When I landed at JFK many moons ago as a little girl from Dominican Republic my cousin Mario picked us up in a checkered cab he drove. WOW! I had never seen a car like that in my short 7 years on this earth and was instantly smitten by the small drop down seat on the partition that had me facing everyone else in the back. There was no seat belt for that seat. I guess they figured that the partition would protect me if we got hit from the back and if we got hit from the front I’d fall into my parents’ lap.
The checkered cab was slowly phased out like the subway token (RIP tokens, one of the best gifts I ever got was a bag of 10 tokens from a guy I was dating….sigh. Where is he?) Cabs (checkered or otherwise) and NYC just go together like Times Square and hookers, I have a thing for hookers, let me have it. I once ran out of my building and yelled “TAXI!” at a passing yellow cab, and as I was getting in I heard a tourist say, “I never heard anyone actually do that!” Oh dear tourists, do you think Hollywood just thought that up because it’s cute? There isn’t one movie, TV show or commercial based in NYC that doesn’t include the iconic vehicles. Tell me you haven’t once fantasized of being Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy while crossing the streets of NYC and yelling “I’m walkin’ here!” Or pretend you were John McClane, being driving around by Zeus (Hey Zeus!) in Die Hard with a Vengeance? Or hoped the driver in that taxi you just hailed didn’t have a Travis Bickle fantasy? Or hoped you’d have your own version of HBO’s Taxicab Confessions!
Like subway tokens, cabs were only accessible with cash until a few years ago in NYC. When they started taking cards a few years ago I started riding them more often. There’s an art to telling a cab driver your desired destination. You don’t jump in and say “take me to 125th and Lexington Avenue” I mean you CAN, but if you’re a professional taxi rider like me you say “one two five and lex, please” I love riding cabs, I have had full meals, make out sessions, changed clothes, taken naps, and thrown up in cabs (the latter I did into a bag I carry for just that purpose. Seriously, I carry barf bags, I know my limits). One of my favorite cab activities although SUPER illegal, was cab drag racing. I only did this when I had first time guests from out of town and we had to split into two cars. Whenever we’d end up side by side at a light I’d yell “I bet we’ll get there before you do, your guy probably doesn’t even know where he’s going!” and then it’s on! Your friends will be freaked out, curse you out from the near heart attacks, some might even throw up (carry a bag) and have a glorious ‘only in New York’ moment. Oh and you might save a few pennies since the cab will probably run a few lights. PLEASE do not try this, I did this in my 20’s when I was young and stupid and the city was a bit more lawless.
All cities have yellow cabs but there’s nothing like riding in a real NYC one. When you get a seasoned driver who Archie Bunker was probably modeled after you can have GREAT conversations about the history of the city, how much it’s changed and what are all the cool spots to check out these days.
Alas the yellow cab will slowly disappear as well with all the new means of transportation like Uber, Lyft, and Via just to name a few, but it’s allure and iconic status will remain forever.