I should have seen this one coming, the changing scene was as obvious as the sun rising and setting. Of course, I knew the old prototypical New York Jewish taxi driver was long gone, just another memory of a lost New York. Never again, an Abe, Shelly or Max; owner-drivers all, steering their monster Checkers through Midtown traffic dodging messengers, pedestrians and Jersey drivers while carrying on a non-stop proclamations on the state of the world, human relations and where and where not to find great food at a good price.
In 1962, American born hackies made up 62% of the drivers. Today it’s 4% and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, (TLC) notes the other 96% come from 167 different countries with the greatest number (wait for it fellow New Yorkers) from Bangladesh (24%) and, Pakistan (10%).
A year ago, in recognition of the obvious unfamiliarity that most of these drivers have with the geography of the city of New York, Comrade Mayor Bill DeBlasio and his Politburo, aka, the City Council, eliminated: “most geography questions from the license exam.” Last month they directed the TLC to end the requirement that the test be taken in English! Their rationale, GPS devices eliminate the need to know where drivers are going and Uber accepts non-English speaking drivers. Seriously, the first rationale is flawed at best and the second, while on paper it may be true, any Uber driver who cannot communicate with the passengers will not be an Uber driver for long.
But once again in the Peoples Republic of NYC, Comrade Mayor Bill DeBlasio and his Politburo rule supreme. Makes one wish for Bloomberg’s Nanny State, even recognizing how tedious it was. At least, law and order and common sense prevailed with Mayor Mike in charge.
In researching this piece, I decided to compare the application process for becoming a taxi driver in NYC with the one in London. The introduction for perspective London taxi drivers begins: “(They) are almost as famous as the black cabs in which they drive, this is mainly due to their in-depth knowledge of London and ability in taking their occupants to their desired destination amid the congestion and the chaos that you often find when travelling through London’s streets.”
“To become an ALL-LONDON taxi driver…you need to master no fewer than 320 basic routes, all of the 25,000 streets… 20,000 landmarks…located within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. It takes the average person between 2 and 4 years to learn the knowledge.”
The TLC approach in New York City is a bit different. First off, you may only apply on line and you must complete the application in 20 minutes or your session will expire. (We do not have time in the Big Apple for lollygagging: TIME IS MONEY!)
You need a DMV license, a valid credit card to pay the non-refundable fee and, most important, promise that within 90 days of submitting the same, you will:
Take a drug test
Have your fingerprints and photo taken
Complete the education requirements
Lowest common denominator and political correctness rule in our Peoples Republic of NYC…and so it goes.
I do confess I miss those ethnic Jewish drivers who helped define New Yorkers. Fate allowed me to actually ride with an Abe Cohen in his Checker early in the 80s at the end of this era. I hailed him in Hanover Square after a downtown business lunch asking for a drop off in Midtown.
Once in motion, unprompted, Abe began his one-sided conversation, treating me to his opinions while heading north, navigating traffic along the West Side Highway. As we passed a joint advertized as, “The Anvil,” a gay S&M club in the West Village, Abe pointed at the club and exclaimed:
“You know that’s a homo joint? Would you believe I once picked up a fare there who came on to me!”
I asked, “Abe, what did you do?”
Abe, “I had to think quick. I didn’t want to lose the tip so I gave the guy a matchbook and told him to write his phone number and give it back to me so I could call him when I got off.”
Me, “So what happened?”
“I did great; he gave me a $20 tip.”