Driving My Taxi into the 21st Century

by Sam Sloan

What was I going to do to celebrate the new Millennium? I certainly was not going to stand in Times Square for hours, boxed in by Our Beloved Fascist Dictator's 8,000 police officers. I had done that two New Year's Eves ago with my girlfriend, Passion Julinsey, and the unfortunate events of that evening had disastrous consequences for our relationship, which ended only two weeks later.

Finally, I decided: What better way to see the new Millennium arrive then to drive my taxicab right into it?

Last New Year's Eve, I could not get a cab to drive. Since New Year's Eve night is the biggest night of the year for taxi drivers, every driver who had ever driven for my garage showed up wanting a cab. Since I am only an occasional driver, I was at the bottom of the list. I had waited for hours, but there was no cab for me that night.

This year, I showed up at noon, which was either seven hours late or five hours early, since my garage operates on a 5 to 5 shift.

To my great surprise, there were a dozen empty cabs in front of my garage. Not only did the dispatcher immediately agree to give me a cab for New Year's Eve night, but he was anxious for me to take the cab for three full days. As a special bonus, he was willing to give me five free hours until the normal starting time of 5:00 PM.

Several times, I said that this business of driving 72 hours without sleep was too much for me. I was trying to get away from that, but he was so insistent and anxious for me to take the car for three days that finally I gave in agreed. The deal was that I would pay a total of $425 for the three days: $165 for the first 24 hours, $130 for the second 24 hours and $130 for the final 24 hours.

So, at exactly 12:01 PM, December 31, 1999, I got into my cab and started to drive it into the new Millennium. Since almost none of my passengers wanted a receipt that night, I kept the receipts plus I also kept the trip sheets which Our Believed Fascist Dictator requires us to maintain, so now I have an almost complete record of my trips.

Altogether, I drove my cab for 77 hours, from 12:01 after noon on December 31, 1999 until 5:00 PM on January 3, 2000. In that 77 hours, I had a total of 129 paid fares. (There were probably a few more that I forgot to write down). I collected a total of $1439 in paid fares, including tips. I drove the taxi for 912 miles and filled up with gas four times. My first fare had receipt number 1794. My last fare would have had receipt number 1916. Thus, there were a total of 123 receipts. However, fares from JFK Airport to Manhattan do not generate receipts. My net profit was exactly $800, after deductions for gas, food I ate and coffee I drank during my 77 hours on the road. Here is a summary of my most eventful trips.

The numbers at the start of my trip were:

Mileage 253788
Paid Miles 108100
Trips 1794
Extras 6562.00
Dollars 279140.10

I first went to the Mobile Gas station at 42nd Street and 11th Avenue, where I filled up with gas. I paid with my credit card.

My first fare was from 42nd Street and 11th Avenue to Penn Station. Starting time was 12:08PM. End time was 12:12PM. distance was .96 miles. Fare was $3.50. However, my passenger gave me an even $5.00, including his tip.

Already, the streets around Times Square were blocked off by the police. By evening, the police had blocked every street from 6th Avenue to 8th Avenue and from 34th Street to and including 59th Street. So, to cross from the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side, it was necessary to cross a Central Park Transverse Road.

By 5:00 PM December 31, 1999, I had had 20 fares for a total of $122. Since these were the free bonus hours, I was happy to be $122 ahead of where I would normally be.

I wrote down the mileage on my odometer (something I had neglected to do when I filled up with gas) and it showed 188561 miles.

Traffic had been surprisingly light. I assumed that activity would increase as we neared midnight. I was to be proven wrong. Traffic remained light throughout the evening. Although there were a reported two million people standing in the vicinity of Times Square, outside of that area, there were not many pedestrians nor were there many other cars on the street. Traffic and business was less than the average Friday night, not even considering that this was New Year's Eve.

Still, I was doing well. Although I did not have as many passengers as I had expected, I made good money because I was able to speed them to their destinations quickly, due to the absence of competition.

I managed to stay uptown, which is where I like to be. A few of my trips even took me into Harlem. Mostly, I was on the Upper East Side, between 70th and 90th streets.

My first memorable trip was number 27, or number 1820 on my receipt list. At 6:33PM, I was barreling down lower Broadway when a girl ran out of a restaurant and flagged my cab. I stopped. She called to her friends, "I got a cab." Her three friends came out of the restaurant and got in my cab. However, when one of my passengers got in the front seat, I told him that I knew him from somewhere. He immediately informed me that I knew everyone in the cab. I looked over my shoulder and saw chess Grandmaster Joel Benjamin sitting in the back seat. Next to him was International Woman's Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade (the girl who had flagged by cab) and next to me in the front seat was International Master Gregory Shahade.

They had all just won big money in a chess tournament and were celebrating by taking a taxi home to Brooklyn, which, by coincidence, turned out to be my cab.

They were going to Church Street in Brooklyn, so I turned left on Chambers Street, took the Brooklyn Bridge, turned right and then left to enter the BQE and then took the Prospect Expressway to the end, arriving at Church Street. My passengers told me to turn right and directed me to their homes. I discharged them at 6:51PM. Distance was 6.63 miles. The fare was $12.20. However, they gave me $15.00, including a tip.

On the way back, I decided to try to snare another fare in Brooklyn, so I went by the River Restaurant on Water Street in Brooklyn. I expected this to be one of the hot night spots on New Year's Eve. However, the men at the door waved me away. They had no business for me. Almost no customers were inside.

Fortunately, at 7:26PM I picked up two passengers on Clinton Street in Brooklyn. Their destination was 89th Street and Madison in Manhattan. I got them there at 7:51PM. The distance was 7.17 miles. The meter fare was $14.00 and they gave me a $3.00 tip.

Until midnight, the fares were uneventful. Traffic was light and there were few people on the streets. However, I was busy most of the time. I expected things to pick up after the ball came down in Times Square and the crowds would want to go home.

Just after I had filled up my first trip sheet, which meant that I had completed 44 fares, was when the ball came down at midnight. I was constantly listening to 1010 WINS radio, so I was able to follow what was going on.

For a long time just before and after the ball came down, I could not catch any customers. My last fare in 1999 was receipt no. 1839. Starting time 11:29PM, ending 11:33 PM. Just before this, I had taken a passenger to 110th Street and 7th Avenue in Harlem. Then, I took a passenger down to 89th and Amsterdam, arriving at 11:33. That was my last fare in 1999. After that, I drove down Columbus and 9th Avenue. At 12:21 AM I got my first passenger for the new year, who wanted to go to the Village. Then, I drove to 9th Avenue and Bleecker. I cut across Bleecker, turned around and came up Sixth Avenue.

At 23rd and Sixth Avenue, the police were blocking traffic. At least ten police officers were standing there. They signaled to me to turn left. I was stuck momentarily behind a line of cars waiting for a light to change. Somebody opened my passenger door. He seemed to be asking for information. I was in no mood for this. There were ten police officers hovering near my car and a crowd of two million people standing behind them and waiting to break loose at any moment. I yelled at the guy who was leaning in my door and who wanted information either to get in my cab or get out. To my surprise, he and a young woman who was with him got in. When I finally figured out their broken English, I realized that they wanted to go to Newark Airport, which was strange, as this was 12:51 AM and I understood that there would be no flights until morning. They wanted to know the fare to Newark Airport. I told them it was the meter fare plus a surcharge of $10.00 for driving to Newark Airport. The surcharge is to compensate the driver for the fact that he must drive back to New York City empty, as it is illegal for a NYC taxi driver to pick up a passenger in New Jersey. I told them the average fare was $42. They agreed. They said that they were from France and were going to Continental Airlines to catch a flight to Mexico.

I took them. Starting time 12:51AM. End Time 1:26AM, Distance 14.06 miles. Fare $24.20 plus 50 cents extra because it was night plus $10.00 extra for driving to Newark Airport. They gave me a total of $36, including tip.

On the way back, I stopped for gas in New Jersey, near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. I always try to stop for gas when I go to New Jersey, because New Jersey seems to have the cheapest gas prices of any state of the Eastern United States, perhaps because of the influence of Standard Oil of New Jersey (Exxon). My odometer read 188686 miles.

Back in Manhattan, my first fare wanted to go to 166 Prospect Street in Brooklyn. I was not happy. I was missing all the presumably big New Year's fares for some dead trip to Brooklyn. I picked up the fare at 2:03 AM and delivered her at 2:22 AM. Distance was 4.39 miles. Fare was $10.30.

After just four more fares, I felt the irresistible urge to konk out. I left off my passenger at 3:44 AM. I had been driving for nearly 16 hours without any break. I found an empty legal parking place on Third Avenue on the Upper East Side. I laid down in my taxi and slept for more than an hour. My receipts thus far were a total of $398, including tips. I woke up and got a passenger at 5:17AM. I had completed my first 12 hour shift plus the five extra hours my dispatcher had let me have.

I was not happy about having gone to sleep at this time. I had missed the best hour for picking up passengers in the new year. I wish I could have kept driving until the sun came up, at which time taxi traffic drops off dramatically.

My first ride after waking up was to Queens. Starting Time 5:17AM, End 5:36AM Distance 7.74 miles. Fare $14.30.

When I got back to Manhattan, I picked you my next passenger in front of a bar on Second Avenue on the Upper East Side. My passenger was an attractive young woman. A man working for the bar opened the door and helped her into my taxi. She said that she wanted to go to Hoboken by way of the Holland Tunnel. I could have made a lot of money by taking her the way she wanted to go, but instead I took her the right way, which is through the Lincoln Tunnel. I always have to explain that the fare is double the meter after entering the tunnel plus $4.00 to pay the toll back, even though there is not a toll going to New Jersey.

My passenger did not complain and was just happy to be going home. After we were well on the way, she told me her story. She was from another state (California, I believe). She had come to the bar with a group of friends, but her friends had left her behind in the bar and had gone home.

After I got her to her destination, which was near Clinton and 9th Street in Hoboken, it turned out that she had no money at all. She said that she would go inside the house and get money from her friends. There was no problem as she came back out quickly. However, as she approached my cab, she fell flat on her face. I jumped out, but she got up on her own power. She handed me two $20 bills and asked for $10 in change. The meter fare was $14.90, distance was 7.55 miles. The total fare after doubling plus toll plus her tip was $30.00. Starting time 6:23AM, End time 6:50AM.

By now, the sun had came up. Arriving back in Manhattan, the place looked like it had been hit by a Neutron Bomb, which kills all the people but leaves the buildings standing. There was absolutely nobody, nobody at all, on the streets. It was an eerie feeling. I have been living in New York City off and on over a span of 36 years, but never before had I seen the streets deserted like this. The New Year's revelers had obviously all made it home. It must have been the case that people were cowering in their homes, in fear of all the rumors and reports that disasters would strike when the new Millennium was reached.

There were just a few empty cabs on the street. Fortunately, these new Millennium drivers seemed to know nothing about Roxy and Twilo. These are two dance clubs which had all night New Year's celebrations. Usually, I do not bother with Twilo, because there is such a long line of taxis in front of it. However, for some reason which I cannot fathom, on this New Year's morning, there were no cabs waiting at Twilo. I went there and got a fare immediately. After I delivered that one, I went back and got another fare, and then another and another.

My next big fare went to Queens Village. I took the Long Island Expressway and then the Cross Island Expressway. Starting time 8:06AM, End 8:37AM, Distance 14.45 miles. The meter fare was $25.10. My passenger left me a generous tip of 90 cents, for a total of $26.00. I do not like to make racist remarks, but will mention that members of certain racial and ethnic groups are known not to leave much in the way of tips.

Queens Village is near to Kennedy Airport, so I drove there. At Kennedy Airport, there is a "Central Taxi Hold" off the JFK Expressway. The Central Taxi Hold will hold 500 taxis and all taxis must line up there before receiving a pass which directs them to a terminal where a passenger will be waiting. Average waiting time is 1.5 to 2 hours, but on busy evenings there is sometimes no wait at all.

On this New Year's morning, the taxi drivers in the line were pessimistic. They said that only one flight had landed, and it had only 13 passengers on it. Because of rumors that flights would crash on New Years Day because of the Y2K computer bug, almost all airlines had canceled their flights and those few that were flying were almost empty.

There were few taxis in the line. The drivers told me that only one flight was scheduled to arrive and that was at 9:20AM. I decided to get in line and take a nap.

I woke up after 10:00AM. The flight had arrived and discharged any passengers it had and the taxi line had not moved. The next flight was not due in until sometime in the afternoon. I gave up on this and drove empty to Manhattan.

I crossed the Queens bridge (no toll). My first fare in Manhattan was 10:50AM, so I had gone from 8:37AM to 10:50AM with no passengers in my cab.

Since TWILO was open all night and all day the next day, I kept going there. News on the radio said that a bomb had exploded on 46th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. My next passengers were three young men at Twilo and their destination was the Sound Factory, which is a dance club on 46th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues. After I had turned on the meter and had gone one block, I said to my passengers, "Would you by any chance be interested in knowing that a bomb has just exploded near the Sound Factory."

The passenger in the middle started screaming, "A Bomb!", and started kicking at the door trying to get out. He was restrained by the passenger next to the door, who said "He's kidding." The third passenger said, "Let's go see it."

I told them that I was not joking and the news had been on 1010 WINS Radio. I took them up the West Side Highway. When I got them to the Sound Factory, that block was open to traffic, but the next block was filled with police cars. This did not impede me, as I just turned right when I got to 11th Avenue. Interestingly, the passenger who paid the fare, which was $5.00 including tip, was the same one who had tried to kick the door open to get out of the taxi.

After two more fares, I had what proved to be my most memorable trip of the entire three days:

I pulled up to Twilo and three passengers got in, two men and a woman. They said that they were going to the Tunnel. The Tunnel is a dance club only one and a half blocks from Twilo. Twilo is on 27th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. Tunnel is on 27th Street on the corner of 12th Avenue, which is also the West Side Highway.

My passengers knew where the Tunnel was. The girl in the group apologized and said that they did not feel like walking.

All three passengers were in their early 20s, although the girl might have been younger, possibly as young as 18. All three passengers were white and appeared to be average, middle-class. The girl was strikingly beautiful, with curly light blond hair. She wore a beautiful skirt with black high heels.

Arriving at the Tunnel, we found that it was closed, as expected. Workmen were sweeping out the Tunnel. My main passenger now said that now they wanted to make two stops. One man would get off at 59th Street near the West Side Highway. The remaining two would go to Queens.

"Where in Queens?", I asked.

"Just cross the Queen's Bridge and we'll tell you," was the reply.

Due to heavy digging and construction work, the entrance to 59th Street from the West Side Highway was blocked, so I took 56th Street instead. That passenger changed his mind and got out at 8th Avenue and 56th Street.

After I got on the Queens Bridge, I said, "Where are you going in Queens?''

"Kennedy Airport," was the reply.

By now, the couple was smooching in the back seat. They did not look like international air passengers. "I think you ought to be aware that almost all international flights have been canceled this morning," I said. "We are not really going to the airport, just near there. Just drive there and we will tell you the way", was their reply.

After crossing the Queensboro Bridge, I turned right on Van Dam Street and got on to the Long Island Expressway. I called out to my passengers in the back seat, "Where do I go now?"

"Just take the Grand Central Parkway to the Van Wyck. I'll tell you where to go then."

There were almost no cars on the road and the trip went quickly. I called to my passengers: "Where do I go now?"

"Just take the Grand Central Parkway to the Van Wyck. I'll tell you where to go then."

By now, I was near the bottom of the Van Wyck. I called to my passengers: "Where do I go now?"

"Just take the Grand Central Parkway to the Van Wyck. I'll tell you where to go then."

"The Van Wyck is finished now. I am at the Belt Parkway. "Where do I go now?", I said.

"Just take the Grand Central Parkway to the Van Wyck. I'll tell you where to go then."

"Don't you understand? I passed the Grand Central Parkway long ago. Now, do I take the Belt Parkway East or West?'

"East", was the reply.

I got on the Belt Parkway going east. "Where do I go now?", I said.

"Just take the Grand Central Parkway to the Van Wyck. I'll tell you where to go then."

"What's wrong with you", I said. "The Van Wyck was finished long ago. We are now on Long Island."

"Just take the Grand Central Parkway to the Van Wyck. I'll tell you where to go then."

I looked over my shoulder and realized the problem. My passengers were nowhere to be seem. They had gone down below the line of visibility in my back seat. They were obviously having sex in the back seat. What else could they be doing?

"I hope you're having a good time back there but get up and take a look," I screamed at my passengers.

Finally, the man got up and peered over seat. "Hey", he screamed. "You're going way out of the way."

"I know", I said. "But this is where you told me to go."

"Take a u-we and go back," he said.

I took the next exit and turned around, going West on the Belt Parkway.

My passenger then directed me through a convoluted set of turns, winding me up on Cross Bay Boulevard, headed toward Howard Beach.

"I wish I was doing whatever you were doing with her," I remarked.

"I hope you are not fucked up on the same stuff we are fucked up on", he said, implying that they had been doing drugs in the back seat of my taxi.

My male passenger directed me to turn right on 157th Avenue and then left on 85th Street. After about three or four more blocks, my male passenger told me to pull over. The girl got out, but the man stayed in the cab. I was admiring her as she walked up the walkway of the house, but my remaining passenger told me to get moving quickly.

After only about 2 1/2 more blocks, my passenger told me to turn right on 164th Avenue. After that, he told me to pull over immediately.

I stopped just past the front of a house on 164th Avenue and 85th Street on the Northwest Corner. The fare was $38.30. Distance 22.67 miles, Start Time 12:19PM, End Time 1:14PM. My passenger said, "Wait a minute. I have to go in and get the money."

Alert to this, I got out of the cab. It was a nice, residential house surrounded by a wire fence. My passenger opened the wire gate, went through it and carefully closed the gate behind him. He then went around the corner, where the door seemed to be.

I waited and waited. To my great surprise, the girl whom I had left off about 2-3 blocks before came sauntering past. "What happened to your friend?", I called to the girl. "He just went in the house and I am waiting for him to come out with the money."

"Don't worry. He will be out," she said.

"Does he live here?", I asked.

"Yes", she replied.

The girl turned left on 164th Avenue. She disappeared into a house in the middle of the south side of 164th Avenue between 84th and 85th streets or else it was the corner house at 84th and 164th or possibly she turned the corner onto 84th Street. In either case, within a few seconds, she was out of sight. Why did I not run after her? It was not yet clear that I was being stiffed. This was a quite, residential, nice Italian neighborhood. The girl was almost elegantly dressed and very beautiful. She did not seem to be part of a scam.

However, after a few more minutes, I rang a doorbell. A man in his 60s answered. I asked him what had happened to a man who had just come into his house and had not paid the taxi fare. He said that he lives alone in that house and nobody had been in there today but him. Because of my position from where I was standing, I had been the victim of an optical illusion. It looked like my passenger had gone around a corner and entered a door, but there was no door around that corner.

The owner of the house at 164th Avenue and 85th street said, "Funny thing. The same thing happened a month ago. An Indian taxi driver knocked on my door and said that somebody had come inside my house and had not paid the taxi fare either. But nobody had entered my house!"

We now realized that this was part of a pattern. Because of the position of this particular house, it was easy for someone to disappear around the back. He could easily jump the gate behind the house.

A neighbor was sitting on his porch across 85th Street. He had been in a perfect position to see everything. I called over to him. He got up and came over but said that he had not seen anything. Another neighbor came and said that he also remembered this happening a month ago. While we were taking about this, a neighbor lady across 164th Avenue called out that somebody had just ran out from under the bushes and had disappeared down 164 Avenue going West. I crossed 164 Avenue and the lady pointed out, "There he is". A man down at almost the far end of 164th Avenue ran across the street, jumped in a car and drove off. I considered jumping in my taxi and chasing him. I decided against that because, if he was that desperate to beat a fare, he might have a gun in the car as well.

My attention turned to the beautiful blond-haired girl who had disappeared going east on 164th Avenue a few minutes before. I went around that corner and looked at all the houses. There were no signs of life. Nobody was home. But, the girl had to be there, somewhere. There had been no cars moving in the area, other than my cab and the other car my male passenger had absconded in going in the opposite direction. There was no way that he could have circled around and picked her up without my seeing it.

A neighbor living on the Northwest corner of 164th Avenue and 86th Street came out. He and his family were going somewhere. They said that they had just come out and had not seen anything.

I now got back in my cab. I went back to the location where the beautiful girl had gotten out of my taxi and had appeared to be going into a house, but I could not remember the exact house or the exact block. I only remembered that it was either two or three blocks before I had left the man off. A man coming out of his house had a son who strongly resembled the man who had beaten me out of the fare. It was not the same person, but it could have been his brother. They denied knowing anything.

I kept going back and forth, asking all kinds of people if they saw or knew anything. By now, I had long realized that I was not going to get my taxi fare, but the stunning beauty of the girl plus the uniqueness of the situation drove me to keep trying to find her. One neighbor told me that the house where I had let her off was the approximate location of the house of John Gotti, the famous Mafia gangster. Perhaps, I thought, it had been the exact house of John Gotti. Perhaps they had deliberately told me to drop her there as a way to scare and frighten me if I came back to the house to try to collect the money. Unfortunately, I could not remember the exact house. I was able to verify that John Gotti had, in fact, lived on 85th Street within a block of the place where I had dropped her off.

I asked everybody I could find if they had ever seen in this neighborhood a stunningly beautiful girl, around 18-25 years old, with curly light-blond hair, light skin, well dressed and wearing black high heels. Some said that there was such no girl fitting that description living in this neighborhood, but one young man said that there were many such girls.

Finally, I gave up. I had wasted more than two hours on the search for the stunningly beautiful girl with curly light blond hair who had either been having sex or doing drugs in the back seat of my taxi, as I drove her and her partner from Twilo in Manhattan to Howard Beach in Queens.

I had had an old friend in Howard Beach, where I had lived briefly with my wife, Honzagool, but we had lived on the other side, in Hamilton. So, I went to his home at 164th Drive and 103rd Street, but this is far away as it is in Hamilton Beach and involves a trip around Shellbank Basin. I found an old friend of his whom I remembered from 20 years ago, and he directed me to my friend's ex-wife's house, where I was able to get my friend's new number in Charlotte, North Carolina.

I then left, planning to go to Kennedy Airport. However, to my surprise, I got a passenger on Cross Bay Boulevard, who wanted to go to Metropolitan Avenue in Queens. Starting time 3:30PM, End Time 3:45 PM, Distance 4.71 miles, fare $9.80.

Thus, I had wasted more than two hours, from 1:14PM until 3:30 PM, trying to catch the passenger and his girlfriend who had beaten me out of a fare of $38.30.

I still hope to catch them some day. Please go to the corner of 85th Street and 164th Avenue in Howard Beach, Queens. If you see a stunningly beautiful girl, around 18-25 years old, with curly light blond hair, light skin, well dressed and wearing black high heels, and especially if she looks like she has been having sex or doing drugs or both in the back seat of a taxi, please call me immediately.

Sam Sloan

[This story is not over yet. At this point, I had collected $565 in total fares including tips, after driving my taxi for 28 hours, including nap time. My last receipt was number 1862. I had completed 67 trips. I drove my taxi for another 49 hours, before calling it a day.]

To Be Continued.

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