Lost in the Dregs
January 13, 2011 7:02 AM   Subscribe

The sitcom Taxi was inspired by two non-fiction articles that appeared in New York Magazine in September, 1975: Night-Shifting for the Hip Fleet and The Word from Belmore, both by author, writer and journalist Marc Jacobson. (Google Books: Original layout and photos.) In 2004, he checked in with local cabdrivers to see how things had changed for them after 30 years. As predicted, leasing did spell the end for the artist/writer/actor cabbie.

Jacobson also wrote the article which inspired Ridley Scott's film, American Gangster: The Return of Superfly, and his work has been highlighted previously on Mefi: "The Ground Zero Grassy Knoll" and "The Lampshade"
posted by zarq (65 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's amazing that a taxi medallion costs over half a million bucks these days.
posted by exogenous at 7:22 AM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


#longreads classic!
posted by The New Republic at 7:37 AM on January 13, 2011


the only skill I have is my knowledge of the streets of New York

In my abortive, month-long stint as a NYC cab driver back in 1987*, the thing that tripped me up the most was all the one-way streets. If you didn't plan your approach to the destination correctly, it could significantly lengthen the trip - making unhappy passengers.

* I first heard about the stock market crash in that evening's training class for new drivers. The instructor quipped, "I guess we'll be seeing an increase in enrollment soon."
posted by Joe Beese at 7:38 AM on January 13, 2011


the end for the artist/writer/actor/composer cabbie

IIRC, Philip Glass supported himself as a hack while composing Einstein on the Beach.

Some would say he's still supporting himself that way!
posted by Joe Beese at 7:41 AM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Taxi was on the air when I was in Jr. High, and was really pivotal in my budding "someday-I'll-live-in-New-York" plan. I was going to move to New York when I grew up, and become an actress -- and I was going to drive a taxi while waiting for my big break, just like Bobby.

Well -- I made it to New York, but three years of conservatory training in college taught me that I cannot actually act after all, but it also taught me that mother of Pete I didn't want to either. However -- I stumbled across stage managing in college as well, and also learned I was good at that -- and got into that instead. Only after a few years did I suddenly remember that there was an episode of Taxi in which Alex Rieger attempts to break out of the garage -- by taking a job as a stage manager for a revival of Death Of A Salesman. This show, clearly, had made more of an imprint on my subconscious than I'd ever thought.

....Except for the actual becoming-a-cabbie part, though. There is no way in hell I would drive in Manhattan.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:46 AM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


The first episode of Taxi was primarily about how none of the cab drivers viewed themselves as hacks, but instead this was just a job they were doing to support their real professions. All except Alex Reiger (played by (Judd Hirsch; incidentally, my cousin) who was adamant that, yes, this was his job, and he was proud of it.

One night, he attends an art opening curated by Elaine Nardo. He gets to talking to a very attractive woman, and, after a while, she asks him what he does.

Without missing a beat, he answers: "I put out oil well fires."

Although the theme of the show wasn't expressed as plainly throughout the rest of the run of the show, it remained in the background, with Bobby Wheeler's ongoing lack of success as a stage actor and Tony Banta's stalled career as a boxer. And, more than that, the show's ongoing theme was that life can be pretty disappointing, and tends to be whatever you're actually doing, instead of what you wish you were doing.

That's a pretty downbeat theme for a show. It's also a pretty honest one, which is why I think Taxi eventually found an audience and went on to become such a beloved show. That and it was terrifically humane and funny.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:57 AM on January 13, 2011 [42 favorites]


The people I babysat for in my upper west side building had New York Magazine lying around. (My parents read Consumer Reports.) What a time warp to read those articles! And Orbach's?! Up there with Alexander's! NY in the seventies--I never did watch Taxi, though. TV was over for me at that age.
posted by emhutchinson at 7:57 AM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Look, this whole 'there is no way in hell I would drive in Manhattan' thing is WAY overblown. One day of jumping directly into the deep end and you'd be fine. This isn't Bucharest or Mumbai. People generally obey traffic signals, generally drive fine, etc. No one drives on the sidewalk (I'm looking at YOU, Boston), no one's driving a moped with a family of 8 hanging off of it (hi, Casablanca).
posted by spicynuts at 8:00 AM on January 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


That's a pretty downbeat theme for a show. It's also a pretty honest one, which is why I think Taxi eventually found an audience and went on to become such a beloved show. That and it was terrifically humane and funny.

This was the theme of a lot of 70s and early 80s shows, before everyone in America decided they were royalty. Contrast Barney Miller with any of the CSIs. I wish that love of actual humanity would come back and kill this obsession with aspirational wish fulfillment.
posted by spicynuts at 8:05 AM on January 13, 2011 [44 favorites]


The people I babysat for in my upper west side building had New York Magazine lying around. ... What a time warp to read those articles!

I would have been 13 or a bit younger when I read their cover story on Plato's Retreat while waiting for a dentist appointment on Long Island.

I knew then that New York City would be a lot more interesting than Long Island.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:09 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the best workplace sitcoms ever made.

Great credits/theme song, too (oh, also this).
posted by box at 8:09 AM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


....Except for the actual becoming-a-cabbie part, though. There is no way in hell I would drive in Manhattan.

I got my license 4 months before my kids were born, and drove into Manhattan from Queens every weekday for nearly a year afterwards. Driving in Manhattan wasn't terribly stressful or difficult. Finding parking on the other hand, was a constant pain in the ass. But I did learn exactly how wide my car was -- something I remember having difficulty with while taking driver's ed. Squeezing my car between double-parked trucks and poorly-parked cars on side streets was like learning to thread a needle.
posted by zarq at 8:09 AM on January 13, 2011


In the interest of staving off the derail and looping this back around to the point: That childhood of which I spoke took place in rural Eastern Connecticut. Which is also where I learned to drive. And as a result, I tend to be a lot more comfortable if I'm driving on back roads or in light traffic. That "no way I'd drive in Manahttan" was more about me than Manhattan.

I'd have to ease into urban driving in order to be really comfortable, and driving a cab is not the way to "ease into it".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 AM on January 13, 2011


I had a professor on my qualifying exam committee who held PhD and MD degrees and tended towards cold brutality. He kept his old hack license hanging in his office, which the students viewed as an almost unbelievable artifact - he was once a regular human!
posted by exogenous at 8:11 AM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Look, this whole 'there is no way in hell I would drive in Manhattan' thing is WAY overblown.

I've lived and driven in New York, Atlanta, and Washington, DC. I think this attitude is misappropriated in all cases, in that there's really very little that's difficult about driving in a major, congested city. It might be slow and irritating, but it's not "hard" to drive. What it is hard to do, of course, is park. And that's where I think 99% of these "driving nightmare" attitudes come from. I'd drive a dozen friends to JFK and back before I offered to drive into Alphabet City and find parking near a bar on a Saturday night.

So far the only city I've been to where I'm literally afraid to drive is San Francisco. I'm pretty sure riding in the back of a Mini the had to stop at the top of one of those hills and the noise the transmission made when the light went green is how I got my first gray hair.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:13 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


As predicted, leasing did spell the end for the artist/writer/actor cabbie.

Let's not forget insomniac, loaner veterans!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:15 AM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


the thing that tripped me up the most was all the one-way streets.

Roughly speaking Evens are East.

The medallion system is a perfect example of artificial scarcity - wow owning a cab is expensive, because there are so few licenses, we should raise the number of licenses, no we can't ..because it's so expensive.
posted by The Whelk at 8:17 AM on January 13, 2011


I think this attitude is misappropriated in all cases, in that there's really very little that's difficult about driving in a major, congested city. It might be slow and irritating, but it's not "hard" to drive.

one way streets and hidden signage i rest my case
posted by DU at 8:21 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


American roads don't have *any* signage peroid.
posted by The Whelk at 8:27 AM on January 13, 2011


The Cabs Are For Kissing blog is pretty good. He thinks times are tough too:
Following my own rules, I called my garage when the storm was just beginning and told the dispatcher I would not be coming in, even though it was a Sunday, normally one of my driving days. He said that was okay, a fortunate response because the owner of the garage (my boss) might have instructed him to tell any driver who didn't come in that he'd have to pay for the shift even if he didn't work it. That's the way it's been since the recession started in '08 and garages have been overflowing with drivers, some of whom are turned away because there are no cabs for them. This surplus of drivers is a new thing in New York, by the way. In all my years in this business, there had never been a time when there were enough drivers for all the cabs. Until now.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:29 AM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]



one way streets and hidden signage i rest my case


It's a grid. Can you count?
posted by spicynuts at 8:35 AM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Let's not forget insomniac, loaner veterans!

Topper Harley: I could never find time for love. It's too heavy. It's an anchor that drowns a man. Besides, I got the sky, the smell of jet exhaust, my bike.
Pete 'Dead Meat' Thompson: A loner?
Topper Harley: No. I own it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:40 AM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's a grid. Can you count?

A couple of months ago I was taking a cab ride to an address on East 11th. My driver took me to East 2nd and began scanning for the address. I mentioned were were still nine blocks away. He said, "Sorry, I am new."

"If you're counting in Roman numerals, you're probably pretty old," I thought.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:45 AM on January 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Let me chime in and say Alexander's was a nightmare. Or at least the pilgrimages I made in the fall to get new school clothes were. Alexander's was run down in a seedy way, whereas A&S was run down in a kind of cool way.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:46 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there a list of the famous/well-known who once were cabbies? I know Sturgis Warner and Fran Lebowitz drove.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:49 AM on January 13, 2011


It's a grid.

Not south of Houston, not in the boroughs.
posted by dubold at 8:54 AM on January 13, 2011


one way streets and hidden signage i rest my case

As spicynuts mentions, Manhattan is one of many US cities that are designed on a grid system. Most of Manhattan above Houston is a simple grid, and locals know (or should) the simple patterns to finding an address in each section. Cabbies should definitely know them. Much of Queens (especially northern) is also on a grid system, as are parts of Brooklyn.

Traffic signs are pretty well labeled here, and even if they are hidden (more likely in one of the boroughs than in Manhattan,) they're also literally written on the pavement.
posted by zarq at 8:57 AM on January 13, 2011


Porn great Jamie Gillis drove a NYC cab before he began appearing in films.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:59 AM on January 13, 2011


The medallion system is a perfect example of artificial scarcity - wow owning a cab is expensive, because there are so few licenses, we should raise the number of licenses, no we can't ..because it's so expensive.

Huh, I thought that they wouldn't give out any more medallions because they really, really don't need any more traffic in Manhattan. (not being snarky)
posted by Melismata at 9:13 AM on January 13, 2011


I'm of the radical I don't see why private cars belong in midtown at all! camp, so I have no idea.

(Also when I' get to the deathless god king of New York, I am banning all cars from Central park,putting in a few cross-park tunnels and subway lines and then building a fucking decent connection Brooklyn and Queens, seriously it should not be faster for me to WALK. God. )
posted by The Whelk at 9:20 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Whelk: "I'm of the radical I don't see why private cars belong in midtown at all! camp, so I have no idea."

Not all of us can afford the cost of cabs everywhere, for things that can't be carried onto a bus or subway.
posted by zarq at 9:24 AM on January 13, 2011


Owning a year (and parking it!) is somehow cheaper?

Of course in my head everyone has a ride-share program and can rent cars for an hour so it's pretty much discuss the fantasy vehicular management world in my head.
posted by The Whelk at 9:27 AM on January 13, 2011


how the hell did I turn 'car" into "year"?
posted by The Whelk at 9:35 AM on January 13, 2011


one way streets and hidden signage i rest my case

In my recent experience they're all cheating with $100 GPSes anyway.
posted by saturday_morning at 9:37 AM on January 13, 2011


I think the thing that makes driving in NY seem scary is all the honking and shouting. I mean, I'm fine with noise, but it's a sociolinguistic issue. Where I grew up, honking at someone who has the right of way is an insult — you might as well just ring their doorbell and call them an ugly incompetent whore in front of their family. Owning a car in Manhattan would require a bit of an emotional adjustment, no lie, even if all the financial and practical details worked out fine.

Not south of Houston, not in the boroughs.

The outer boroughs do have their own grids, though they have non-grid bits too. But anyway, any time I've taken a cab outside Manhattan and the airports, the driver has expected me to give him directions.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:38 AM on January 13, 2011


Artists/Musicians/Actors and such can still drive for livery companies though, right? A couple days before Thanksgiving I called for a car back to my apt and the driver was pretty chatty and it turns out he was a musician in his 50s who'd been driving for like 30 years.
posted by spicynuts at 9:40 AM on January 13, 2011


The Whelk: "Owning a year (and parking it!) is somehow cheaper?

For me, definitely. But everyone's mileage will probably vary, so to speak. I live in Queens, don't pay for parking at home and have a couple of kids. I drive into Manhattan when I need to schlep them or other things. Most of the time I drive my car, it's in one of the boroughs outside Manhattan, in NJ or on LI. It's no doubt different for Manhattan residents. Parking might as well be another rent.

Of course in my head everyone has a ride-share program and can rent cars for an hour so it's pretty much discuss the fantasy vehicular management world in my head."

If the cars were private and *cheap* (I suppose *free* is out of the question) I'd totally go for it.
posted by zarq at 9:44 AM on January 13, 2011


nebulawindphone: "I think the thing that makes driving in NY seem scary is all the honking and shouting."

Honking now depends on the area. The fines for honking in residential areas are astronomical.

Shouting on the other hand... you get for free. :)
posted by zarq at 9:54 AM on January 13, 2011


It's a grid. Can you count?
posted by spicynuts


You'll be in trouble when someone asks you to take them to the corner of West 11th and West 4th.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:00 AM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I just finished reading Vladimir Lobas' Taxi from Hell: Confessions of a Russian Hack. No great masterpiece, but an interesting and funny account of an emigre's progression from hack to medallion owner in New York in the 80s.

I love the quote that Lobas includes from Gaito Gazdanov's Night Roads:

"Had I not been fated to become a taxi driver I never would have learned much of what I know, half of which should be enough to poison several human lives."
posted by Kabanos at 10:07 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Loong time cab-taker, Taxi-watcher, borough-driver, mouthy New Yorker. First of all, cab drivers are meaner than they used to be. I chalk it up to the expensive medaillion, but it's a fact. Second, they honk a lot more, just generally honking as they go through an intersection, make a left, etc. Third, who are they talking to at 4 in the morning on their cell phones????? Fourth, a new development, livery drivers actually aggressively solicit your business by pulling up to you or honking at you if you are simply standing at a street corner, waiting for the light to change, as if you don't realize you need a ride. This happens to me every morning on my way to the subway. Finally, it's FUN to drive in Manhattan. Just like everything else, you gotta not be clueless.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:14 AM on January 13, 2011


livery drivers actually aggressively solicit your business by pulling up to you or honking at you if you are simply standing at a street corner, waiting for the light to change, as if you don't realize you need a ride.

Argh! Yes, I've noticed this too and it's a peeve of mine.

Or they'll pull up to a bus stop and sit there, waiting, to see if anyone finally relents and decides to get in. I've been very tempted to walk up to the window of someone idling at a bus stop, so he gets excited and thinks he's got a fare, and then I stick my head in and say, "would you mind moving? You're blocking the bus stop."

....But that would be petty, so I overcome the impulse.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:30 AM on January 13, 2011


Honking now depends on the area. The fines for honking in residential areas are astronomical.

So, yeah, speaking of those signs --- how on earth do they enforce that? I've seen them, but they've always struck me as totally implausible. Even if a cop car is right behind you when you honk, how do they prove it was you and not the next guy?

(But on the fear-of-driving thing, I think the other thing is, when someone from elsewhere pictures NY, they picture midtown Manhattan. And in most smaller places, driving means driving into town — at least occasionally — so it doesn't necessarily occur to you that the majority of NY drivers avoid midtown like the plague. The idea that "driving in NY" can mean "running a few quiet errands around the green leafy bits of Queens" seems obvious to a New Yorker but kind of unexpected to the rest of us.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:31 AM on January 13, 2011


So far the only city I've been to where I'm literally afraid to drive is San Francisco. I'm pretty sure riding in the back of a Mini the had to stop at the top of one of those hills and the noise the transmission made when the light went green is how I got my first gray hair.

I learned to drive in the Midwest but I learned to drive a stick shift in San Francisco, once you've learned how to stop on a steep hill with a car behind you, it's a piece of cake. But I do know people who won't drive a manual on a hill in SF and spend time trying to go around the hills.

As mentioned earlier, the parking is what sucks. I sold real estate for 4 years here and I'm a great parallel parker but you do learn to park by Braille, slightly touching the car in front and/or back. I've squeezed my baby caddy into some small spots. All bumpers in SF have scratches, nicks and dings.
posted by shoesietart at 10:36 AM on January 13, 2011


I think the thing that makes driving in NY seem scary is all the honking and shouting.

This is my experience as well. Took a trip over the holidays and drove about 3,500 miles around the southeast and up to the midwest. Didn't hear a single horn honk.

On the way back, from the time I crossed the Outerbridge Crossing into Staten Island to pulling up in front of my building in Brooklyn, I was honked at 6 times.
posted by dyobmit at 10:37 AM on January 13, 2011


And I loved Taxi. I've remained a Judd Hirsch fan. San Francisco's taxi medallion situation is also screwed up.
posted by shoesietart at 10:39 AM on January 13, 2011


The idea that "driving in NY" can mean "running a few quiet errands around the green leafy bits of Queens" seems obvious to a New Yorker but kind of unexpected to the rest of us.)

Oh, Brooklyn and Queens are no problem for me. I just know heavy traffic makes me really nervous and jumpy, and so me driving in Manhattan would be A Really, Really Bad Idea.

Wanted to clarify that as it seems I inadvertently started the "New York driving = teh scary" meme.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:39 AM on January 13, 2011


I have a friend, a writer, in the Boston area who drives a cab. He started a blog about the subject. It's pretty interesting. I just wish he had time to add it it more often.
posted by Man-Thing at 10:46 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I chalk up the incessant honking to the new wave of African, Indian, Pakistani and other Asian cabbies. Having traveled in some of these places, the horn is used much, much more frequently by regular drivers as an alert or as communication. Also, in those kinds of countries, traffic rules/lanes/signals are pretty much ignored so they come over here and bring their habits from home with them. To wit: coming up on an intersection? honk lightly so pedestrians know you're there; stopped at a light? keep engine rev'd and honk the millisecond the light changes cuz aren't we supposed to ignore these lights anyway?? Etc, etc.
posted by spicynuts at 11:20 AM on January 13, 2011


For what it is worth, I interpreted EmpressCallipygos' comment along the lines of "I would never drive in New York because it is inefficient and irritating and there actually exists a public transportation infrastructure that I can use if I don't feel like walking or cycling and enjoying the wonderful city", which is my attitude exactly.

Here in SF I've collected about 20 phone numbers for cabbies I like. Most of them are owners. I can call them and arrange for pick-ups in advance. I am a good tipper and my taxi experience is generally good.

Close to the top of the list is an old timer. He has been driving for 40 years. He still has lots of good stories to tell, is well read and listens to Jazz in the cab. His retirement plan consists of selling the medallion and moving to Mexico.
posted by Dr. Curare at 11:23 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Taxi Cabbie Confessions
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:23 AM on January 13, 2011


My friend Melissa Plaut, a writer, did a stint as a cabdriver and wrote a neat book about it: "Hack". </plug>
posted by monospace at 11:58 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been paged to this thread a few times via MeFi Mail--thanks for watching out, I guess--so I feel obligated to chime in. But I don't have a whole lot to add, especially since I've already posted a way-too-long comment about my cab driving career once on Metafilter. Best not to wear out my welcome.

Oh, and I guess this is as good a place as any to tell MeFi that, though I'm known as our resident "New Orleans cab driving magician" I haven't lived in New Orleans, picked up a fare, or performed a show in two and a half years. But don't be sad, it's good news...I finally got my shit together enough to make a living as a professional writer.
posted by Ian A.T. at 12:07 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


how on earth do they enforce that? I've seen them, but they've always struck me as totally implausible. Even if a cop car is right behind you when you honk, how do they prove it was you and not the next guy?

Lots of cops still walk the beat in NYC. I saw two traffic stops just Tuesday made by cops on foot patrol in my neighborhood. Standing on the sidewalk, they can tell who it was who honked, pull them over and write a ticket.
posted by Jahaza at 1:13 PM on January 13, 2011


Huh. I just don't feel like I can localize sound that well — but maybe I'd be surprised.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:47 PM on January 13, 2011


I'd have to ease into urban driving in order to be really comfortable, and driving a cab is not the way to "ease into it".

Try getting lost in Monterrey, Mexico during a once-in-a-decade sleet storm, in the dark, on December 23rd.

Nothing has really phased me, since.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:31 PM on January 13, 2011


As predicted, leasing did spell the end for the artist/writer/actor cabbie.

Well, at least as late as 1995 in Chicago, there was this white female wanna-be writer with a bachelor's degree driving in a non-partitioned (no plastic between front and back seat) leased cab.

I quit my teaching job and had the same idea as Jacobsen--I'd write and drive a cab. I'd have time to write, and I'd get all kinds of interesting experiences on the streets to write about. It's a three-day course, passing a test proving you know where the hotels are, taxi rules, and the grid system... and you're on the streets trying to make enough for your nut (that's the lease for either 12 hours or 24) and some scratch to live on. Right away, I was working 12 hours shifts 7 days a week at coincidentally (I am not even kidding) the worst fucking cab garage it was possible to work out of. It just so happened that the cab stand closest to my apartment in Wicker Park (I had no car of my own) was this sad little garage, and presumably because i was a naive 28 year old poet wearing flannels, they gave me the most decrepit cab you can imagine. The Caprice required at least a quart of oil every 12 hours. The driver's seat was so warped it make my back twist like I was developing cerebral palsy.

The night guy for my particular car was a greasy fat shy man who lived back of Wrigley Field in a dismal little apartment (where I'd agree reluctantly to drop him off after his shift), and he always left me a grease spot on the driver's side window where he'd rested his head as he napped in hotel lines, and the wrappers of ho-hos and dolly madison cakes all over the front seat. It was my perpetual obsession to make the car stink less, buying every product I could buy to mask the stench, from sprays to hanging deodorizers. Some of my most vulnerable moments were those times I'd be pulled over at 5am in the dark off Broadway in Uptown, scrubbing the back seat with window cleaner and a paper towel.

The array of guys I worked with spent my tenure there amazed at the fact that I was female driving a cab out of their shop. The owner seemed to be simultaneously afraid of me and patronizingly deferential. The entire time I drove--a little over six months--I never saw but one other female driver. At the pre-driving class, the class was astonished when I announced I was going to drive hack instead of a limo. They insisted I'd be robbed or killed or "worse"--being mostly foreigners they were certain I had a death wish or secretly got off on the idea I'd be raped by a car full of Gangster Disciples.

One day, the wheel fell off my car in the middle of Chicago Avenue, and I quit in a fit of rage--serendipitously the same day this jittery long-mullet wearing cab-owning dude from the north side with his own cab had wooed me at a stop light. (That was the day after I'd discovered that my night guy had rigged the meter to run fast--an illegal and dangerous thing.) He remembered me from my test day, you see--wanted a chick to drive his plush Lincoln cab during the day. I'd turned him down because he shook so much at the testing center, I was sure he had the DTs. I think me saw it as a gimmick, and he figured I'd take good care of his baby. It was a miracle to go from the worst cab in the city to this sweet-smelling near-limo.

The Fear--that constant prickling of the neck--the antenna I developed that I swear jutted six feet out the top of my head--it really does wear on you, which is why I ended up fleeing the city and moving to the north woods. I developed street smarts on a crash course, and I'm still grateful for that lesson. Whether by luck or due to those antenna, I was never robbed and never stiffed. I had moments where I learned I could be tougher than any chick I knew, which I still look back on with a certain bravado. I knew I'd had enough when I lost my shit completely at an undercover cop who trolled me, thinking I was some African he could arrest. I'd been on my way home, and he and his buddies were driving 5 miles an hour next to the Robert Taylor homes, and after honking and them driving slower and slower, I blasted around them, only to be pulled over. When two of them unclipped their guns as they approached my car on both sides, I was shaking with rage, demanding badge numbers and swearing at them like a banshee. They treated me like one too--no ticket, and they just about stumbled backwards to their car.

It was that temper tantrum though that convinced me I had to get the hell outta Dodge. Six months was enough. It's a shitty job. Pays crap. People die (five or so during those six months in Chicago). There was an article right around then about a driver who leased his car 24 hours a day, who died in it at an intersection. He slept in it, sitting up. The article was all romantic about this hard working man. It made me cry and spit on the street.
posted by RedEmma at 4:11 PM on January 13, 2011 [165 favorites]


I need an editor.
posted by RedEmma at 4:23 PM on January 13, 2011


I need an editor.

If by that you mean "I need a book deal," then yes.

posted by nebulawindphone at 4:24 PM on January 13, 2011 [48 favorites]


I just know heavy traffic makes me really nervous and jumpy, and so me driving in Manhattan would be A Really, Really Bad Idea.

Think about how you walk down a crowded sidewalk. There’s this constant scanning you’re barely aware of doing, observing all the people in your path and making a lot of snap decisions about their pace, awareness, and Crazy Quotient, so you can slow down or speed up or veer a bit to avoid collisions. Everyone else (except for the tourists and the zombie texters) is doing the same thing. It looks chaotic but it actually works pretty well. Driving is pretty much the same way. Which is not to say you MUST pilot a car through midtown—just that you'd probably be better at it than you think.

Manhattan at its very worst is MUCH less scary than Houston freeways—endless miles of Escalades and F-150s and other air-conditioned steel monstrosities, all about six inches apart, all hurtling along at 70 mph, all promising death or manglement any second. Manhattan traffic is mostly lurching and cursing.
posted by dogrose at 6:13 PM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm going to just make one polite request that we turn away from The EmpressCallipygos' Issues With Manhattan Driving, please, because I'd rather get back to Taxi. Hey, everyone remember the episode where Rev. Jim took his driver test?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:04 PM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Guh. Sorry I fed that derail. I was thinking about my own changing sense of NY, since I've gone from reflexive Midwestern-tourist-style ZOMG I COULDN'T LIVE THERE to "Well, you know, it seems like a nice enough place" as I've spent more time there over the past few years. And the fear-of-driving thing fed into all that navel-gazing, since I was definitely of the opinion that driving in NY was for lunatics until not that long ago.

So I didn't mean to come across all YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR PROBLEM IS — in my head it was more "oh, come to think of it, that's what my problem was" — but I can see how it might have sounded that way.

posted by nebulawindphone at 10:31 PM on January 13, 2011


RedEmma: "I had to get the hell outta Dodge"

I thought it was a Chevy.

posted by Plutor at 9:32 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


one way streets and hidden signage i rest my case

It's a grid. Can you count?


See, and then there's driving in a decrepit place like downtown St. Louis, which is built on a grid, and generally has fairly light traffic, but has some things that can trip you up. Like say, a little road—or what used to be a road—that gradually gets darker and more brushy, then turns into gravel, then ends at the top of a construction site. No way out but to drive across the site's mud and gravel and bang off a curb... Or like the street I saw the other day that has one-way streets leading to it on both sides, such that the arrow on the street sign pointing out the 1200 block kinda makes sense when you're northbound, but looks completely cockeyed and contradictory when you're southbound. (Note the other arrow pointing to the 1200 block of St. Charles Street in the second link, which kinda makes it look like traffic should go that direction, in direct contradiction to the One Way and Do Not Enter signs. Are there really that many people who need to know the 1200 block of St. Charles Street lies that direction?)

All bumpers in SF have scratches, nicks and dings.

There, and in Hoboken, N.J. I know someone in Hoboken who makes a lot of her phone calls to family while driving around for a half-hour to an hour trying to find a spot.
posted by limeonaire at 5:39 PM on January 14, 2011


My friend Melissa Plaut, a writer, did a stint as a cabdriver and wrote a neat book about it: "Hack".
posted by monospace


I have that over on my nightstand right now, and was just about to go open it. I'm guessing that it will have self contained episodes, and am planning to crack it open to a random chapter, and read a few pages as I drift off.

I wonder if Melissa has introduced herself at literary gatherings as, "Hi, I'm Melissa, the Hack writer."
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:40 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


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