Sunday, December 27, 2009

Last name of Butt

Tonight, the cabbie who brought me home from the airport was named Butt. It was his last name. and it seemed rather unfortunate. Or, at least unfortunate that he moved to a country where Butt refers to, well, bums or hineys or rear ends, because his children will be the (cough) butt of endless jokes in elementary school.

Normally, this is the point when I'd talk to said cabbie. But you know what? Tonight I wasn't feeling it. Yeah, that's right, I was feeling lazy and content to keep my trap shut. Don't judge.

So when I got home, I did a bit of research -- ie googling Wikipedia -- and here's what I learned. Butt is a common name for someone from Kashmir or Punjab (news that made me kick myself because I've never met anyone from war-ravaged-but-once-lush Kashmir and can only imagine the interesting thoughts they'd have. That, and I love the Led Zeppelin song). Butts were said to be intellectuals, and members of the priestly Brahmin caste of Hinduism. Between the 13th and 18th centuries many Butts converted to Islam.

So now we know the brief history of Butts. Above, a map of Kashmir.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow, Dancing, Beer, a Cab

Two nights ago it snowed like mad in NYC. Which, for me, means one thing -- snowball fights and snow angles. So that's two things -- who's counting?

The evening started with sparkling wine and making crafty Christmas tree ornaments with some of my key people. Around midnight we set out for a park, snow flying everywhere, about 8 inches of blowing white powder covering the ground. Visibility was low. We were crossing a street, when a cab crawled by. His passenger window was open.

"Hi!" I said, smiling as he wind whipped snowflakes into my eyes.

"Hi!" he said back, smiling.

"You and your cabbies," my friend and bandmate -- hey, we've had 3 practice sessions, doubters! -- Tara joked.

Then we continued to the park, made snow angles, snow devils (snow angels face first), started two snowball fights with unsuspecting -- yet very willing -- groups, planned to recruit more snowballers in a Greenpoint bar, and ultimately succeeded in having a lot to drink and dancing until 4 a.m.

An incredible success of a snowy night.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

UK, Cabbies and WMDs

This just sent in my alert reader Johannah.

Once the British public learned their source on WMDs was an Iraqi taxi driver claiming to have overhead a conversation between two Iraqi army officers, cabbie knowledge (or in some cases, lack thereof) came to the fore.

So who's collect the UK's cabbie stories? The Guardian, that's who.

(At this point, I was going to post a photo of WMDs, but I balked. They're too scary, and I won't be responsible for your nightmares.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Happy Cabbie, again and again

My friend Michael called me last night – he was reading Taxi Confidential in bed, which is the biggest compliment ever! – to tell me that he had personally ridden in the Happy Cabbie’s taxi twice. That’s two times for you people who have problems counting.

Also, thanks to pervasive Facebook status updates, he saw that another of his friends had snagged a ride with the Happy Cabbie last week.

No idea what I’m talking about? Read the book! (Specifically the Red Light District story.) Here’s a hint – the Happy Cabbie strings his cab with lights, digs good music, and genuinely wants everyone to be happy. Basically, he spreads good cheer with a shovel.

Michael first met him four years ago. In Michael’s own words:

“I was in the front seat, three were in the backseat, we were wasted. It was like a disco. A crazy disco. I don’t know if the music was great because we were wasted, but it was great Indian techno. Every couple of blocks [the cabbie] would turn it down and say, “I’m the happy cabbie!” He’d give us bits of advice about life. The windows were down, and we were just jamming, flying up Fifth Ave.”

Then two years later in Chelsea, Michael got into the Happy Cabbie’s cab again. And once again, he was in the front seat, three guys were in the backseat. And and the cabbie looked at each other – “it felt like seeing a long lost friend after 10 years,” Michael said – there was a moment of stillness, and then recognition.

“It’s the Happy Cabbie,” Michael exclaimed.

“It’s you!” the Happy Cabbie said at the same time.

(Above is a photo of Michael, looking hot.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bastard Cabbies

This is an exact e-mail sent to me by the wonderous Johannah Lane, the Irish lass pictured here with her hubby, all gussied up for Halloween as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:

"Hello my sweet,
Why is it that none of the cab drivers I encounter are anything like the lovely peeps I met at your book launch? I was just crossing the street and a cab kept coming, even though I had the walk; I went around to the drivers window and told him that it was dangerous and that I had the right of way. He said, "You're already dead."


My answer: Because some people suck.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Too Hot to Handle

"Honey, can you get the door? Yeah, just like that ..."

Found on PhotoshopDisasters. A special thanks to Sweden.

He Drove Eleanor Roosevelt

Cabbie Story: Last night I did a reading at Bluestocking Books, a great little indie bookstore. After the reading, a cabbie in attendance -- he drove for 30 years, looked older than Jesus, and had a soft voice -- told me this story:

It was many years ago, and I was driving, and Eleanor Roosevelt got into my cab! She was on the road campaigning for Adlai Stevenson. [I5t was 1952. Stevenson was governor of Illinois and the Democratic presidential candidate. He lost to Eisenhower. Thank you, Wikipedia. And if the driver was, say, 25 at the time, that would make him 82 today. Thank you, calculator.]

I wasn't a talkative guy, so I minded my own businesses and drove her where she needed to go. She got out.

When I got back to the garage and told the guys who was in my cab, all they asked was, how did she tip?

(Her White House portrait is above.)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Turkey Taxi Tales - Big Bottomed Girls

I scored this fab taxi story over the Thanksgiving turkey. And for those who would chide me for posting this so many days after the fact, I have one word -- tryptophancoma. Look it up in the dictionary.

As told by the headless woman holding up the fine bird: I was in a cab yesterday, and the driver started talking to me. He told me how his wife had gotten really fat over the past few years. As in 250 pounds fat. He didn’t know what to do about it.

His friends suggested he get his wife a job, so she’d walk around more and loose weight. So he got her a job working on the subways. But she’s still fat.

[TaxiCon: Yeah, nothing like working in the smelly, concrete, underground to make you feel like loosing weight.]

I even started complimenting other family members in front of her on their shapely figures, hoping it would encourage her to take off pounds.

[TaxiCon: What? You’re complimenting other Family Members on their bodies? In front of your wife? Hide the kitchen knives and rat poison! Also, please, please say you’re not related to these 'younger family members' by blood. Third cousins I can deal with, but that’s it. I’m looking at you, Woody Allen.]

We aren’t even having relations anymore. We haven’t in years. I’m telling you all this because I know I’m never going to see you again.

[TaxiCon: I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark here and say you're not 'having relations' with your wife because you keep telling her 15-year-old sister she looks hot. Just sayin'.]

Taxi Scammers Charged!

In news bursting with holiday cheer, the authorities charged 18 people with running driver scams on unsuspecting tourists trying to reach other parts of NYC from JFK or LaGuardia Airports.

In short, the scammers ripped the tourists off. In short, the scammers can now go to jail for up to 90 days. My favorite sentence from the New York Post article is also short -- "...hustlers should be forewarned: This is the end of the road,” said Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia."" Get it? End of the road? In related news, a taxi driver featured in My Book used to run airport scams; he also had a friend who figured out how to speed up the meter, overcharging each fare; he constantly smoked pot and drove faster than 100 mph. Did I also mention he's a tall, muscled guy who favors a leather trench coat? Oh yeah.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Taxis and Credit Cards - the dark side

Remember how the other day I commented on a New York Times article lauding the credit card as saving the New York taxi industry while the rest of the economy was flushed down the toilet?

Today, I'm hooking you up with a dissenting opinion, an op-ed in the Huffington Post by Melissa Plaut, NYC Taxi driver extraordinaire and author of Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab.

Her point? Yes, plastic has kept the industry afloat, but drivers appear to be taking a pay cut due to "credit card processing fees, payment delays, bunk cards, chargebacks, and system failures."

Discuss amongst yourselves. Or, even better, in the 'comment' section below.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Laziness, and Taxi Stories on WNYC's Brian Lehrer

Alright, here's the deal. I've been remiss in my blogging because I started a full-time job this month. Yes, my first fulll-time job in years. It's great, but it's putting a cramp into my blogging. (What, you mean I have to get out of bed and get to work every single morning?? And I shouldn't blog from the office?)

But not today. Today you're getting a post. That said, I'm kinda cheating. After being interviewed by WNYC's Brian Lehrer, people wrote into their website with their own taxicab stories. Check them out here. And I promise, soon I will be back in my full blogging glory.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Taxi driver opera singer

My friend was in a cab and totally dug the opera music the driver was listening to. She asked him what he was listening to and, wouldn't you know, he was listening to himself. The guy's an opera singer, driving a cab to help fund his dream.

She got his 411, so I'm going to give him a call and see if I can score an MP3 to share with you guys. Because you need to know.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Credit Cards Keep Cabbies Afloat

Remember the days when NYC's cabbies went on strike because they were being forced to accept credit cards?

Well, guess what implimentation is keeping the cabbies afloat in a dour economy while the limo services go belly up? Yep, credit cards. And according to this New York Times article, the use of credit cards is even bringing the cabbies bigger tips.

This is probably not the time for me to rant about the economic dangers of consumer credit card debt...

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Greatest Taxi Filming You in the Backseat

There's an NYC cabbie out there who films his passengers while he drives.

Creepy? Maybe. But he's making a movie, so it's a bit less creepy, right?

This information came to me from astute passenger, Ryan, who was in this guy's cab. (He believes he signed a waiver saying the could use the footage, but there was alcohol involved, and details got a bit fuzzy.)

In payment for appearing in the films, he gives his passengers drawings like the one above -- thanks Ryan! -- in lieu of cash.

Oh, and he calls himself "The Greatest Taxi." So the ego's intact.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cab Crucible

Story, as told by Kaja Perina: My own most harrowing ride happened when a cabbie lacerated my arm by shutting the trunk on it back in Aug 2002. I still bear a large scar.

I was at LaGuardia Airport en route home from a psych conference. I was on one side of the trunk, the cabbie on the other. I threw my laptop into the trunk, and just as I was doing so the cabbie slammed down the trunk and the sharp edge lacerated my upper arm as I tried to pull away.

And it bled.

I bled all over his cab but refused to go the hospital. I wasn't thinking straight and weirdly just apologized for bleeding in his cab! (I was later told I should have gotten stitches.)

He kept apologizing and asking if I was okay, probably genuinely concerned and also concerned about a lawsuit. I thought about getting the medallion number but was in too much pain. Also, I had health insurance, so I figured why get the guy in trouble; it was clearly an accident.

(This photo shows you what Kaja's arm could have looked like, had she been less lucky.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Baby Born in Cab -- Urban Legend Lives

An impatient baby girl was recently born in the back of a speeding cab.

According to the New York Post article, daddy helped deliver the baby in the backseat when the kid, named Alice Adeline Proctor, decided to pop out while the cab cruised from the Upper West Side to New York University's medical center.

The article said Mom was only in labor for two hours, which seems lucky, until you factor in the bit about giving birth in a cab, which doesn't really seem ideal. For anyone. I mean, people, there's not a lot of space back there for mom, dad and baby. And the clean-up had to be something else.

One of my favorite stories in Taxi Confidential involves a baby being born, but with a few added twists. For one, the parents -- a young Orthodox Jewish couple -- were incapacitated with panic, and the driver -- who delivered the baby -- was a kind Pakistani Muslim and a father of six.

(above photo Alice by Michelle Farsi)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Brian Lehrer Stories

This morning, I was on WNYC -- Brian Lehrer's famed New York public radio show.

And it was great. Not only because I idolize Brian Lehrer, but because three of my favorite cab drivers featured in my book called in.

Osman Chowdhury -- who found a suitcase of diamond rings in the trunk of his cab, and returned it to the owner, who had given him a measly 30 cent tip earlier that day.

Seth Goldman -- a New York born-and-bred cabbie who grew up idolizing comedic icon Mel Brooks, and wound up with the legend in his cab. (In fact, he took drove him to his hit Broadway show, The Producers.)

Davidson Garrett -- who's hair-raising tail includes three prostitutes, a john, a crowbar, and a brand-new cab.

New Yorkers called in to the radio show with their favorite stories:

One woman told how she had only a few minutes to get from the Upper West Side down towards Grand Central, how the cabbie peeled down the road, how they estimated her fare and made change before the cab even reached Grand Central, and then -- as she leap out of the cab -- he shouted after her 'Run baby run!'

Want to hear more? Listen to the podcast here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ahmadou from Guinea

I met a fantastic cabbie Friday night – Ahmadou from Guinea. First off, he speaks 8 languages – English, French, Arabic and a number of African languages that I’m too ignorant to have heard of before.

On cell phones:
Me: What do you think about the TLC banning cabbies from using cell phones?
Ahmadou: It can get very dull, driving. And talking on the phone to wives or children can help cabbies stay alert.
Spencer (my friend, also in the cab): I think banning cells is a terrible idea. Why should cabbies – the best drivers in New York – not be allowed to talk on the phone while everyone else still can?
Ahmadou: (nods his head)
Me: Who do you talk to on the phone?
Ahmadou: I talk to my wife. And when she goes to bed, I talk to my friend who is also a cab driver.
Spencer: It’s just stupid. This whole debate is just stupid. Let them use phones!

(Note: As I wrote earlier, I would prefer no drivers use phones, but Ahmadou made a good point.)

Talk radio:
Ahmadou listens to slews of talk radio in his cab. He listens to the BBC, French talk radio, and WNYC’s Brian Lehrer every day. At which point I interjected that I’m slated to be interviewed by Brian Lehrer for Taxi Confidential this Wednesday Oct. 28 (10:45 a.m., people, tune in!). We continued talking about our admiration for Brain Lehrer.

Pieces of Ahmadou’s story:
Ahmadou said people in his country learn many languages because they’re looking for work outside the country. Languages are the key.

His dad wanted him to learn Arabic and study the Koran. So he did. At the time, he did it to please his father. Now, he realizes how lucky he was that his father asked him to study Arabic, because of the world it opened up for him.

His father thought he should further his studies in Saudi Arabia, but Ahmadou wanted to go to England. His father relented. Ahmadou worked for 3 years as an Arabic teacher, but he just couldn’t get into England’s schools. Instead, he got the opportunity to come to the United States.

And he couldn’t be happier that things worked out this way. “It’s like my country,” he said regarding his feelings for the U.S. Here, he could enroll in college before he got his greencard (unlike his friends in England), and he could go out to clubs and live his life without constantly fearing deportation. Here, he met his wife, who is also from Guinea.

And then we reached my apartment, said how much we’d enjoyed he conversation, and said goodbye.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jude Law and my book

Today, Jude Law got his hands on Taxi Confidential.

Here's the story: My good friend, Lee Bob, saw Jude Law walk into a shop. So he followed him in and gave him a copy of my book. Short and sweet.

And now, let's collectively give thanks for our friends.

Monday, October 19, 2009

When your driver just got out of jail

Passenger Story, by anonymous: It was 6 a.m., and I was catching a plane for a business trip. I live in Brooklyn, and you can’t find yellow cabs there, so I called a discount car service.

This driver seemed pleasant enough, and he was a talker.

"Wow, this is great,” the driver began. “I really needed this fare. Thanks man.”

I told him no problem, and told him I was heading to LaGuardia’s Delta terminal.

"Yeah, when dispatch called me to pick you up, I was pretty happy,” the driver continued. “I could use the money. I had a tough weekend."

My curiosity was piqued. "Oh, I’m sorry, what happened?” I asked, figuring he was going to share an amusing yarn in hopes of scoring a bigger tip.

“Well, I was in jail all weekend,” he said. “I just got released, like, an hour ago."

Um, okay. I probed further. “That’s too bad. What happened?"

"Well, the police found cocaine and some drugs in this car. But they weren't my drugs. I leant this car to my friend, and he must have put them in there."

Well shit.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

TLC Proposes Cell Phone Ban for Taxi Drivers

The Taxi and Limousine Commission wants to ban New York hacks from talking on cell phones while they drive, according to the New York Post. The crackdown even pertains to cabbies using hands-free headsets.

Taxi drivers everywhere, I predict, will be in an uproar. And who can blame them? It must get lonely, with no one to talk to all day. Maybe they want to talk to their families on the other side of the world. Or maybe they want to complain to each other about the jerk customers in the backs of their cabs.

But I have to say, I'm all for ban. Studies show that people driving while on the phone -- even using hands-free headsets -- are as dangerous as drunk drivers. (Read a New York Times piece on this topic.)

Full disclosure: My dad used to manage a trucking company, and I spent my teenage years having driver safety rules pounded into my head. The fist rule: driving is not a passive activity. You need to be aware. Don't put on your make-up while driving, don't drive with a hot coffee in your lap because it could spill, always know what the drivers around you are doing.

And when you're on the phone, you're just not aware.

Anyway, the TLC will have a public hearing on the new rules and will likely vote on them before year-end. And if the rule is passed, cabbies caught three times talking on the phone will have their licenses ripped away.

I predict many people will disagree with me. Feel free to weigh in.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chinese Women Driving Cadillacs

My friend Brian was in a cab that was stuck behind an Asian woman slowly driving a massive car. His cabbie -- a guy from somewhere near India or Pakistan -- blew a fuse.

"The worst combination! The worst combination! Chinese woman in Cadillac! The worst combination!"

For your viewing pleasure, a 1969 Cadillac Eldorado.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Taxi Driver (the movie): then and now

So unless you were born in a cave, you've heard of the movie Taxi Driver. And seriously people, if you haven't seen it, stop reading this and rent it already! With Robert DeNiro playing a crazed taxi driver, a pimped out Harvey Keitel, and Jodie Foster as a teenage hooker -- not to mention the seedy New York of the 70s -- what more could you want? Oh, a handful of Oscars? Got that, too.

But I digress. There is a fab new website called Scouting NY, where a film location scout blogs about what he finds and what he sees.

And he's taken stills from Taxi Driver, the movie, and compared them to the exact same sites today. Cabs aplenty in these photos, people! Not only can you compare the old-school Checker cab to today's Crown Vics, but you can really see how New York's grit has been rubbed off for a squeaky clean. Click here to check it out.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cabbie Econ

I was at JFK, needing a lift back to my apartment, and if I weren't by myself, I would have totally taken a gypsy cab. I just couldn't help feeling for those guys -- whispering "taxi! taxi! taxi to Manhattan!" -- keeping up appearances despite the economic downturn.

Because the financial reports are in, and while the yellow cab business has stayed steady -- thanks in part to the fact that people can swipe their credits cards in cabs now, hello more consumer debt! -- business for limo drivers is down 30%, and gypsy cabs are getting killed financially.

So I wanted to help these guys out. But as I didn't feel like being alone in some unmarked car driven by some strange dude, so I waited in the obscenely long line for a yellow cab.

was my driver. We talked finance.

First, he's annoyed at the 50 cent fare hike -- the money will be going to the MTA, or public transport system. What does the city do for him? He asks. They don't even give cabbies a place to use the bathroom.

Ifzaal drives mornings, and before the economic meltdown, he was crazy busy taking people to work. He's doing fine now, but business had dropped off.

And as more people who used to drive cabs get laid off from their current jobs, they're going back to driving, meaning there's a line at many garages.

Yes, the business is hurting, Ifzaal says. But he's doing fine. It's an okay job, he guesses. Which sounds downbeat, but overall, he seemed like a pretty content guy.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Angenlina Jolie Rejected (!) by Sexy Brooklyn Limo Driver

Gossip: Can it possibly be true? This story does come from my trusted source, former Northside driver…

A few years back, a not-yet-famous-but-still-smoking-hot Angelina Jolie allegedly regularly took Williamsburg’s limo service, Northside. Every time she called them, she requested car #91, driven by a sexy Hungarian with the traditional Hungarian name of … Billy.

If Billy already had a customer, Angie waited till he was free.

Everyone at Northside joked about Billy’s ‘special’ customer. (Was she really Angelina? Kinda hard to confirm, that). But she was crazy sexy, and she clearly had a thing for the Hungarian stallion.

When Angelina climbed into Billy’s backseat, she would start talking to him, engaging him in conversation. A few times, she asked him out to dinner. Shockingly, Billy declined. Every time. He was in a relationship, and despite having a solid track record of cheating, he wanted to be mature and stick by his lady.

Note: This may be the only time in history Angelina Jolie didn’t get the guy. (Sorry Jen).

The other Northside drivers told him he was crazy for ditching the sexy lady. But Billy stuck to his guns, and over time, Angie stopped calling Northside.

Then Tomb Raider came out in 2001.

And all the Northside drivers – including Billy – recognized her. They were in shock. Billy’s sense of maturity flew out the window and his sense of regret settled in like an albatross. “He sooo couldn’t believe he didn’t go out with her. He felt like shooting himself in the head,” Aura told me, adding that this story can be confirmed with Northside’s older drivers, as well as poor Billy, who today drives car #191.

You knew what I want? A picture of Billy. So if any of you happen to hitch a ride with car #191 and have a camera on hand, you know what to do. (This pic of Angelina was taken in 2000).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Puking in Cabs may be Verboten! (in Chicago)

Vomiting in a Chicago cab may just get a lot pricier – to the tune of $50.

That’s right – whether you’re drunk, bulimic, or just plain sick, if Chicago’s cabbies have their way, ralphing in their taxis will cost you an extra $50.

I can’t say I blame them. I mean, first, cabbies actually have to clean up your puke. And what if they don’t have plastic gloves and bleach in their trunk? Plus, the time needed to thoroughly clean their cabs is time they’re earning zero dollars. Add to this the fact that the rest of their customers aren’t likely going to enjoy the ode-to-vomit stench in the car, depressing tips.

When I was interviewing people for The Book, I can’t count how many times people laughingly told me their “I was wasted and puked in a cab” story. FYI – not cool. (I once almost heaved in a cab when I had food poisoning, and I tell you, I’ve never seen a cabbie more motivated to get me speedily home.)

Up until now, puking in cabs has been a free privilege. But it looks like in Chicago, you may just have to pay to play. Or puke. Whatever.

(PS aren't you glad I didn't subject you to a pic of real vomit?)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Story: When Your Cabbie Needs No-Doz

Story by anonymous: I had just flown into JFK after a hellish week working in Brazil – 20 hour workdays, including weekends. Not only was I exhausted, but it was April 15 and I hadn’t done my taxes. Then, when my plane landed, I received an e-mail from work telling me to go straight to the office. So I was tired and not too happy.

I get in the airport’s taxi queue, and the dispatcher assigns me to the third cab in line. I walk over. At this point, the cabbie would typically pop the trunk, and nicer ones would even help you with your bags.

Not this guy. This guy was asleep. And I guess I can understand that – it was probably 6 a.m. So I tap on the trunk to wake him. He jolts awake and hits the gas, lurching away from me. So I lugged my bags back to Sleepy’s cab. At this point, he was conscious enough to open the trunk, and I loaded my bags.

We start driving away from the airport when the cabbie looks back at me and says, “I need to stop and get some caffeine or pills, I can't stay awake."

Um, what? I’m pretty sure staying awake is part of their job.

So he takes the next exit and stops at some gas station. "I won't charge you for this stop," he mutters as he pauses the meter.

Yeah. I haven’t studied the Taxicab Rider Bill of Rights, but I would imagine "not being charged for random stops that delay your trip" should be on it.

He comes back to the cab, then starts driving in the wrong direction, we hit traffic, and I’m late. Nice.

I’m also angry. I only tipped the guy a couple of bucks – I normally tip more – hoping to irritate him. But looking back, I was a sucker. Today, I would probably contest the entire fare.

When I got home, I saw one of my bottles of cachaça, Brazilian rum, was broken. I’d like to blame that on the cabbie, too, but I think it happened on the flight.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Story: Stalker Cabbie in Queens

Story told by Ms. Anonymous: I used to live in Astoria, Queens, and one cold morning at 3 a.m., I decided to visit my friend. (Don’t ask). My friend lived close, but the walk was through a long, barren industrial block. The subway wasn’t working, so I decided to wait for a bus.

While I was waiting for the bus stop, a cab pulled up and offered me a ride. He said he was driving along the subway line anyway. Well, sure. It was cold.

Then he asked me to sit in the front seat. I did. He looked Eastern European. I must have worn a jacket or a shirt with a pattern on it, because next thing I know, he was trying to touch and trace the design and started making really creepy comments.

I had to get out of the cab, but I did not under any circumstances want him to know where I lived. So I told him to stop two blocks away. He didn’t stop so much as slowed down, and I just jumped out. No, no, I'm getting off here.

I walked in the opposite direction from my place until he turned a corner, and then I ran as fast as possible towards my apartment. The mini mart where I hoped to take refuge was closed, but I made it to an alley behind my building just in time – I saw the taxi turn the corner, clearly circling and looking for me. He drove very slowly.

I stayed in the shadow until he turned another corner, then I snuck into my apartment. I kept my lights off. I peeked out the window and saw him circle by two more times before he gave up.

I still don't trust cabs.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How to get free world-class entertainment

Late last week, taxi industry officials gathered over bad coffee and soaked up music performed by famed musicians Hanh-Bin and Ann Roggen while attending the International Association of Transportation Regulators conference.

Know what these musicians have in common? Outside of talent and being world-renowned and all that?

They’ve all flaked and left their priceless instruments behind in cabs.

I guess this is what happens. You leave your instrument in a taxi and totally freak out. Then the instrument gets returned and you’re so happy – tears of joy streaming – that you’ll promise anything. And next thing you know, you’re wearing a monkey suit and playing at an industry trade show.

Kinda awesome.

Remember Hanh-Bin? With the great faux-hawk? Check it out here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Happy Sunday!

Ah, a relaxing Sunday.

In case you can't tell, this is a picture of a taxi driver snoozing in his cab a sunny weekend morning.

He's got the right idea.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thanks for the party - and a sexy story

Thanks to everyone who came to the launch party for Taxi Confidential last night and afterwards bought me those drinks that make me feel so braindead today. You're the best.

A quick synopsis of the event: real live cabbies and hilarity.

I also heard my new favorite cab driver story. I'll tell it in code: It involves a Jewish taxi driver, a Hasidic passenger, a question about being kosher, and a reply that includes the term "goyische" with a reference to a specific sex act.

Puzzles are a gift. They save you from boredom. I'll let your massive brains connect the dots.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Finally! The Book Launch Bash

What's the point of writing a book without having a book launch party?

And what's the point of writing a taxi book without having a book launch party complete with taxi drivers to tell their tales? Expect cabbies, a limo driver, and just enough wine to keep it sweet.

Check it out!

WORD, Greenpoint's Independent Bookstore
126 Franklin St. (corner at Milton)
Brooklyn, NY 11222

7:30 to 9. Be there or be square.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Locked doors, 911 and a lugie

I got this email from a friend this morning:

"Had a driver just Friday who locked me, Asa & Melissa in the limo because I wanted to be dropped off first & he wanted extra money than agreed upon. We had to call 911 to get him to let us out & he spat on Melissa. Shoo! Scary!"

Can't wait to get more details and let you guys know what really went down...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kanye, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and ... Cabs

You know what excited me about last night’s MTV Video Music Awards? Sure, the bit about Kanye West storming the stage and tearing the mic from Taylor Swift’s hand in the middle of her acceptance speech – he apparently needed to tell everyone that Beyoncé should have won the Best Female Video award – was a total dick move.

And Beyoncé inviting Taylor back on stage to finish her her acceptance speech pulls a bit at those heart-strings.

But the best bit was Taylor Swift performing on top of a New York City Taxicab.

Oh, you missed that?

Yeah, me too. Because I don’t watch the VMAs. But this morning, I was eager to watch some of the VMA action on Youtube. But it never happened, because MTV doesn’t allow its video on Youtube. (That info came from a friend who worked there). And MTV hardly has any VMA video on their own website.

Um, MTV? I hate to tell you this, but while your legions of lawyers are helping you control your content, you’re loosing out. How many people are googling Taylor Swift and Kanye right now? And don’t you want a piece of that action? Please. If you don’t use Youtube, at least upload it to your own site! Geesh. Get with the program.

But you can see photos like the one above of Taylor practicing her moves on a cab at

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ladies, a glow-in-the-dark taxi clutch

Trying to elevate yourself to "elegant" or "classy?" Feeling undignified when you jump out into the street, madly waving your arms as you attempt to catch yet another cab?

So hail a cab like the dignified ladies of the 50s by raising your arm, clutch in hand.

But make make sure the clutch lights up with the word "TAXI," because, really, who wants to be formal and dignified when you can be fun, flirty, and sport flashing lights?

Designer Regine Basha earns kudos from me for conceptualizing and designing this number, which goes for $225. Expect to see them around town for Fashion Week.

(You should also expect to see herds of women wearing bizarre clothing hoarding all the cabs, as they can't walk in their 5-inch heels without 1) teetering awkwardly, 2) taking a nose-dive, or 3) breaking their ankles. Ah, fashion.)

Click here to read the related New York Post article; photo by Caitlin Thorne.

Update 3: Me driving a cab

I spoke with the cabbie Raja on the phone a few weeks ago -- he was on vacation -- and I've since been waiting patiently for him to call me back. It hasn't happened.

But the itch to drive a cab is strong. I originally wanted to avoid stalking Raja, but the time has come. The tracking games will start, and hopefully I'll be behind the wheel shortly.

Oh yeah.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Spiderman and cabs

So I was re-watching Spiderman 2 (guilty pleasure), and if you took a drink of beer every time you spotted a yellow cab in this flick, you'd be wasted within 30 minutes. Or I would be, but I'm a lightweight.

Basically, you see a yellow cab every 2 minutes. It's like the director said, "hey, this movie is set in New York! I want yellow cabs everywhere! On the streets! In the background! Give me more yellow!"

When the bad guy with the octopus arms robs a bank? Right outside sits two cabs, one of which gets mangled by a flying superhero.

Octopus arms kidnaps Aunt May and hulls her up the face of a skyscraper? The scene below is a street crawling with yellow cabs.

I could go on, but I won't. And as I couldn't find a pic of Spidey with a yellow cab, you'll have to deal with the videogame shot above. But for those of you thirsting for the real webbed wonder, I also included a photo of Spidey and a subway. Which is like a yellow cab. But longer and silver. And it only costs $2.50/ride. And it's crowded. But hey, both subways and cabs can smell bad. So there.

6 days till book launch!

Six days until my book launch! But who's counting?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Akmar, the cautious cabbie

The other day I had the most careful, deliberate cabbie. It was raining, and he drove slowly over the Williamsburg Bridge, then cautiously changed lanes to exit the highway.

I complimented him on his safety-consciousness, and we had a nice chat about the dangers of a rain-oil slick on newly wet roads. (A conversation my dad would have been proud of).

Anyway, I asked Akmar about himself. He's been in the U.S. for 12 years, and judging by his accent, he came from the Indian subcontinent. Yes, I know I should have asked specifically where he was from, but I was actually more interested in ...

...the fact that last year he graduated from a 4-year university with a degree in accounting. Now he's working on his masters in accounting and finance. Let's hope his accounting will be cautious like his driving. (That's aimed at you, Wall Street.)

He paid for his schooling by working as a cabbie. "I study now so I will do better in the future," he said.

Wishing you well Akmar!

As I'm not tricked out with an iPhone and am too lazy to carry a camera, I have no photo of Akmar but will instead distract you with this map of the Indian subcontinent.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Teaching Cabbies to Give the Bird

Master Cabbie- The Finger

Master Cabbie Taxi Academy driving school in Long Island City, Queens, had brilliant spoof videos. The theme: a classroom full of future cabbies -- read: immigrant men -- learning how to deliver babies in cabs and dish out love advice, etc.

Truly inspired.

Imagine my disappointment when I went to the Master Cabbie homepage for a little video pick-me-up action and they were gone. "No video exists!" the site said.

But it's untrue. After a bit of digging, I found this last low-quality remnant of their hilarious marketing campaign. Now you, too, can see how cabbies are so adept at givin the finger.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Can Someone Please Help Our Limo Drivers?? (Another Murder)

Three New York livery drivers have been killed in two weeks, which is awful. I don't specifics of the murders, but I do know something about how money/lack thereof works. (I used to work as a financial reporter, but really, you don't need those skills to know the following.)

1. Unemployment is up, which means there are more people desperate for money, or just desperate.

2. Limo drivers carry wads of cash.

3. Limo drivers have fewer customers, so to keep the dough rolling in, they're likely taking more risks -- ie, picking up street hails. (Livery drivers I interviewed for my book refused to pick up street hails. If you don't know where your passengers came from or where they're going, and don't have a camera in your car, your passengers is much harder to trace.)

4. Which tells me that more drivers need to be educated about the potential dangers in picking up street hails, and that more livery cab companies need to install cameras and/or other safety features in their cars.

5. But once again, in a down economy, will the cab companies take the extra money and time to do this? Let's hope.

6. Of course, another potential solution is to catch the criminals before they hit. According to NY1, drivers are signing up for Operation Safe Cab, where limos sporting special stickers can be pulled over and have suspicious passengers searched.

Above is a pic of a gun, a weapon that I dislike because it's used to hunt people. And I'm against hunting people.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Flawless manners, or, was he flirting?

I was waiting on the corner of Delancey and Chrystie when the guy beside me turned and asked, “Are you trying to get a cab? Because I don’t want to cut in front of you if you are.”

I kinda melted. I mean, can you get any nicer?

That was the only time anyone ever asked me that. I have much more experience with people jumping in front of me to grab a cab I hailed, stealing it out from under me. In the rain. Or in the snow. Or when impractical footwear was mangling my toes. Bastards.

Clearly, I thanked the man profusely.

Which brings us to the unspoken etiquette of cab hails:

  • If someone near you has their hand up for a cab, stepping only 6 feet away to hail one makes you an inconsiderate dick.
  • However, going across the street or down a full block to find a cab is acceptable.
  • If someone steps in front of you and claims what would have been your cab, you are within your rights to call them out. You may also shove your way into the cab with them. Someone needs to learn a lesson, after all. (Let’s just hope it’s not you.)

This is a pic of the intersection in question. The intersection of pleasantness.

Friday, August 28, 2009

News: Kidneys, love and punching

Okay, so I'm geographically off topic today, but everyone seemed to love this story (hence the e-mail flurry), so I'm going with it.

The AP reported that in Arizona, a taxi driver offered to donate his kidney to a woman he'd been driving to dialysis for a month. Is it love? Possibly. Coincidentally, the guy's kidney is an actual match. And his employers promised to pay him for his month+ recovery time.

The story's so sick-sweet it can almost make you believe in humanity again.

To compliment the story, I wanted to post a picture of a real kidney, but got squeamish after checking a few out. Never was good with blood and guts. Instead, this picture indicates where you should aim if you intend to punch someone in the kidneys. Which somehow seems more New York.

It's raining today, and I'm cynical. Does it show?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Dutch Heart Taxis

Dutch people love New York. They can't help it. Not counting the Native Americans, and then possibly the Vikings, they claimed New York first. We were almost knickerbocker-wearing New Amsterdamers, after all.

I have found the perfect gift for the Dutch-speaking, New York-obsessed folk in your life. All 3 of them, in my case.

Plates. Delft pottery plates in the signature blue and white colors. (fyi - this type of pottery originated near the Dutch town of Delft.) In the plates' center is a graphic of a taxi; illegible graffiti tags circle the edge.

The plates are made by design duo Lovegrove & Repucci, both sporting excellent Dutch (and by Dutch, I mean English and Italian-sounding) names.

Thanks to native Amsterdammian Els for serving me pasta salad on this plate. Zeer chique.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Taxicab Confessions victim

I was at a birthday party at the W Hotel - I know, swanky! - and I met a woman who only the day before was filmed for the TV show Taxicab Confessions.

It’ll be a great show. How do I know this? Because the woman has basically zero recollection of what she or her boyfriend dished about. But she does remember that 1) she was plowed, 2) he was loaded, and 3) they really enjoyed their dinner (read: liquor) at STK.

Not that any of this kept her from signing the release waver. Just one more reason why I love people with little inhibition.

What she did notice: her cabbie drove really slowly. So people, if you’re in a cab abiding by traffic laws, be on the look-out. They may be taping. You could be next.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Update 2: Me driving a cab

Victory! I finally got Raja, the cabbie willing to let me drive his taxi, on the phone. He's currently in Richmond, but we're going to set something up when he's back.

The streets of NYC will never be the same. More to come ...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Crazy-old violin returned to flighty musician

Thanks to the tracking/stalker-like power of cabs' GPS, a $500,000, 184-year old violin was returned to its owner.

(FYI - When this violin was built, it took two days to travel from NYC to Boston via Stagecoach. Bet that was comfortable. The rest of the US was busy executing Indians.)

As that violin is worth more than my life, I can't imagine how I'd feel if I'd had one to many to drinks and left it in a cab. Not that the violin's owner, 22-year-old Korean virtuoso Hanh-Bin, did that. But I might. Then I'd freak out and cry.

But Hanh-Bin had the presence of mind to call the taxi authorities and the cops, and the cab's dispatcher tracked it down in no time via the GPS -- it was still in the trunk of the cab Dalbir Singh had driven home to NJ, the New York Post reported.

The couple was happily reunited.

Above is a picture of an 18th century violin which looks suspiciously like a modern-day violin. More impressive is Hanh-Bin's mohawk and eyeliner.

Monday, August 17, 2009

News: Brox livery driver killed

It's something I hoped to never blog about, but the news is important. Earlier today, a gunman killed a Bronx livery driver in an apparent attempted robbery.

Many people don't realize this, but taxi and limo drivers are terrified of passengers robbing them. These drivers are inherently vulnerable, as they carry wads of cash and have their back to their passengers.

According to the Newsday article, Amadou Ndiaye, a 46-year-old immigrant from Senegal, was shot in the chest. Because the poor man was unlicensed, he didn't have the protection licensed drivers have -- a camera in the car for livery drivers, or a partition for taxi drivers. He also picked up street fairs, something the limo drivers I spoke with refuse to do. It's too dangerous, they say. Instead, they pick up radio hails, as their dispatcher has the phone number and address of the potential passenger. The traceability makes everyone safer.

The gunman hasn't yet been caught, according to Newsday.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Update 1: Me driving a cab

I know you're just dying to hear about my adventures driving a cab, but you'll have to hold your horses.

I keep calling Raja -- the über generous cabbie willing to risk his own safety by letting me behind the wheel -- but there's no answer and no voicemail to leave a message on.

I'll continue calling, but the way I see it, it's only a matter of time before he blocks my number, thinking I'm some crazy stalker. Which may, in fact, be the case.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Story: More Androgynous than Bowie

An acquaintance's story. Note: not her real name.

Late one Saturday night, Alexandra Belknap* and her two best friends flagged down a cab just north of Union Square. They were 19 and going to meet more friends at a Lower East Side bar.

Loud and tipsy, the three girls giggled and gossiped about guys they hoped to run into. They were in a party mood. And they needed music.

“Someone has to ask our cabbie to turn the radio on,” one of Alex's friends said.

“You do it!”

“Alex can do it!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll do it.” Alex peered through the plexiglass divider. She gasped and leaned back in her seat, eyes wide, giggling.

“Oh my God!” She whispered. “He looks like Pat!”

Her friends glanced through the window. It was true. He had the same unflattering short curly hair, big glasses, and nebulous shape made famous by the unattractively androgynous Saturday Night Live character. He even wore the same type of uncomfortably tight button-down shirt.

Alex composed herself.

“Sir?” she said through the window. “Sir, could we please turn on the radio? Sir, to 104.3?”

The driver stared ahead, saying nothing.

“Sir?” Alex said, louder this time. She tried to ignore her friends who were giggling and making faces at her. “Could be please turn the radio on?”

Without turning to face her, the driver angrily shot back, “It’s not sir, it’s ma’am!”

Pat indeed.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

News! Me driving a cab. No joke.

People! Do I have news for you. Or, rather, for me. For those of you who don't know, one of my all-time goals has been to drive a New York yellow cab. Well thanks to my friend Corinne, this goal is one step closer to being realized.

Last night, Corinne rode home in a taxi driven by Raja -- a friendly guy who's worked as a cabbie since the 80s. She told him about my goal, and he said he was game to let me drive his cab.

Let me repeat. He's game to let me drive! Oh yeah.

And to those of you who no longer feel safe knowing I'll be behind the wheel of a careening canary yellow sedan? Eat my exhaust.

Trust me when I say I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hydration and hot dogs

I bought a hotdog from the street vendor. It was one of those days when the whole city breaks out its sunglasses and is in a good mood. The street vendor noticed me walking towards him and called out, “Hey baby.” He was pretty hot, until I noticed his yellow teeth. We chatted while he fixed my dog up with onions and ketchup. I handed him $2 but he smiled and said, “For you, baby, only $1.” Oh yeah.

Just then, a beat-up white van pulled up to the curb, the driver’s arm hanging out the window with $2 clenched in his hand. “Hey, give me a water,” he yelled. The vendor walked to the driver, gave him a bottle of water, and when the light chanced the driver peeled out.

And I thought, huh, this must be how taxi drivers get hydrated. No drive throughs in NYC, people. And no parking spaces to leave the cab while you jet into a deli.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ads on Taxis

All taxis have ads on top. Today I saw cab with an ad for Brüno, starring sexy Sacha Baron Cohen as a gay Austrian in hot pants. Another cab had an add for a strip joint -- Scores maybe? Or did Scores close in NYC?

I digress. My point is that, since 90% of cabbies are foreign-born and with more than 50% from Muslim countries, maybe they'd prefer to advertise something less racy? (See the above dull airline ad).

Or maybe they're looking for their own Schniedelmeister.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Colombo, Colombia and a dead pigeon

Meet Colombo. He’s from Colombia and drove me to the airport on July 4th.

It was 7:30 a.m. and I was Colombo’s last fare of the night. He had plans to celebrate the 4th by going home, spending time with his family and then hitting a Colombian restaurant in Queens.

Then we hit a pigeon. Colombo felt bad. He had even slowed as he neared the flock, just hanging out in the street. At some point they generally fly away. This time they didn’t.

Dumb bird.

It was like hitting a little bump in the road. A gentle thump thump.

After lamenting the dead bird, he then told me he expected a crazy night of driving. Everyone, after all, came to the East River to see the fireworks exploding over lower Manhattan.

Then we talked about Colombia. “It’s much safer there now,” he said. “Now you can drive across the country. Before you couldn’t. Before were kidnappings.”

He grew up in central Colombia near farmland, but finds Medellin beautiful. Also, he raved about coastal Colombia, like Cartagena, and the nearby islands. I told him I’ve never been to Colombia, and he said I should go and experience its beauty.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A hold-up, hearing problems

We were in a cab, and the driver, Ullah, was telling us a story. The story exploded out of his mouth in bursts.

I couldn’t catch all the details. These factors worked against me:

1) He had a heavy accent and spoke broken English
2) He spoke rapidly
3) The closed partition muffled his voice
4) Wind rushing through the open passenger seat window was noisy
5) I had a sexy Frenchman in the backseat with me, and he was, needless to say, distracting

But here’s the gist of the story: Ullah pulls up to the curb to let some guys out of the cab. After getting out, one of the men walks up to his window. Ullah sees him reaching for something and cranks up the window. The guy pulls out a gun. The window’s up. The guy holds the gun to the glass, pointed at Ullah’s head. Yells at at him. Wants cash.

Ullah floors it. Escapes unharmed. Cash intact.

The lesson? “I never put the car in park. You never put it in park,” he said. I buy it, all the way.

Photo: both the Frenchman and Ullah have dark eyes, like these.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mali vs. Toledo Ohio

My cabbie last night was born and raised in Mali. Here’s our conversation:

Me: What’s the most interesting thing that happened in your cab? Good or bad.

Him: One time a couple had sex.

Me: Did it last a long time?

Him: I drove them to Queens.

(aka, yes)

We got to chatting about hometowns. He’s been in the US for 30 years, and got his green card five years ago. He goes back to Mali every summer. It’s hot there. You know, the Sahara and all.

I told him I was going back to my hometown – Toledo, Ohio -- for a month this summer. Turns out, he’s been there. Insanity. We talked snow. Sadly, I was running late for a yoga class and had to jump out of the cab before I could learn more.

Pics of Mali vs. Toledo above.