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.