Tuesday, August 7, 2012

An Unlucky Night

Welcome to another chapter of Craziest NYC taxi stories. Today was Wednesday night, March 30, 2012.  I got to the garage early to see if there were any “early bird” vehicles available. Today was a Saturday so today the competition for a vehicle at the garage was lighter. I was able to get a vehicle right away. The vehicle I received had been repaired earlier in the day and was just ready for a new driver. It was a Dodge Caravan.  These vans are fraught with minor mechanical problems, a few of which I encountered during my shift tonight, and tonight I’ll be reviewing some of the negatives of taxi driving, mechanical problems included. This Saturday started out very well, with a couple hopping in right in Park Slope close to the taxi garage when I was pulling out from the gas station. They were headed to the theater district in West Midtown. As I drove through the city I realized that I was driving one of the vans with the most mechanical and electrical issues in the fleet, 6HXX. A hinge on the door had just been replaced, but the radio was not working and there were other problems. Also, as I came to discover, my credit card machine and computer console in my taxi had some issues. I had just dropped off two guys near Union Square, they swiped their card, the transaction went through and the meter printed the receipt, but then the machine froze. I had encountered this very same issue in this taxi before and had been lucky enough not to have to drive this vehicle very often. I had no idea whether their transaction had been paid to my account. I drove around for several more minutes and had to reboot the computer system on my taxi. A taxi computer consists of a TV screen in the back, and a console in the front for the driver to enter certain types of information such as payment type and number of passengers. My console in the front was frozen so I reset it by hitting the red reset button on the center console. The computer then took a few minutes and I had to log in again. This very same thing happened again a little while later while driving a young lady from Madison Avenue to Horatio Street in the West Village. It was possible that I had actually lost these credit card transactions since the computer crashed. I had to reset the computer again and login. From then on, I asked my fares for cash, some I had to refuse because they had no cash. I got tired of this because it’s a bit annoying to have to drive by and ask a fare this question every single time. It’s also against TLC rules. I called the garage and asked them what I should do about my problem, they had no idea. After this sort of thing went on for a little while I decided to go ahead and head over to the meter shop on Van Dam Street in Queens to get the machine fixed. I headed over the Queensboro Bridge. The traffic wasn’t bad at all luckily. I reached the meter shop and the man at the counter told me that I needed to go to the credit card shop on Jackson Avenue called Creative Mobile Technologies. This was about 1 or 2 miles away from the taxi meter shop. On the way there, I had some trouble finding the shop because I couldn’t understand the address the man had told me. I thought he said 24th Street, but eventually ended up on 21st Street and Jackson Avenue. Here at the shop, they recalibrated the taxi computer. This took about 1 hour’s worth of time, during which I had lost driving/fares. All told, this situation cost me about 2 hours of downtime or about $70 to $100 in revenues. After I had the machine repaired, I headed back down Jackson Avenue and towards the Queensboro Bridge, back on duty.  I spotted a black lady who wanted me to take her about 1.5 miles more into Queens. In a friendly manner, she directed me down Van Dam and right on 48th Avenue, then left. Shortly after I picked up a cute Asian girl dressed in a dress and heels that wanted me to drive her back towards the Citigroup tower in Long Island City, Queens. She directed me up underneath the Queensboro Bridge. I encountered another bit of bad luck early tonight. I had forgotten my 5 boroughs and Queens map at home, and I had to rely on the customers to help me get around Queens and my own dead reckoning which was not always on the money. The Asian girl paid in credit, and luckily my taxi computer seemed to be working properly again. After the Asian girl, I had a man who wanted me to take him to the Home Depot in Queens but I had to decline him because I had no idea where this was. From here, I went back over the Queensboro Bridge and back up 1st Avenue, where I immediately spotted a middle-aged foreign couple wanting to go to York Avenue and 79th Street, a quick trip. Immediately, after the middle-aged couple, I picked up a young woman who wanted to go to 4th avenue and 12th Street in the East Village. We proceeded down the FDR, exited at 23rd Street, turned onto 25th Street, and then took a left onto Second Avenue. She got off at 3rd Avenue and 13th Street. The trip was uneventful. This sort of turnover continued in the same sort of cadence that is typical for a weekend night. After nightfall on a Saturday night, taxi traffic tends to pick up and civilian vehicles tend to leave the city. The city is left with mostly taxis and taxi passengers. My passengers continued, in a flow one after another, to the tune of 50 total passengers for the evening. Tonight, most of them were short fares within the borough of Manhattan. I only had one trip outside of Manhattan, upto the Bronx from the Upper West Side; two old school New York white men with accents to match took me to 155th and the Grand Concourse. After dropping these two men off, I went back over the bridge to Harlem and picked up a young black woman headed all the way down to Canal and Centre Street. This fare with tip was about a $30 ride. After her, another young black lady got in immediately and we headed to a bar on Delancey and Pitt Street, a traffic-filled but uneventful ride. While most of my customers for the night were cooperative, and generally speaking in taxi driving people will choose to cooperate with me, I encountered another bit of bad luck in the form of some disorderly passengers later on in the night. Many people who are out late at night on the weekend are intoxicated and a driver will notice that it tends to get more and more crazy the later it gets. Add to this that it tends to be crowded in the city on the weekend, and things can get interesting. I spotted a young lady hailing me; she had just exited a bar on Third Avenue. She appeared to be alone. She got into my cab, then I saw that 6 of her friends also attempted to enter the cab, with two of them sitting in the floor, and one of her friends getting in the front. I spoke to the man up front and said “hey, excuse me, I have too many passengers now, I can’t take 7, that’s against the law.” Then I said, “can you take one of the others and yourself and get another cab?” He said “no we’re already in the cab.” My max is 5. For some taxis its 4. The Taxi and Limo Commission does not allow us to accept more. Because I have a large van, sometimes I have large groups attempt to enter the cab, against the rules. Now this man said “we’re only going to 7th and 23rd. We were on 3rd and about 34th.” I countered, “Man I don’t want to take too many because it’s illegal and we have to go across the city. You know I can call the cops!” Many times, with these large groups, rather than attempting to kick them out I simply don’t allow them to enter the cab. Then he said “I’ll give you an extra few bucks if you take us.” I said, “how about $20?” He said “no, an extra few.” I countered with $10. This wasn’t working out. I thought about getting out of the taxi and calling the cops because I don’t like to be asked to break the rules. The TLC can ticket us if we break the rules and situations like this just irk me. I muttered something about calling the cops. He then stated “you are fucking me good now!”The girls in the back ignored what was going on and just sat there. We argued for a minute more and I decided to go and just take them. He remarked to his friends in the back, “It sucks sitting in the front seat right now!” We proceed across town, arriving at 23rd and 7th Avenue. The fare was $7.50.  Once we stopped the girls in the back passed up some money for him, and he gets some out of his wallet. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but at the end of the ride he ended up stiffing me on the extra few bucks he had promised to give me earlier! Of course, every career has its ups and downs; having arguments with passengers seems to be a taxi driver’s downside, probably like many other service industry jobs. Later on in the night, I witnessed another disagreement between a taxi driver and his passengers. I was discharging a fare in the East Village, when I saw a blonde man hailing me across the street. Another taxi driven by an African man pulled around me, and then took the fare. The blonde guy with his friends got in, but then there appeared to be some sort of dispute between the blonde man and the driver. The blonde mans friend pulled him out of the taxi, then the taxi driver exited the vehicle came around to the other side, and attempted to punch the blonde man, while the other guy attempted to separate the two. These two guys were in a standoff for a few seconds, that’s when another couple came up and got into my vehicle, and we had to pull around this situation. I was glad this belligerent man had not tried to enter my car instead after pissing off this other driver. The couple in my taxi behaved in a business-like manner, glancing at this situation as we drove by. We took the FDR south from Houston Street through the tunnel to the West Side Highway, and then took a right at the first light. They paid cash. Then I went back to the West Side Highway and headed upto the West Village, looking for more fares. It was getting towards 4AM now, about the time to end my shift and head back to the garage. I took the left fork from the West Side Highway, onto 10th Avenue and headed north. Here, I saw a group of people leaving the clubs, like Avenue. A black man approached my window and he stated he was just headed up the street. He looked legitimate, so I let him in, and we headed to 48th and Broadway. We proceed quickly up 10th Avenue, took a right and stop in front of Morgan Stanley. He then informs me that he has to head into a building, but will be back. “Yeah, right!” I thought. My shift was ending I didn’t want to waste time waiting for this fraud to come back. I then asked if he had cash or wanted to go to an ATM. He said “I have to go into a building, but I will be back.” Again, I thought “yeah right!” I’m sure this guy isn’t coming back, plus it’s a waste of my time. I shrugged my shoulders and just watched the guy leave into Morgan Stanley, forgetting the lost $8.20 I pulled away and headed back down 7th Avenue, looking for one last fare before heading back to the garage.  No, my taxi driving career wasn’t all about having beautiful French supermodels with sexy accents come onto me as we ride alone together, or having CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies offer me $50 or $100 above the fare after a friendly conversation, or making new friends from across the world, but there is also a downside, of not getting along with a few oddballs, getting ripped off, or robbed. Tonight exemplified this risk. Maybe I’ll have better luck tomorrow!