De Blasio’s Got it All Wrong

Bill de blasioI’m not much of a Bill De Blasio fan. Our first Democratic Mayor in thirty years in a town that is one of the most liberal in the country, and right from the start of his administration he seems to be going out of his way to alienate a lot of people. When he won the office in a landslide back in November 2013, he was asked by reporters about hiring Republicans for his staff; his narrow-minded response was hardly inclusive and right out of the gate, he proved himself to be someone who didn’t want to reach across the aisle and bridge the divide between both parties. [Read more...]

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It’s the Quiet Ones You Gotta Worry About Sometimes

cabDriving a cab in this city, I like to think I seen it all. And then I’m proven wrong. I’ve had all kinds in the back of my car. The rich, the poor, the crazies, the drunks, celebrities, wanna-be’s, one Mayor, two Congressmen, cops, thieves, I once had two wiseguys in the back who used to be part of Gotti’s crew, and more tourists than I can remember. Everyone’s got a story. Some like to talk, some don’t want you to say a word, just leave them alone. Those are the times I keep the radio on, mostly talk radio or I’ll have the FAN on to listen to Francesa when baseball’s in season; and more often than not the ones who aren’t up for chit chat will hear something going on in the news and then they just gotta put in their two cents. [Read more...]

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Tools of the Trade

gpsMost people think driving a cab is easy. You’re sitting down all day, you get to talk to interesting people, and you’re always on the move. Sounds like a piece of cake, right? Well every cab driver who has ever lived you tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Driving a cab is tough work! Most shifts are over 8 hours, people can be rude, sitting all day is really bad for you, there’s never a good place to go to the bathroom, and on and on.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t do anything else but it’s a tough job no matter how easy and stress free we make it look (that was a joke).

Here are some must haves for anyone looking to get into a driving career that will make your day soooooo much better:

GPS

I know Manhattan like the back of my hand. I grew up here and I’ve been driving a cab for almost 2 decades. Even so, I have a GPS and have it running all the time. Every once in a while there’s some little alleyway a fare needs to go to that I’ve never heard of before. It’s so much easier just to look it up on the screen instead of getting out a map or calling dispatch. And the customers like to watch where we’re going so they know they’re not getting ripped off.

Thermos

Driving a cab doesn’t leave you with a lot of time for coffee breaks which is why I’ve been packing a thermos since day 1. It’ll keep your coffee hot or your tea cold, whichever works best for you. Of course, too much coffee leads to more bathroom breaks, which brings us to the next item on the list.

Know Your Rest Areas

Some gas stations, restaurants, and convenience stores are more friendly towards cabbies than others. Some will even let you use the facilities without buying anything. I have a secret list of places all over the City for bathroom emergencies.

Timekeeper

Call me old fashioned but I think wearing a watch while on shift is a must. I can’t tell you how many times the clock in my cab has gone out and you’re not supposed to look at your cell phone while in the car. Personally, I’m partial to tactical watches like those at http://militarywatchesreviewed.com/tactical/ because I never have to worry about them breaking, they have a bunch of alarms, and they look pretty awesome.

Lower Back Support

Sitting all day can really screw up your back. I have a good foam lower back support pillow recommended by my doctor that has changed my life. I used to have all sorts or soreness and cramping but since I started using it I feel like I’m 30 again. Try out a few different kinds to find the one that’s best for you.

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Art the Chess Player 

chessI picked up a guy yesterday, his name was Art. He was 67 years old and it was his birthday last week. He hailed me at 83rd and Amsterdam and he wanted me to take him to Union Square Park. We got to talking and he tells me he used to drive a bus for the MTA. Did it for 18 years. That’s how we got started, I told him I’d been driving a cab for 18 years. I used to have the 5pm to 5am shift, so at some point Art and I were on the streets at the same time back then.

I told him I probably honked at him a few times, Art replied he probably flipped me off a few times. We had a good laugh about it. Art retired five years ago, when his eyesight started to fade out some. Driving at night was tough and then the MTA told him he couldn’t drive the bus anymore and they offered him a job behind a desk. He said no, he didn’t have any interest in that. I certainly can’t blame him.

I sold insurance for nine months, and I hated it. Stuck at a freakin desk for eight, nine hours. Wearing the same brown slacks, choking necktie, and surrounded by four walls that cooped me up like some kind of animal as I waited for the clock to hit 6:00 like I was back in high school and had a hot date after class. I wasn’t all that good at selling insurance either. If you don’t like doing something, people know it. They don’t want to buy insurance from a guy who obviously doesn’t want to be selling it.

Anyway, it started raining and traffic got backed up around Columbus Circle. I asked Art if he wanted to get out and catch the subway, but he just shook his head. He told me liked the conversation, didn’t mind paying the extra fare. I shrugged. Asked him what he did for his birthday and he told me didn’t do anything for his birthday. Just sat at home and watched the hockey game. When you’re 67 years old, there aren’t a lot of places left to go that you haven’t already been. I caught his eye in the mirror and he looked like he was saying that just to convince himself it was okay just staying home.

I pried further because I’ve got a big mouth. I should have known better, 18 years doing this you learn to read people. Know when to engage, when to leave it alone. But there was something about Art, the look in his eyes, there was a lonely sadness in his face. I pried further and told him I hated hockey (which I do, it moves too fast and you can’t see the damn puck). He said he hated it too but there was nothing else on at the time.

So then I asked him why he didn’t make any plans, and he told me that he did but they fell through. His daughter was supposed to come into the city and go play chess with him. I asked what happened, Art told me she got tied up with work. She’s a lawyer of some kind, not like a trial lawyer or anything like that, she was in maritime law. Deals with marine shipping, transport, salvaging, stuff on the water. She got called out of town to deal with some problem with a tanker down in Florida. So she had to cancel. She’s not back yet and Art was obviously disappointed, but he understood.

So I asked him where he liked to play chess in town, and told him that I’m a pretty good player myself (which is true). I play down in Washington Square Park but I’ve started playing more in Union Square, because of all the construction noise recently. Art lit up, smiled. He told me liked to play at Village Chess. How about that. I’ve played there too. We started comparing notes. I asked him if he liked playing by the fountain Terrace at 6th in Bryant Park. He said he hadn’t been over there but he was a member at Marshall over on 10th street.

That’s not chump change either, membership over there is about $300 a year. I’ve thought about doing it but never have for whatever reason. Art says he taught his daughter how to play and every year on his birthday they play a game and go out to dinner. But not this year. I could tell he missed her and he wished it didn’t have to be this way.

I asked him what he was doing in Union Square, he said he was going to get some lunch and then go to a movie. Then his eyes lit up and he asked me how much longer I’ve got driving the cab. I had a few hours left on my shift, he said that was too bad. It’d be fun to get a game in before he had to go eat. Art had just asked me to play chess. In all the years I’ve driven a cab, I’ve never had anyone ask me to join them in doing something. I was stunned. I had to think about it for a second.

Why not? The rain had let up. We could probably get a table easy since everyone had probably scrambled for shelter. I told Art I keep a set in the trunk. Art smiled, he pulled one out of the canvas bag he had in his lap.

I shut off the meter.

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Operation Choke Point. Where Does it End?

DOJYou may have heard the news this week that J.P. Chase Morgan Bank has been closing the bank accounts of a lot of “adult entertainers” here in the city and across the country. It’s all because of a DOJ mandate called “Operation Choke Point” and it’s hurting legal businesses in an effort to clamp down on illegal practices that are preying on unsuspecting consumers by denying those shady operators access to simple banking services. It’s an idea with good intentions but, as usual, poorly thought through and implemented and it’s only hurting law-abiding Americans in the process.

That’s right, I’m defending porn stars and here’s why: I may not approve of the porn industry and everything it entails but I do know that it is a legal business and these girls who are claiming that banks like Chase, Bank of America, and more recently, the online service Paypal are closing down their accounts under over-reaching guidelines are being unfairly targeted. Morality and personal preference aside, pornography is still legal and protected under the First Amendment.

Here’s a little about what Operation Choke Point is designed to do: it’s a secretive plan on the part of the Department of Justice to crack down on around 30 specific industries, including payday lenders and online scams, by making it next to impossible for them to use traditional banking institutions in order to do business. The DOJ is insisting that these organizations close the accounts of individuals who are considered “high risk” of committing fraud and therefore deny them access to typical banking transactions.

But this program is receiving a lot of criticism from a number of experts in the field of finance, among them; Frank Keating, CEO of the American Bankers Association who believes that the DOJ is insisting that the banks “behave like policemen and judges”, by making them “identify customers who may be breaking the law or simply doing something government officials don’t like”. Once they determine such offenders, the banks are then instructed, under penalty of heavy fines, to “choke off” that person’s account.

Another outspoken critic of this newly-implemented practice is William Isaac, former head of the FDIC. He calls the program “way out of control” and says that there are 23 bipartisan members of Congress warning the DOJ that the program threatens legal businesses and threatens the well-being of the banks themselves.

There’s so much wrong with this policy. Everything from invasion of privacy to excessive amounts of misplaced authority with institutions that don’t deserve to have it. Porn stars should be able to make a living without being persecuted for their lifestyle choice. When the government can start to deem their lifestyle choices inappropriate, who’s next? Should porn be outlawed?

That’s not for me to decide, though I think there should be more stringent guidelines and harsher regulations for the production and distribution of such material; but until the day comes where it’s considered illegal, then the banks have no right to close down their accounts.

Of course, the day pornography is completely outlawed may be the day where we as a country have shifted some other values beyond our morality. Freedom of expression, for one. But until that day comes, the Obama Administration needs to rethink its stance on their intent to punish honest, hard-working Americans for making a buck. It’s not up to the DOJ to decide who’s money is good and who’s money is bad. It’s all green to me.

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The First Amendment Banned for Life in the NBA?

donal sterlingBefore this week, you’d probably never heard the name Don Sterling unless you were a fan of the NBA. He’s in the news for some comments he made to his girlfriend, in private, about his displeasure with her posting pictures of herself with black people on Instagram and bringing her friends of color to L.A. Clippers games. This woman he’s been seeing recorded his comments without his knowledge and when they were released to the public last Saturday, well, as you might expect, it caused a nationwide firestorm.

His comments were ugly, reprehensible, and a lot of people got upset. His punishment by the league was swift and final; Sterling was banned for life by the NBA, fined the league maximum of $2.5 million, and, the greater punishment meted out: the Commissioner of the League, Adam Silver intends to rally the other owners to force Sterling to sell his team. Something he’s already come out and said he ain’t going to do.

The day his punishment made news, I picked up a guy who had a problem with the way the NBA reacted. He made a few comments that I hadn’t thought about yet and they stuck with me long after I dropped him off outside the Smith and Wollensky’s on 3rd. The guy asked me if I thought the whole thing was un-American. To tell you the truth, I hadn’t considered it at the time. I mean, I sure as hell didn’t agree with Sterling’s comments, and I pretty much left it at that.

But there was another side of this story according to this guy, and that was the First Amendment. His argument was that we were missing the bigger picture here and that there were a few things in play that no one was giving much consideration. First off, Sterling has a long history of racist and sexist comments. He owns a bunch of property throughout Los Angeles, mainly apartment complexes, parking lots, things of that nature.

He paid out millions to settle housing discrimination lawsuits, and his comments about minorities living in his properties were just as controversial as the stuff he said on that tape over the weekend. This pattern of behavior is well documented, so why is the NBA doing something about it only now? Then this guy in back reminds me that these comments were made in private. If Don had no idea his so-called girlfriend was taping him, then that in itself is a crime in the state of California. That means it would be inadmissible in a court of law anyway. But go back to that other word for a second: private.

These were comments he made in the privacy of his own home. Despite how bad his comments were, he had an expectation that he was saying them in the comfort of his domain. What this guy was getting at was this: does Sterling deserve to lose his property because of an opinion he expressed, in private no less? Isn’t he protected by the First Amendment, meant to preserve the sanctity of free speech? We got to the steakhouse before either of us could come up with a solution, if any was possible, but the conversation stuck with me throughout the rest of the day. Was the NBA out of bounds in violating one of our most cherished freedoms of the Constitution?

A few of my other fares talked about the ban but most of them agreed with the decision and thought Sterling was just a jerk who deserved what he got. None of them even brought up this concept that the very American idea of the First Amendment had perhaps been trampled on by the league When I got home I looked up just what the First Amendment actually provides for;

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

That one word: law. Congress can’t make laws against free speech. That means the courts are out of it. The NBA is not the government, they’re a governing body presiding over a business. So maybe Silver had the right by the governing laws of the business he manages to enact this punishment just fine. Here’s what I know; if I had been caught making those same comments by my boss he’d fire my butt the next day.

The Government can’t arrest Donald Sterling for being a racist, but the NBA can get rid of him if he’s bad for business. And I think that’s what’s really happening here. The NBA needs to protect its brand. Un-American? The jury’s still out on that one.

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