Mendel Letters 46 — Cabdriver

A line of New York City Yellow Cabs.

I applied for a “hack” license to drive a New York City yellow taxi cab as soon as I turned nineteen but didn’t start driving until the Fall 1969 semester. I stacked my college schedule at CCNY that semester to Tuesdays and Thursdays and would drive two week days and one weekend day and earn about $100, a $120 if tips were good. I usually worked out of a garage on 170th Street in the Bronx just west of Jerome Avenue.

Because of my political involvement in the anti-war and Civil Rights movements, I decided it would be wrong to bypass a customer or to avoid a neighborhood. There were many neighborhoods that were not safe for cabdrivers at night, so I decided I would only work the day shift, from 6 AM in the morning until 4 PM in the afternoon.

I was living in an apartment on Ryer Avenue and 183rd Street at the time so at about 5:30 in the morning I took the D subway four stops to 170th. I ducked into a donut shop on 170th for coffee and two donuts, one glazed and the other either Boston Creme or a cruller twist. I tried to arrive at the garage a few minutes before 6 to pick up a cab.

My usual route was to take 170th and then left on the Grand Concourse. Bronx-Lebanon Hospital was at 174th Street and there were usually nurses and aides coming off shift who wanted a ride home. If I didn’t have any luck, I headed to Manhattan over the Fordham Road Bridge across the Harlem River and then turned left down Broadway. There were always people heading to work or home from Columbia Presbyterian hospital. Once in Manhattan, week days were always busy, but traffic was brutal and competition for riders could be fierce.

Saturday and Sunday mornings were always a little slower. I headed downtown on the west side of Manhattan taking late celebrators home from a night out at the bars. In the village, Greenwich Village, there were always working women and transvestites who needed a ride. If a got lucky I got a ride to the airport and another one back to Manhattan, but by 9 AM things were definitely slowing down. I meandered back to the Bronx and stopped at my stepsister’s apartment for breakfast and a break. She also drove a cab, a night, tucking her long blonde hair under a driver’s cap. At ten, I headed to Harlem where church goers wanted cabs. This kept me busy until afternoon. From one to three I went where the rides took me, but by 3:15 I had to angle back to the Bronx to return the cab.

I drove a cab when I was 19 and 20 and I was a bit of a cowboy. I confess when the rides were slow, I cut other drivers off racing for the curb and the fare. It was a long and hard day but I was able to put away enough money so that in my senior year of college when I was student teaching, I didn’t have to work. I did work enough days to join Local 3036,the Taxi Drivers union, my first union membership.

I never had a celebrity passenger or any memorable incidents, I just drove and drove and drove.

Your son

Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.

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