He just turned 19 and Summer was approaching. He had always found part time jobs while attending college. His parents had this rule about allowances- non existent. And he liked that because there was nothing like earning his own money. It was usually spending money and he made damn sure his pockets had enough of it. He loved to spend money on all the things a guy his age wanted, which was usually food, clothes and girls. Many a night his neighborhood pals couldn’t join him at Brennan & Carr for a roast beef and a brew (especially with their fantastic beef broth, dripping from the rotisserie), or sharing a giant meatball calzone at Jimmy’s Pizza. Some guys just wouldn’t work while going to school. Not him. He found time in-between his studies to find work. When he heard about the new taxi age regulations being lowered to 19, he practically ran to the city to get a hack license.
A few of his acquaintances at college told him that Jayson Operating needed drivers, and it was in walking distance from the campus. As soon as classes ended in early June he was hired to drive the AM shift. They always needed daytime drivers, especially on weekends. None of the old timers worked weekends- five days a week was enough in New York traffic. So, he began driving first on only Saturdays and Sundays, and then slowly getting a few weekday shifts. He just loved the feeling of being behind the wheel of that brand new Dodge cab, even if it had no power steering, power brakes and radio. He would stay in his home turf, Brooklyn, even though the easier money was in Manhattan. He knew his borough pretty well, except for the slum areas, and few of the drivers would cruise there anyway. That is why car services became popular in those neighborhoods. So, he stayed where he knew and that was fine.
His first week on the job he had his first traffic ‘ fender bender’. He had just dropped off a fare by Ocean Parkway and Ave S, and was stopped at the light. As he was filling in his shift sheet the brake eased a bit and the cab rolled into the car in front. It was a small Italian sports car and his front fender broke the tiny brake light. The driver jumped out of his car to inspect the damage. The guy was maybe late 20s and he didn’t seem too angry. He got out of his cab and offered to exchange their insurance info etc. ” No, kid, not necessary to go through all that. Why not just give me $ 5 bucks for the little light. No problem kid.” He was so relieved to not have to let the boss know of this. He gladly paid the $ 5 bucks and drove off feeling very relieved. On the way to the bus stop after work he told what had happened to an old cabbie he knew from the garage. The guy made a face and shot back to him ” What are you an asshole kid!? The first thing you should have done is jump out of the cab yelling ‘ What the hell did you do, backing up into me!?’ You’re a taxi driver kid, you are never at fault!!”
His second week of driving revealed how much agita (aggravation) cab drivers can get on the job. It was a quiet Sunday morning, so he figured ‘Why not’ and head out to JFK airport. Each terminal had its own taxi line going from outside the arrivals to across the road in a parking area designated for cabs. He was behind this old timer’s cab when they both arrived by the arrivals. A party of six people needed two cabs. The old timer took charge. “Let me handle this kid.” He spoke to the father of the family and sorted out who went in which cab. Of course, he was told by the old timer to load the heaviest suitcases into his trunk. “Just follow me kid, I know exactly where they are going”. Where they were going was actually and technically over the Queens border, a few blocks into Long Island. When the two cabs arrived at the family’s house, the old timer took over. “Let me handle the fares kid.” After all the suitcases were unloaded (by him) the old timer said to the father “OK, you actually live in Long Island, which is considered ‘Out of the city’. We usually have to charge double the meter for both cabs. We also have to charge $1.00 for each suitcase, but let’s just give you all a break and charge only what’s on the meters.” The old timer felt good about what he was doing. When the father handed him the money for the fares along with a standard 20% tip the old timer lost it. “Hey, can you afford this Diamond Jim!?” Before you know it these two old guys were pushing and shoving each other. He had to jump in and separate them… trying to hold back the laughter.
After a month and a half of driving the day shift, as summer set in, he wanted to make some real money. The only way to do that was drive nights. He made the transition and it was much more relaxed, and much busier. He spent the first week or two staying in Brooklyn, but Brooklyn on a weeknight was just not very busy. Friday and Saturday nights were fine, and he always headed out to Bay Ridge where all the pubs and clubs were. He could park outside of one of the discos that he himself had frequented and wait for mostly girls who wanted a cab to go home. Not only was it lucrative but on a few occasions he wound up with phone numbers for future dates. Not bad. Of course, there was a downside to this as well, especially when dealing with people who drank too much. One night he was outside of a club around 1 AM, waiting, when a very attractive blond, maybe late 20s, stumbled into his cab. “I wanna sit up front with you, OK” she stammered as she had the front passenger’s door open. He told her that this was not a good thing to do, but she was already in. He had to grab the cigar box where he kept his change, and his shift sheet, as she snuggled real close to him. Before he could even ask her where she wanted to go, she got her mouth real close to his right ear. “You find me attractive, don’t ya?” He was so flustered and tried to patronize her. “I bet ya wanna fuck me hah. Right?” He could see that this woman was stone drunk and tried to rationalize with her. He told her he had a wife and two kids home, and was at the end of his shift. She would have none of that. “You wanna fuck me, don’t you?” Before he could say anything she suddenly fumbled a badge out of her purse and pushed it into his face. “I’m a cop you son of a bitch, and I’m gonna arrest you for solicitation!!” He started to beg her to please let him go, he didn’t do anything, “I really need this job officer, please let me go. Please!” She put the badge back in her purse, almost missing it a few times, and pushed open the door. “Just get the hell out of here. I’ll get another cab, asshole!” And she just stumbled onto the sidewalk as he raced away.
The greatest thing about driving a cab, especially at night in Brooklyn, was the choices of things to eat. He could drop off a fare in any neighborhood and find a great pizza place for a quick slice to snack on. Other times, if in the mood, he would head down to Sheepshead Bay and stop at Randazzos Clam Bar for a dozen littlenecks and a beer. He could park right out in front by the fire hydrant and stand by the outdoor window guzzling down those precious ones. A little lemon squeezed on, with a dab of hot sauce and it was heaven. The beer never tasted so good as when he had his clams. Then, off he went to search for fares down the bay. The feeling of independence was unreal for him. If he wanted an L&B square slice anytime, he could just do the same thing there. Park in front, put on the blinkers and grab a slice to go. Other nights he would stop by Brennan and Carr for a beef and a draft beer ( nothing like a cold draft beer to wash down the hot beef sandwich). There was something about going to all these places with a taxi cab that made it so much more special than going in his dad’s car. After all, he was a ‘working stiff’ and a man earning money seemed to enjoy his meal that much more. Perhaps because this was his first time earning the same pay as a real adult. Before this he worked part time gigs and was treated as such by everyone. He was no longer a kid. He was a cabbie now!