The weekend before last two men set out with a plan that would captivate America’s imagination and end up getting them at least 15 minutes in the eye of the national, and international, media, from CNN to the BBC to the morning show circuit. John Belitsky, with his friend Dan Wuebben, convinced cab driver Mohammed Alam to drive them from La Guardia Airport to L.A. for $5,000. ROAAAAD TRIP! They left on Saturday, April 16, arrived in L.A. after 6 days, and and started back across the country on Sunday the 24th. We caught up with them yesterday and it seemed that some of the initial high spirits for the trip had faded, to be replaced with realism and exhaustion (two weeks in a cab — and hitting snow — will do that to you).
We spoke to Belitsky while he, Dan, Alam, and Alam’s friend — who’d flown out to L.A. to meet them — stopped at Dan’s aunt and uncle’s house in Colorado to talk about what to do next. It seemed the group was ready to get home and back to their lives. (Alam, for his part, has a newborn; investment banker Belitsky has a wife and kids, as well as clients.)
The main problem: Alam is the only driver. “If we took turns driving,” said Belitsky, “We’d be back in two or three days. At best, with just Alam driving, it could be Friday or Saturday. I’ve got a lot of people who depend on me, clients and family and responsibilities.”
Alam won’t let the others drive because he’s afraid of the legality — it’s his insurance and his hack license. Belitsky told us, “It’s illegal in Alam’s legal opinion for anyone else to drive. It’s extremely stressful. We called the TLC to ask them to tell him it’s okay. We were thinking about just paying to fly home. I don’t want to see this guy drive back by himself. It may come to that, though I wouldn’t feel good about it.”
Did you expect this kind of thing to happen?
“I think when you set out to do something fun and interesting, that hasn’t been done before, you already probably know you have no idea what you’re in for. Dan and I are just taking it as it comes. The unexpected thing is the shift in priorities. Things suddenly become, How do we get home safe at this point, after safe, how do we get home soon, after that comfortably…so it’s getting reprioritized. At the same time, it’s still really honestly and truly crazy fun.”
So, no regrets?
“I’m myopically focused on what I decide to do. I’m unwilling to not do something I decide to do. It hasn’t been difficult to keep going. The hard part isn’t the trip; it’s making sure I’m doing it in a way that’s responsible to Alam, my family, my business. The easy part is getting in a cab with a buddy, seeing things I’ve never seen before. I had a cup of coffee with a rancher who was telling me they use GPS….things I never would have done if not for this trip.”
Will there be a book deal? A movie?
“I don’t know that the taxi cab road trip would be the platform for a cinematic experience. It probably translates into a book, but I don’t know what I want to do with it yet.”
Do you wear seatbelts?
What about Taxi TV? Is it still playing?
“No, it’s just the picture.”
And how much have you spent on the trip, in total?
“I don’t even know what the number is now.”
Godspeed, guys. (You can keep up with their progress on Twitter at @JohnBelitsky.) Last tweet, they were at a Walmart in Nebraska.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 27, 2011