Thursday, May 7, 2009

Coruscations of Cadmium Yellow Light

This past week I witnessed something heartbreaking at one of the most disconcertingly vertiginous intersections of Manhattan. A yellow cab had attempted to turn left from Houston unto Broadway at the designated turning lane. Due to the construction and the less-than-assertive vehicle(s) waiting to turn in front of him, he'd gotten stuck in the crosswalk when it turned red. Sure enough a meter maid walked over and proceeded to scan his windshield for the VIN code.

As I drove slowly past them, I noticed the cabdriver had tears coming down his cheeks as he pleaded in anguish. It's not easy on one's mental/emotional sanity when after toiling away for half a dozen hours, one only then begins to earn one's measly income, only to have $115 of it (well over 50%) commandeered by the city for an offense that occurred (in part) because of the city's own lack of public work expedite.

BEWARE: when entering the FDR at it's very beginning (out of the 9A underpass) you might be under the impression that you still have a few hundred yards to speed before you have to slow it down to under 40 mph for the cop on foot with a radar gun who stands on the shoulder by the Brooklyn Bridge. Well, don't be so sure. There is often a hiding patrol car as soon as you come out from underneath Battery Park. Get in the habit of driving like a granny before you even exit the tunnel. A friend of mine had to learn this the hard way.

CAUTION: When traversing west through the park at 66th, be careful with the left only turning lane as you approach Central Park West. If you choose to travel straight (towards Lincoln Center), beware of a police trap motioning people to pull over on the other side of the intersection. Many of us (cabdrivers) tend to get in that lane so as not to wait behind vehicles that tend to take forever to get going once it turns green. People (and cops) don't understand that sometimes mere seconds of delay separate us from a better income.

WARNING: I continue receiving similar reports from fellow cabdrivers that at 42nd and 7 Av there are officers on foot who pull over motorists who have an earpiece on or a cell phone in their hand. Don't wait until it happens to you. Remove those Bluetooths from your face in Times Square.

Some garages give you the cab with a full tank and expect you to return it that way. My garage is the opposite. The amount you put into the empty tank when you start is at your discretion and whatever leftover gas there is at the end of the shift is surrendered to the next driver. It makes no sense, I know. All of us are always trying to return our cabs with the needle as low as possible. Problem is that not every needle is accurate.

I ran out of gas for the first time a couple weeks ago. I was on York and 71st, off duty and headed home towards the Queensboro Bridge. I had to run 10 blocks to the Mobil and purchase a $17 gas can that included 2 gallons of fuel. I took a $4 cab ride back to my cab. I made it to the garage in the nick of time. It would have been wiser to be less stingy and just put in an extra $5 that morning.

ADVICE: Try to avoid 91st Street on weekday mornings. There's a long row of schools between Park and Fifth and you're bound to get stuck behind yellow buses and parents dropping off. I learned this when I picked up an agitated suit on Lexington and 92nd. He said, "you can cut over to 5th whenever you get a chance" (traffic was thick on both Lex and Park). So I took that first available right turn, which only remedied things for a single block. He huffed and puffed in the backseat incessantly and kept repeating, "this is such a buzzkill. OMG, this is such a buzzkill."

I recently stopped by the DMV to get an abstract of my driving record printed out. I was curious to calculate how many points I still had, considering they get erased 18 months after the conviction date. At one point, about a year into my taxi career, I had accumulated 9 points (only 3 away from suspension), with two tickets still pending. A scenario like this is not uncommon for new cabdrivers. Everyone learns through trial and error when what rules can and can't be broken.

Right now I'm back down to having only 2 points on my record, both of which should disappear 2 months from now. But I still have those 3 unresolved tickets that were written over a year ago, which my taxi lawyer keeps rescheduling every 3 months or so. What he does for all his cabbie clients is to keep asking the court for new hearings until the violation date is so antiquated that some nice judge comes along and throws it out altogether.

I want to share the details of my driving record with you, so you may learn from my mistakes.....

Since I first got my driver license at the age of 16 (Florida in 1997), I had only gotten pulled over once (for going about 10 mph over the limit on I-95). It was not until I switched over to NY state in the Spring of 2006 that my record took a nosedive. It started with a $150 "bicycle red light violation" when a cop on a bike pulled me over while I was working as a bike messenger in Midtown Manhattan.

Half a year later and only a handful of days after beginning my life as a yellow cabdriver, I was on Fifth Av. in Harlem when, while going around Mount Morris Park at 124th, an unmarked cruiser smacked me with a $90 "disobeying traffic device" for pressing the brake pedal only 90% of the way to the metal at a stop sign (at 4:45 am).

A couple of months later I was taking a Dutch tourist couple down Fifth Av. in the 60s. Traffic was at a standstill, but the bus lane remained empty. Naively I believed that, as a taxicab, I'd be considered another form of efficient public transportation, and be given the same special treatment as buses. I cruised down that lane self-admiringly for 5 blocks before multicolored lights suddenly flashed brightly in my mirrors. Slapped with a $90 "improper use of the bus lane".

Four months later I was taking a Wall Street investor to work down Broadway. Not only had it just turned 7am a split second ago, but there was a double parked delivery truck with its hazard lights on in the only lane not reserved for buses. My passenger was running behind schedule and asked if I could step on it. Therefore I shifted unto the bus lane, and before I could return to my designated lane I got hit with yet another bus lane violation. My passenger even wrote and signed a witness letter on my behalf, and this was the first ticket I took to court, instead of just pleading guilty. I appeared alone to defend myself, but between the lying cop and the snarly judge, I did not stand a chance.

Only 13 days later, in what seemed to be my August of bad luck Augusts, I was the last vehicle making a left at the green turn arrow from Bowery to Broome. It changed from yellow to red as I followed closely behind the tail end of a frustratingly slow caravan of cars that had all gotten a late start because there is always someone at the front of the line who fails to realize that there is a turning arrow (until everyone's horn's been exhausted). I should have stayed behind one more light cycle but it was a Death Valley kind of day and I just wanted to quickly find fares so I could leave Manhattan before someone would complain about the malfunctioning A/C.

Besides, it's a common maneuver among experienced motorists, except for when there's a patrol car standing right there. It was too late. And due to the fact that this was techniquely my 2nd red light violation (even though the 1st was on a bicycle), the fine went to $300. It was also then that I surpassed the 6 point threshold that would now require me to also pay what are known as Driver Responsibility Assesment fees, for this and every other conviction thereafter.

I managed to steer clear of the police until nine days into the new year (2008), when I was caught and convicted for making a left turn from Astoria Blvd. unto Crescent (in Queens) after 7 am. It was one of those little golf cart type 'interceptors' that was hiding on the sidewalk that morning. Since then I have not accrued anymore points, for two reasons.

#1: I've become evermore streetwise and keen on the enforcement patterns of the blue.
#2: I've taken the 3 latest tickets (all received a little under and over a year ago) to a lawyer who serves and specializes in taxicab drivers only. He's managed to delay these cases for long enough to allow my record to clean itself up almost entirely.

In case you're wondering, those last three violations are as follows:
1. Yet a third bus lane ticket for veering to the right at a temporary construction island on Broadway at Fulton Street. The signs were so abrupt and contradicting. I had to choose to go around this unprecedented barrier from one of two sides. It all happened so quick. I chose the side from which you must turn right, which I did not intend to do. It's all such baloney.

2. Turning right from 34 unto 7 Av about 5 minutes after 8 am on a ghost town of an early Sunday morning. They call it "disobeying a traffic device". Again. More baloney.

3. Going 50 mph in a 30 zone along Cross Bay Blvd.. Trick is that the posted speed limit
IS 50 mph until you enter the residential district of Broad Channel. An undercover squad car sits behind some bushes in the median and stings people just as they see the sign that says 30 mph.


  1. Congrats on the new post, hot stuff.

  2. brilliant. gives me lots of ideas on a post. my bat's knda low now and to top it off i can't get into my parent's place at the moment. after a good evening's(?) sleep i'll get started i figure.

    I always thought 6 points was the suspension, which obviously has always made me a nervous wreck. we've talked about the responsibility fees, now that's a crock, but there are worse things than giving the city money, it should be tax free, you know, a charitable donation.

    that's ridiculous that they'd give a biker points on the license. does a bike messenger need a drivers license?