Taxi Confidential is released - it includes stories about my fellow Hacks and myself
and look for Radio Free Eireann 9-19-09
Speaking with Amy Braunschwieger at Word bookstore in Greenpoint Brooklyn
Group shot of fellow cab drives and author at Word. Below is the New York Times coverage of this event.
Taxi Drivers Turn Around and Share Their World
By Sarah Maslin Nir
Amy Braunschweiger compiled taxicab drivers’ stories for her new book.
We usually see only the backs of their heads, so it was a refreshing change when five New York City cabdrivers faced the audience from a small stage in a bookshop basement in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on Wednesday evening, at a release party for the book “Taxi Confidential: Life, Death and 3 A.M. Revelations in New York City.”
Cabbies, though their work facilitates many a New Yorker’s daily life, are often overlooked, known to their passengers only as a snapshot on a license floating in the upper left corner of the cab’s backseat plexiglass divider.
The event, in a small room under Word, a bookstore on Franklin Street, and the book, by Amy Braunschweiger, offer glimpses into the universe of the taxicab, with stories from both drivers and passengers interspersed with facts and statistics.
Ms. Braunschweiger said she hoped to “present a cab-eye-view,” of New York. Readers, she hopes, will develop “renewed respect for cabdrivers, and fall in love with New York City.”
Ms. Braunschweiger is a freelance writer whose work for the Village Voice on such topics as the High Line, four years before its slick makeover, and travels in the city’s bowels in the Pratt Institute’s subterranean steam tunnels inspired an “obsession with all things industrial and abandoned,” she said — “how a city ticks, but is often overlooked.”
According to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the governing body for the city’s cabs, there are 48,000 licensed yellow cabs and perhaps 50,000 other for-hire vehicles, including black cars and livery cars.
Only 1 percent of all drivers are female. Representing that tiny minority Wednesday evening was Aura Bobadilla, 34, who until recently drove a cab for Northside Car Service in Brooklyn. Ms. Bobadilla told her story in Ms. Braunschweiger’s book and on stage to the roughly three dozen attendees.
When Ms Bobadilla, who began driving in 1998, took to the stage, she scanned the crowd and stopped. “I remember her,” she said, pointing to a woman in the audience. “You’re a teacher.” The woman in the audience confirmed that she been Ms. Bobadilla’s passenger more than a year ago, when she was running late for school.
The flexibility of driving, Ms. Bobadilla said, made it an ideal job for a woman with young children; constantly meeting new people also suited her personality. It seems to run in the family. Ms. Bobadilla has since let her mother, Nancy Barias, 60, take the wheel, she said. “She’s addicted, she loves it,” Ms. Bobadilla said. “It’s a problem. She is addicted to the job.”
The drivers who spoke were self-effacing, almost to a fault. “I’m the only Jew in New York without ambition,” Seth Golden, a taxi driver for 25 years, said by way of introduction when he stepped in front of the crowd. Mr. Golden’s story was about picking up his personal hero, Mel Brooks, whom he described as “the King of the Jews,” and from whom during the ride, he said, he gleaned deep nuggets of wisdom. “Now that’s a Jew that we haven’t seen since Jesus,” he said.
Another driver, John McDonagh, told about how he founded a group called Cabbies Against Bush during the Republican National Convention in 2004, passing out fliers offering delegates free rides back to Kennedy International Airport. Though none took him up on his offer, he said, the stunt landed him a segment on Fox News.
David Pollack, a driver and founder of the Committee for Taxi Safety, a group that facilitates the leasing of taxicabs, also had a brush with the news media. He was chosen to switch places with the “Today” show host Matt Lauer when Mr. Lauer tried being a driver for a day. “How many people in America can say they’ve hosted the ‘Today’ show?” he asked.
Mr. Pollack’s favorite memory was driving a mariachi quartet in full regalia to the airport. When he asked why they were oddly without luggage, they revealed that a wealthy tourist to Mexico had heard and enjoyed their music and had flown them to play a party in Manhattan, and sent them home by airplane that same day.
“I’ll never forget,” Mr. Pollack said, “being serenaded the whole drive in four-part harmony with an acoustic guitar.”
Musical instruments became a topic again later that evening, when an audience member, Jessica Seigel, a journalist and amateur violinist, asked why celebrated musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, who famously left his $2.5-million, 266-year-old cello in the back of a taxi (they were reunited) and the Korean violinist Hahn-Bin, who left his $600,000 instrument (also found) in a yellow cab, seemed to be perpetually losing these valuable goods.
Davidson Garrett, a driver who wrote “King Lear of the Taxi: Musings of a New York City Actor/Taxi Driver,” responded. The musicians aren’t just careless, he said: “We are so distracted in New York City just surviving.”
As the evening wound on, the conversation turned toward questions of the ethnicities of today’s taxi drivers, and racism many face from customers. When most of the guest speakers began their driving careers, the demographic makeup of drivers was skewed toward white males.
“Yesterday’s Irish, Jews and Italians,” Mr. Pollack said, referring to the backgrounds of drivers when he began driving more than 20 years ago, “are today’s Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians. And they deserve to be respected.”
The audience applauded.
“Driving a taxi for six months,” he added, “should be a prerequisite for life.”