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A Banker Falls and a Cabbie Rises

What’s your idea of a ‘typical’ New York City cabbie? Is it a heavy-set Russian who’s been driving for generations? A jovial Haitian? A Pakistani with a bluetooth clamped to his ear?

How about a recently unemployed banker descended from fallen Hungarian nobility?

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Michael Dick.

Michael started driving a taxi on January 19, 2009, after being laid off after 13 years at a $75,000 a year job at UBS.

After attending finishing school for taxi drivers at La Guardia Community College, he hit the streets and started smiling his way to big tips and a decent supplemental income (Unlike most cabbies, Michael has Social Security payments and other sources of revenue to rely on).

His most famous passengers to date? Ted Koppel and his wife, who guided him from the Ritz to Greenwich Village with the GPS on her iPhone.

“It’s an interesting experience we have as cabbies. It’s like that Forrest Gump analogy: life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Though driving a taxi means he can’t go to Peter Luger steakhouse as often as he used to, Michael still manages to indulge his passion for eating.

“If you told me I could have ten nights with the most beautiful women in the world or ten nights at the ten best restaurants in the world, I’d pick the restaurants.”

So where does a food lover of such tremendous proportions get his fix?

Michael loves the burger at Peter Luger (at $8.95, it’s something he can still afford), noodles at Mee Noodle House (on 49th St. and 2nd Ave.) and chicken and rice from Tony Dragonas’ cart on 62nd and Madison.

According to Michael, Tony serves “the best street food in Manhattan.”

At lunchtime, the line is 30-40 people deep. But cabbies get special treatment. No matter how long the queue, Tony makes sure taxi drivers get their food quickly.

Yesterday evening, I stopped by Tony’s cart to sample the goods. He happily posed for a picture (This is a man who’s used to all kinds of attention. Besides winning a Vendy Award in 2005, he’s repeatedly faced threats of shutdown from the city. In 2008, The Street Vendor Project got fans of his street meat to sign a petition and keep him grilling).

After tasting his grilled chicken and tzatziki ($6.50 with rice and salad) it’s easy to understand why Michael and his fellow cabbies are crazy about Tony’s cart – and why habitués fought to keep his business alive.

I’d eat that tender, juicy, gorgeously grilled chicken slathered in creamy, cucumber yogurt sauce eight days week – though I’d skip the rice, which I thought had a packaged seasoning aftertaste.

If you’re lucky enough to get into Michael Dick’s cab, let him to take you to Tony’s – and prepare to be charmed from start to finish.

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