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May 14, 2007

Yellow Checker Taxi

When I was a young man, all of 18 years, I drove a Checker cab in NYC. What a beauty of a vehicle, which I, of course, didn't appreciate back then. I was also playing in a rock-and-roll band and going to Brooklyn College, but those are other stories. Every weekend, I showed up at the massive taxi garage on Flatbush Avenue (the fleet dispatched nearly 200 taxis), picked up the keys to my assigned cab, and headed north on Flatbush Avenue towards the Manhattan Bridge. It was mellower to work the streets of Brooklyn (if anything about driving taxi anywhere in NYC could be termed "mellow"), but the money was in Manhattan, so that's where I hacked.

My first week on the job, I decide to take my dinner break at an East Side Italian joint on Third Avenue. I order my pie, and the waitress asks me if I want a beer with that. Right away, my ego is boosted by a waitress thinking I'm old enough to order beer. I say, "Sure, give me a Budweiser." She says, "Hey, a glass is fifty cents (this was 1,000 years ago), but I can bring ya a pitcher for a buck." I go, "Sure, why not? Make it a pitcher."

An aside regarding my brand of substance abuse at this time in my life. As hard as this may seem to believe, I had rarely, if ever, drunk beer. This was the post-hippie/pre-disco era, and, for my friends and I, the mind-altering substance of choice was, you guessed it, marijuana. Yes, we inhaled, and mightily. Beer drinking was considered vaguely unhip, strictly for the "straight world."

So, out comes the pizza pie and my frosty pitcher of Bud. As I'm scarfing down the 'za and guzzling glass after glass of the ale, I'm thinking, Wow, what have I been missing? Beer is good!"

I finish up my dinner, and leave a big fat tip with the check, informing my waitress just how great she is. This must have meant a lot to her coming from a scruffy teenager with a long ponytail and a ragged army jacket. The next thing I remember is cruising south on Lexington Avenue, happy as a clam, reflecting on my new love affair with beer. I think I'm gonna have beer with every meal, even breakfast. This stuff is awesome.

"Hey cabbie - do you mind pulling over at the newsstand on 25th? I need to pick up the Post."

I look up at the rear-view mirror into the face of a middle-aged man in a dark suit. I have no memory of picking him up and not a clue where I'm taking him.

"Sure," I said, "no problem, sir." As I begin to pull over to the curb at the paper stand, I add, effecting my best air of nonchalance, "Where are we going again? Was that Houston Street?"

"Houston Street?" he replied, mildly perturbed. "I told you Vescey Street. You got that, now?" New Yorkers don't suffer fools gladly.

"Yes, sir," I replied, trying to sound way more coherent than I felt. My refreshing dinner beverage had worked it's way through my digestive tract and was now sloshing back and forth in my brain cavity. "Vescey Street it is."

May 14, 2007 at 03:18 PM in A Cabdriver's World | Permalink


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Mr. Pontiac, though I'm not sure of your age, could it not have been that 18 was the legal drinking age back then? It certainly was in New York in the early to mid-1970s.

Posted by: Dell | May 15, 2007 3:47:14 PM

Dell: Yup, it was legal for an 18 year-old to buy alcohol back then. But it was probably not a great idea to drink a pitcher of beer and drive the Checker Cab up and down the streets of the Big Apple. I did survive, though.

Posted by: Jernigan Pontiac | May 15, 2007 5:07:33 PM

My oh my! This is a rousing tale! Drunk driving and a pot smoking admission! LOVING IT!

Posted by: Eva | May 17, 2007 2:33:33 AM


A long shot, but you seem to be about the same age--did you know Jimmy Lerner (author of "You Got Nothing Coming") when you were hacking in NYC? I believe that he went to Brooklyn College as well, and I know that he drove a cab in the early '70s...

Posted by: Chip | May 21, 2007 2:24:14 PM

Nope, Chip - Jimmy Lerner doesn't ring a bell. Keep in mind, Brooklyn College had about 50,000 undergrads when I attended!

Posted by: Jernigan Pontiac | May 22, 2007 12:10:03 PM

Hey Jernigan,
Love your stuff... I'm just getting caught back up after a few down days and really like the Checker rememberance. I drove one about the same time, late 70's, right here in Burlington and it was a truly great car. I have a lot of fond memories of my own hacking days and your bi-weekly more often than not strikes right at home. Keep it up.

Posted by: Jay | May 24, 2007 6:11:58 PM

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