Tuesday, August 29, 2006

You're alright



There was a weird vibe out there tonight. Maybe it was the rain these past few days, or the change of season, or the noticeably earlier sunset, who knows, but there was just some sort of odd mood happening. It should go without saying by now that business was slow. It's August. Everyone who can afford to be is out of town. And those that are left are not necessarily taking cabs.

I did get a little lucky out at LaGuardia this evening. I was flagged down by a hotel doorman on East 42nd Street and, as the trunk was being loaded up with luggage, another cabbie that was parked in front of the hotel came over and told me he was "giving" me this job because he would rather go to Kennedy than LaGuardia. Sucks for him, though, because I found out not long after that the Taxi Hold Lot at Kennedy was at like a thousand percent of capacity and moving slow.

I got to LaGuardia without any traffic hassles and waited in the US Air lot, which is next to the Delta terminal (seen above). It's always a gamble to pull into the airport, and then a further gamble deciding which lot to wait in. For the first time in months it seems, I made the right choice. The lot moved relatively quickly and I was on my way back to Manhattan with a passenger within 40 minutes.

Back in the city, though, the streets were tough. Competition was fierce and the regular "civilian" drivers were moving like zombies. I had one altercation that could've been bad, but ended up being a nice moment.

I was changing lanes at the same time as this Nissan Altima on the other side of Third Avenue. The problem was, we were both trying to get into the same lane at the same time but from opposite directions. I swerved back over just in time to avoid a collision, but not in time to avoid hearing the driver of the car, a young black man, call me a motherfucker. He sneered at me and I just shook my head and shrugged my shoulders, like, "Whatever."

As we approached the next light side by side, he took another look at me and said, "Oh, I thought you were a guy." His two passengers were now staring. I just nodded my head and looked away, not knowing what he was getting at and not really wanting to get into anything.

Five minutes later, we ended up next to each other again. Smiling this time, he called over and said, "You're alright, man. You're alright!"

I don't know what brought on this change of heart, but I didn't question it. All I knew was that, somehow, I went from being a "motherfucker" to "alright" in a matter of minutes. And it was certainly a better outcome than having him take his dick out at me.

If only it was always this easy.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cow catcher



It almost seemed like the usual last-two-weeks-of-August empty-city curse might have been lifted when I got stuck in massive throngs of people walking in the traffic lanes near Penn Station, but, alas, the curse has hit, and hard. It took me 45 minutes to find my first passenger tonight, which is just frustrating. That's not supposed to happen in the beginning of the shift, and it makes the night look hopeless.

I often tell myself, All I need is the first one, and then everything will fall into place, which is usually true, but when getting that first passenger proves to be more difficult than it should be, my outlook starts to look real dark. Of course, eventually, someone deigned to get in my cab and pay me to drive them somewhere, and slowly but surely, other fares followed, but the damage was done. The night proved to be dead slow, worse than usual, and I spent a lot of time by myself between jobs.

Sometime during rush hour a man and his teenage son got in the cab. They were visitors from Canada. Shortly after getting in, the man commented on the "Passenger's Bill of Rights" posted on the partition. We laughed at how ridiculous it is, and how sad. And also what it says about how the city feels about its taxi drivers, and so on.

We also got along because, when a bunch of genius pedestrians walked in front of my cab against the light, the man suggested I invest in something called a "cow catcher." He explained that it's that slanty thing seen on the front of locomotives and they serve to move animals and objects out of the way and off the tracks. I agreed that I absolutely needed a cow catcher. Especially today when the pedestrians seemed particularly suicidal.

They told me they were visiting the man's brother and leaving tomorrow. The son had never been here before, the father hadn't been here in over 20 years. We had a pleasant ride together and when they got out, they left me a decent tip.

Anyway, when my next passenger got in, he handed me a wallet and said he found it on the backseat. I immediately knew it belonged to the Canadian man. It contained only a Canadian "Operator's License" and a credit card, nothing else.

Now, I have to admit, had this guy been a dick, I might've taken some pleasure in throwing the wallet away, but he hadn't been. So I found the 800 number on the back of the credit card and called the company. I explained what happened and gave them my number. I felt bad for the guy. There was no way he was gonna be allowed on a plane tomorrow without his ID.

A half hour later, he called and asked if I could go back to where I dropped him off and return the wallet, telling me he would make it worth my while. Those words are like magic. They just make it a lot easier to go off-duty during rush hour for a complete stranger. It's like, at least the person knows you're going to be losing time, which equals money in this business, and they don't have an unhealthy sense of entitlement, which many New Yorkers definitely seem to have when it comes to cabs. But it's also a gamble, because you never know at what rate a person values your time.

Still, at that point, it didn't really matter. This guy deserved a favor, and I was happy to do it, even if it ended up as a loss for me. I hit my off-duty light and, of course, that was the moment when a hundred people decided they absolutely needed my cab, but I was on a mission to do a good thing and be a good person for a change, so I ignored their hails.

When I finally made it back to him, I jokingly told him that I only did a little shopping with his credit card at Circuit City and Best Buy, but I hadn't maxed it out yet. He was so relieved that I came back, he just laughed. Then he handed me fifty bucks and said, "You're my favorite New Yorker ever."

The whole interaction, plus the generous reward, pretty much made my night. So, ultimately, I came out way ahead.

I'm totally gonna use that fifty bucks as a down payment on a cow catcher.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Reminder

I'll be reading from my book at the cabbie fundraiser tomorrow night at Rocky Sullivan's on Lex between 28th and 29th. The event goes from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

Also, I will be among a bunch of cabbies telling cabbie stories on WBAI tomorrow afternoon from 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm. Listen in at 99.5 FM or www.wbai.org. We will be taking calls too.


Update on how to hear the show:

You can hear the WBAI show live at www.wbai.org. About 10 minutes after the broadcast it will be up on the www.wbai.org archive under Radio Free Eireann.

The Saturday night show will also be available on www.nysoundposse.com by Sunday night.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Brooklyn


I know it's inconvenient for a lot of people, but I have to say thank goodness for MTA construction. The night was pretty slow until the L train to Brooklyn shut down at midnight, and I ended up making lucrative little circles between 14th Street and Williamsburg. It helped my earnings quite a bit.

My oddest ride of the night, however, happened earlier in the night when I picked up a 20-something-year-old woman coming out of Flashdancers, the strip club on 52nd and Broadway. She was going to Park Slope to look at an apartment and her speech was slurred in a really weird way. She didn't seem drunk, just out of it, or maybe a little crazy. Or on pills, perhaps.

Anyway, she was busy on the phone for a lot of the ride. The first call sounded like total nonsense. I only caught snippets, but they were weird enough to get stuck in my mind.

She was speaking to someone named Elizabeth and she was mad at her because she wanted to go out and party tonight. She said, "I'm tired. I'm not going out. I did my deal, and I totally need liposuction. But I'm off work tomorrow." After a brief pause, she said, "You really need to move out of your dad's house. You're seventeen. I practically raised you."

When she hung up with Elizabeth, we rode into Brooklyn in silence until she got another call. After her initial hello, she slurred, "Anyway, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.... Do you know how much I love you?"

When we pulled up to her destination, she paid the fare, but then wouldn't get out of the cab because she dropped her phone somewhere in her huge purse and couldn't find it. She turned to me and said, "You're hot," and then, "Oh, my phone! My boyfriend is gonna think I'm crazy."

She sat there for a few minutes calling out to her boyfriend on the other end of the phone, saying "Hello? Hello? Hello?" and instructing him to yell really loud so she could hear him and locate the phone. After a few tries, she finally found it.

She held it up like a prize, grinning like a chimpanzee, and then shoved it through the partition at me. She looked and sounded completely insane when she tried to get me to say hi to her boyfriend.

Not wanting to be rude, I said "Hi," but I also found myself really wanting her to get out of my cab already, so I added, "Okay, well, have a good night!" But she apparently wasn't ready to go yet. She got back on the phone with her boyfriend and just sort of continued casually chatting with him while not making any motion to leave. She was laughing and still slurring as she explained to him exactly how she lost her phone in her bag but now she found it. I'm sure he was fascinated.

At this point, the meter had been off for a while and I just wanted to get her out and get on with my night, so I repeated myself two more times, getting louder and louder so she could hear me over her own conversation.

"OKAY, have a good night!"

There was no response from her as she just kept chattering along.

"O-KAY. HAVE. A. GOOD. NIGHT."

This snapped her out of it and she seemed to remember where she was. She said, "Huh? Oh, right, yeah. Thanks cab driver!" as she got out and slammed the door.

Yeah. It wasn't only her boyfriend who thought she was crazy.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Just saying


So I'm doing my very first reading this Saturday at a fundraiser to help the Taxi Worker's Alliance in their attempt to deal with rising gas prices. I'll be reading a section from the book I've been working on. I hope some of you that are in New York can come out and lend your support.

The press release is as follows:

HELP DRIVE CABBIES BACK OUT OF POVERTY
Join us on SATURDAY, AUGUST 19, 2006
At a fundraiser to help cab drivers earn a living wage

With gas prices soaring, manhole covers blowing, and power outages knocking out traffic lights, it has never been harder to be a cab driver in NYC. Join the Taxi Worker's Alliance and NYC cabbies for a night of music, comedy, poetry, and prose.

Saturday, August 19th
Rocky Sullivan's Bar, located on Lexington Ave. at 29th Street
from 6:00 - 9:00 pm

Performances by cabbies:

John McDonagh, founder of CAB Cabbies Against Bush, doing comedy

Randy Credico, project director of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, also doing comedy

Davidson Garrett, author of King Lear of the Taxi, reading poetry

Melissa Plaut, writer of the New York Hack blog, reading an excerpt
from her upcoming book to be published by Villard in 2007

Also featuring:
Music by Moogie Klingman with a new song about cabdrivers
Kevin Fitzpatrick
Steve Smith
Seth "The Kaballagh Kabbie"
Bhairavi Desai
Jerry Hassett (Green Party)

Suggested donation is $10.00 or 3 gallons of gas.
All donations go towards the Alliance's ongoing efforts to petition the NYC administration in order to help cab drivers earn a livable wage in the face of the gas-price crisis.

ALSO:
Tune in to WBAI, 99.5 FM or wbai.org, that afternoon from 1:30 to 3:00 pm to hear NYC cabbies tell their favorite stories from behind the wheel. You can listen live at www.wbai.org.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gimme all your money


[An omen?]


[Apparently German Shepherds are licensed to drive in Brooklyn.]

It was another ghost town night. The streets were virtually empty and I imagine the heat was keeping everyone indoors. At first I thought the theme of the night was gonna be babies since I had a three-month old child in the cab followed by a four-months pregnant lady. But then that ended when an old Polish lady got in on the upper east side and proceeded to describe the three times she got mugged.

One of these times, she had stopped at the candy store on her way home as it was apparently in the process of being robbed. When she entered the store, the robber grabbed her and locked her in a closet with six other similarly terrorized people. He then stripped her of all her money and jewelry.

In her mind, the mugging was somehow related to the misfortune of owning a car in New York, saying, "If only I hadn't found that parking spot in front of the store, I would've just gone straight home and it would never have happened." She got rid of her car soon afterward.

The night went on in the usual boring fashion, but when I got back to the garage, another driver told me a story about how he was once mugged at gunpoint by three guys (he was not working at the time). Unfortunately for them -- and him, I suppose -- he only had one single pathetic little dollar on him. He was on his way to buy a can of beer. When they found the dollar, he told them, "I guess you picked the wrong guy." They took the dollar anyway.

Luckily, I was not mugged tonight, but I was mugged several years ago when I still lived in the East Village. (Note to my parents: Stop reading this right now.) I was walking alone when two guys approached me. When they got close, one of them actually said, "Gimme all your fuckin money."

I almost laughed, thinking he was kidding, since it was such a clich├ęd movie line. But then I looked down and saw the knife pointed at my stomach, and I quickly stopped smiling. I gave them what I had, which amounted to about $40, but they were thorough, and made me face a wall as they patted me down to check for any hidden cash. When they were finally satisfied they had gotten it all, they ran off, and I staggered home in a terrified daze.

The driver at the garage tonight assured me that "it will happen" again. He also informed me that hiding my night's earnings in my sock was not really very effective. But I guess I already knew that.

I wonder if, using the logic of the Polish lady, any future muggings could possibly be avoided if only I got rid of my car. And maybe the cab, too. But I bet that German Shepherd up there in the driver's seat won't be getting mugged any time soon.