Tuesday, January 4
In my senior year in college I needed to increase
my income in order to afford an apartment.
I had been working in the Night
Division office at the college for a couple of dollars
an hour to pay for books, pens, paper, the minimal
wardrobe of a college student,
food (usually consumed with friends in the student cafeteria
or cheap restaurants), endless cups of coffee, and, of
course, the bookish person's standby
in that era, the perpetual cigarette
(given up long ago).. Usually
I slept in the filthy fraternity house bunks (Delta
Kappa Epsilon- I joined because it was one of the
few fraternities at the"subway Harvard" that had
a place to sleep- the initiation, of course,
was stupid and horrible.) Lucky for me, I had a friend-Bart
Craig-whose aunts (they were nannies) let us use
their apartment for free when they were working.
Why didn't I appreciate then how kind this was, though
I did feel really lucky to get away from that
horrid fraternity house littered with beer bottles,
mold and dust that was over a hundred years old.
When I was living in Florida as a high school
senior I got my driver's license- at that time
you could get them at age 17, after taking a
course in driver's ed. I still remember the film
*Death On the Highway*, with its frightening
photos of highway deaths, including a set
of triplets whose heads,
as a result of some horribly gruesome
nightmare of a highway crash,
had been detached from their bodies,
dangling from some phone or electricity highwires. This terrified
me, as it was obviously meant to, and I became
an incredibly cautious driver. I'm a little looser
now when I drive a car, but not much.
Although at first I was understandably
quite anxious about what I
was facing, as soon as I got the hang of it,
I came to love my taxi driving job.
Anyway, there was no choice:
I was getting married and I needed the money.
I worked from a garage
in the Bronx filled with interesting types of old-
timers with lots of complaints and stories to tell.
At first I drove my cab down Park Avenue thinking
rich people would give me bigger tips. They
didn't, and it was my first lesson in Capitalism,
why the rich get richer, etc. Also, Park Avenue
was simpler, since I could figure out the trips very
easily. Soon I learned that the "fares" (as they
were called) like to give you the trip instructions,
so it was rarely a problem finding how to get to a destination.
I was only beaten out of a fare once, when someone
took me to Queens and never came out of the house
to bring me the promised money. I was never robbed,
even though soon after I started- which was in the
summer-no air conditioners then- I switched to nights
because of the heat and the traffic.
The most interesting customer I ever had was the then famous
psychic and astrologer Jeanne
Dixon, who predicted the Nixon presidency as we drove
along-fortunately for me it was a long drive in heavy traffic.
She didn't make any personal predictions, but she was
astute about politics and very charming. I also
had a famous actress in my cab once
who complained about the traffic
when I got her to her play late. I can't remember who
it was now. There's a restaurant in the East 20's
and Madison, which is still there, where taxi drivers
like to eat, day and night. Whenever I pass by there
I think of these halcyon days in the mid- 60's. I was rarely
bored or lonely, but I did come to strongly dislike drivers from
New Jersey. To this day, if I notice someone driving
strangely I think to myself "Jersey driver" and usually
I am right (as I did then, I quickly check the
license plate; no offense to my friend the
philosopher and former Dean of Humanities at
CCNY, Martin Tamny, who lives in New Jersey
and is an excellent driver-he and his wife Myrna
gave me a couch to sleep on when I left home as a
Freshman-but that is another story).
One of the things that toughened me up
and prepared me for a realistic
attitude towards life in New York was
having to drive through masses of pedestrians. You
learn to drive towards them like you didn't care if you
ran them over-this was very difficult for me as I was
shy and tender-hearted, but soon I learned
that they always automatically move
out of the way without a thought or blinking of an eyelid.
My next job after this was to be a social worker for
Jewish Family Services which I found interesting,
but I still missed the cab driving job. In a way, I still do, though
drivers now have to advance a lot of money to rent
their cabs and only earn the amount they make over
the cost. Obviously, it pays to own your own cab,
but naturally this is rare, as the "medallions"
or ownership rights now
cost a fortune and are limited in number.
This is a great job if you enjoy
talking to people and hate having a boss.
But now it is terribly dangerous due to the frequency of