showing New York at a key point in its history, before the building boom of the 80’s remade much of the business district with more colorful skyscrapers and a rehabilitation of the city’s crumbling housing stock. It’s during the bumpers that I appreciate the love of New York seen on the show – either during shots of streetscapes that are radically different in the 21st century, or in buildings that look the same now and have been wonderfully preserved for future generations.

Taxi took place in an era when much changed in New York and at a time when the City had to help pull the nation of a recession, which could also be said of today. I’ve seen enough of these changes in the 7 months I’ve been behind the wheel even though nothing ever seems apparent at first. Shifts turn into weeks and into months, and what seemed like a way to get by eventually became a routine, and ultimately, a lifestyle. For some odd reason, all of it never really bothered me, even though I’m pushing two years since I finished my undergraduate studies.

After all, it’s not like I’m going to be doing this forever.

A current shot of the garage site used on Taxi – 534 Hudson St

You’re my first passenger…

7/27/11 – 5 minutes before setting sail

15 minutes after after this shot was taken, I uttered the words that later became the title of this first posting.

Of course, nothing’s been the same since.

I can’t imagine what most of you who are reading this (and know me already) are thinking. I always thought that life had thrown me a ton of twists and turns but once my experience at Columbia ended a year and a half ago, I thought that circumstances would improve. As anybody who has a pulse on this nation can verify, they certainly haven’t.

And that wasn’t the case for me either.

Flash forward ahead a few months after graduation and to the moment when my student loans became due and now I had the clock ticking against me. Payments. Lots of them, every month for as far as the eye could see. Sending a whole tree’s worth of resumes out and searching online job postings led to the same 3 or 4 responses – none of which needs repeating on here. The one positive aspect of my academic journey ending was that I got to spent some time in the Big Apple. Lots of time, I should add. Lots of time doing lots of activities that I had put off during the 3 years and change that I spent camped out in Butler Library until the wee hours of the morning afternoon. Time that I thought would lead to a payoff down the road.

Sure enough, I ended up down that proverbial road…but it wasn’t paved with good intentions. Just like the time I went, this one was actually paved, albiet with loads of bumps and potholes. Lots of job posting and vehicles going by me all ended up conveying the same simple message that ended up hitting me over the head repeatedly:

“Drivers wanted”

For someone who was unemployed and unappreciated, that was music to my ears.

A month and half later, I got the highest score the week I took the TLC exam to get my hack license and of course, the rest was history.

I should know a thing or two about that, since that was my major in college. Before I decided to drive for a living, everyone kept asking me where I wanted to teach. Now that I do this and I tell people what I majored in, they ask me where I plan on teaching.

So maybe things haven’t changed…

In some odd way, I *am* teaching people. It’s not in the classroom or on the lecture circuit, but instead, it’s in the 5 Boroughs. For starters, many of them say the same thing to me as soon as they tell me where they’re going:

“You’re the first white/American/English speaking/nice/(fill in the blank) cabdriver I’ve ever had.”

Hell, you may be thinking the same thing too.

And that’s where this page comes in.

I knew I was going to write about this as soon as I signed up to take the course over in Queens. There was going to be too much happening for me *not* to write about it. Right after I get the look of shock from people, they all want to know about the stories. Or the characters I meet. Or the craziest/wildest/most memorable fare that I’ve had. Lord knows there’s been enough of all of them over the last three months.

More importantly, there’s been enough people that I can’t forget.

Over the coming weeks and months, my goal is to take as many of the people, places, and experiences and translate them onto here for you, the reader. I had no idea what to expect when I started this job and based on the number of questions I get in my cab in a given night, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the case for just about everyone else too. As difficult as this may sound, that pales in comparison to the challenges that I face on a nightly basis – potholes, pedestrians, cops, sanitation trucks, pedicabs, the NYPD, tour buses, Fire Trucks, livery car drivers, ambulances, protestors, bicyclists, and of course, New York’s finest. I always tell my passengers that if I only avoided 99% of those in a given night, I would have lasted about 2 hours.

Thankfully, I’m past the hard part. I hardly have to look at my 5 Borough Atlas now and most streets and bridges are no longer a challenge for me. The trick now is to take everything that I’ve seen and heard and put it down, possibly into a book when this is all said and done. No two days of work are remotely close to being alike and I can honestly say that this is the first time in my life that I don’t mind getting up in the morning at 1 in the afternoon to go to work. I forgot to mention that I have yet to work a day shift, so *everything* that you will be reading about on here took place between 5 in the evening and 5 in the morning.

Last but not least, I have to mention those that came before me. Take a look at the links on the right-hand side of this page and you’ll see why the old saying of  “All history is revisionist” applies to something as completely different as this blog. New York Hack is where I got the idea for this, even though this wasn’t my first attempt at putting something up like this online. Long before I ended up driving a yellow cab, I was fascinated by Melissa’s writings regarding her experience. An attempt to contact her went unanswered so if anyone reading this knows how I can get in touch with her, please forward that to me!

The other pages deal with the growth and management of the transportation arteries of the city. Gridlock Sam was invaluable to someone who wanted to keep up with the city but was too young to drive around it by himself and I still read his column and traffic shortcut book daily. Second Ave. Sagas started as a commentary on the never-ending Subway project on the East Side that has blossomed into my go-to source for all transit-related news and construction updates. picked up where Caro’s The Power Broker left off and gave me all the answers to the where’s and why’s of the arterial system in New York. All of this stuff may sound nerdy to you but once you see the meter whizzing away and a happy passenger in the back seat, all of the reading up becomes worth it tenfold.

If you made it down this far, you’ll have no problem following me around the world’s greatest city. As I’ve stated before, there’s room in the shotgun seat, so grab your dirty water dog, Dunkin’ Donuts, and buckle up.

I hope you enjoy coming along for the ride of your life.


A sign of things to come