We admit a fascination with certain New York City professions — the ones that are generally unsung; the ones that keep our city functioning day-to-day without much attention or interest from the public unless something actually goes wrong. For long we’ve wondered: What’s it like to drive a cab in New York City? Run a bodega? Work in a subway station? Be a mailman? Be a nanny? And so on…
For installment one of our investigative NYC jobs report, we spoke to New York City cab driver Eugene Salomon, who runs two blogs, Cabs Are for Kissing and Pictures From a Taxi, when he’s not delivering passengers to destinations around town, entertaining his daughter’s Boston Terrier, or playing the five-string banjo. Find out everything you really wanted to know about cab sex! Where they pee! How drivers really feel about those annoying TVs!… And more, after the jump.
You’re a cab driver who blogs. Tell us about that.
I’m a writer — I’ve written several stage plays, a screenplay, a libretto — and I’d always kept journals of events that happened in my taxi since I started driving in ’77. So writing a blog was a completely natural and logical direction for me to take. I only wish the blogosphere had been around 30 years ago!
How did you get started as a cab driver?
The fault lies with my old friend Harry, who was driving a cab while putting himself through chiropractic college. Harry seemed to think I might enjoy driving a cab better than selling umbrellas on the street.
I think I would always drive a cab even if I didn’t need the money, although I wouldn’t put in the long hours (12 hour shifts) that I do now. This occupation is in my DNA at this point and as a writer it is, of course, an endless source of material.
How have things changed over the years?
Certainly one thing that’s changed is that people get in cabs now and talk on their cell phones and watch TV as if they were in their own living rooms. Some passengers seem to think they’re in their own bedrooms, too, but that is not a new thing.
Another change is the ethnicity of the drivers. The Russians, Greeks, and Israelis have pretty much left the business and have been replaced by the Indians and Pakistanis, who tend to be more law-abiding and timid than were their predecessors. Gone is the guy named Georgi whose mantra was “I don’t go to Brooklyn.”
What’s a typical day like for you on the job?
The shift begins at 5 p.m. I will have about 35 fares, 80 percent of them New Yorkers, 20 percent tourists or people on business from other parts of the country and the world. Half of my passengers will talk on their cell phones during the course of the ride. There will be two or three times when I’m not sure if they’re talking on their phones or if they’re talking to me.
At 9 p.m. I will stop at a Starbucks to get a tall Pike, without which I would surely die.
Out of the 35 fares, three or four will be to Brooklyn or Queens. Maybe one to the Bronx. NONE will be to Staten Island. (On the average there is only one ride to Staten Island per year. That’s why it took me 25 years before I finally had a fare to each of the five boroughs during the course of a single shift… yes, I do keep track of these things!)
I will have a conversation with about half of my passengers. Once a night the affinity between myself and a passenger will be sufficiently high that the only appropriate way to end the ride will be a handshake. There will be one thing that will happen, either in the cab or out on the street, that will be memorable — something about which you would later say, “Oh, yeah, that was the night that that happened.” The shift ends at 5 a.m.
Tell us your best cab-sex story.
One night a thirtysomething couple got in the back seat and after about a minute assumed the “taxicab position” — the man sits facing forward and the woman straddles him, facing the rear window. They had moved themselves over to the far right side of the cab, behind the partition, so my view of them through the mirror was blurry.
This created a little problem for me. From the way they were holding onto each other and from the muted sounds they were making, it seemed like they were having covert sex back there, but I wasn’t completely sure. My curiosity was aroused, among other things, but I couldn’t very well turn around and say, “Hey, there, how are you doing, just wondering, are you fucking?” So I thought of another way I might be able to know for sure and maybe make some extra money at the same time.
When the ride ended, and they were now sitting side by side, the fare was $9.90. As I turned off the meter I said, “That will be $19.90.”
“What do you mean?” the guy replied, “it’s $9.90 on the meter.”
“It’s $9.90 for the taxi ride and ten dollars for the hotel room,” I said.
He laughed and gave me a twenty, keep-the-change style.
And then I knew for sure.
What do you wish people knew about what you do?
It would be nice if there were more recognition of the skill it takes to drive a taxi in New York City. You’ve got to know the city cold and you’ve got to be able to navigate the craziness on the streets while at the same time handling the craziness of all kinds of people in the cab, backwards. You’ve got to get pregnant women to their hospitals and impatient commuters to their train stations quickly but safely. Plus you’ve got to be able to suppress the urge to run over some of the most annoying pedestrians and pigeons in the world.
Speaking of annoying…what’s the most annoying thing people do in cabs?
It’s rare but, believe it or not, occasionally a passenger will actually turn the volume of the damned television up. That is extremely annoying. Not nearly as annoying, but annoying nevertheless, is when a passenger says as he’s leaving the cab, “drive safely!” Oh. There’s an idea. Why didn’t I think of that?
What about cab pukers?
You’ve got to be continually on the alert for the vomit candidate when driving on a Friday or a Saturday night. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a disaster. In London cabs there is a “soiling charge” of, I believe, 50 pounds not only for puking but for spilling your bottle of beer all over the seat and floorboard. We should have that here, too.
Any recommendations for how to behave in an NYC cab? Taxi Rider 101, so to speak?
One thing, as I mentioned in a post on my blog, is to always stand a few feet away from the curb when hailing a cab. Never stand on the sidewalk. Never say “Avenue of the Americas.” New Yorkers always say “6th Avenue.” Never, never say “HEWston Street”! When entering the cab, immediately turn OFF the television and then say to the driver, “Man, I hate these things. It must drive you crazy!”
Why do cabbies seem to hate going to Brooklyn so much?
Here’s the thing with the Brooklyn ride (or the ride to any of the outer boroughs): if it’s busy in Manhattan, we don’t want to leave Manhattan. 90 percent of the time the driver will have to return to “the city” without a passenger, and that is lost time. So we look at this ride not as money made, but as money lost.
On the other hand, if it’s at a time of the night when it’s not busy in Manhattan (after midnight, except Fridays and Saturdays), I look at the Brooklyn ride as a good one, because it’s long. It’s all a matter of timing.
How about multiple stops? Credit cards?
I have no problem with multiple stops. The problem with credit cards is that drivers must pay 5 percent of every transaction out of their own pockets. The passenger should be charged for this service, as is the case at many gas stations. The one good thing about credit cards for yellow cab drivers is that we are getting some of the business of the corporate black cars, since employees are now able to use their corporate cards to pay for the ride. I have not found that the use of credit cards results in bigger tips, by the way.
You mentioned the TVs in the back of cabs. Thoughts on those?
Oh my God. The only good thing about the presence of this monstrosity is that it gives me a chance to vent my rage to the captive audience in the back seat, something I haven’t really been able to do properly since Giuliani left office.
First, it should be known that there has never been any demand for televisions in taxis from either the public or from drivers. Never in my 33 years of driving a cab has a passenger gotten in and said, “Hey, where’s the TV?” What the public wants when they take a taxi is a driver who speaks English, knows where he’s going, drives safely, and doesn’t overcharge them. And a cab that’s clean. THEY don’t want a TV, the driver certainly doesn’t want a TV, so who does?
The answer: the garage owners and the companies that won the contracts to install and maintain the TV-GPS tracking-credit card devices. Why? They get a piece of the advertising revenue. The drivers, of course, get nothing, yet have to sit there and drive with a speaker only nine inches behind their heads for a 12-hour shift.
Here’s my solution to the problem. As it is now, both the picture and sound of the TV come on when the meter is started. Change it so only the picture comes on and the passenger has to touch an icon if he wants the sound. And a new rule: the driver has the right to keep the sound at a low volume or have it completely off if he wants it that way. And put up a sign that lets the passengers know this.
What do you love about the job?
Some of the best things are things that are not there: no four walls, no boss, no same people every day, no deadlines, no bringing your work home with you.
Aside from that, there is freedom, adventure, a remarkable situation for contact with people from all over the world, and sport. When a driver is looking for his next passenger, all other empty cabs are his competition. Finding that passenger and getting to him before another cab does gives the job the element of a sport, very much like horse racing.
It ain’t boring.
Any cab-romance stories to share?
I did once have a woman tell me that she had met her future husband in a shared cab ride. Another time, a young guy got in my cab and after we drove a couple of blocks, he noticed an attractive woman trying to hail a cab on the street. He told me to pull up next to her, which I did, and then he asked her if she wanted to share the taxi. She said okay and jumped in. What followed was basically a pre-date interview. They talked about their interests and stuff and within ten minutes had exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet the next night for a drink. The guy got out first and I asked the woman what she thought about what had just happened. “Hey,” she said, “it can’t hurt to have a drink. He was kind of cute.”
And, the question everyone wants to know: Where do you go to the bathroom?
Well, there are 224 Starbucks in New York City and that means there are 224 bathrooms.