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The Hack as Hero: Part 2

The Village Voice called her “a driver worthy of a superhero comic book” and voted her the best cab driver in New York in 2004.

The New York Observer dubbed her “Iris the Fare.”

I call this 39-year-old mother of three – who dressed dolls and drove 18-wheelers before she found her calling as a lady cabbie – fierce.

Iris Javed has been shot twice while driving her cab (caught in the cross-fire of drug deals gone bad). She’s been stabbed (when she jumped out of her cab to stop a man from beating his wife on the streets of Manhattan). She (unknowingly) drove a getaway car for three drug dealers going to Spanish Harlem.

She’s had naked people get in her cab. She’s had people have sex in her back seat. She’s had countless girls get in her taxi and confess that they’ve just slept with men whose names they didn’t know. She calls everyone ‘sweetie.’

After being sexually assaulted at 13, Iris’ father kicked her out of her house in Williamsburg. She learned sign language while spending many nights on the subway by studying the cards that deaf people passed out to passengers.

When the mythologist-philosopher Joseph Campbell said “The hero’s journey is like a birth – without the blood and the tearing and the pain, there is no new life,” he was speaking in metaphors. But in Iris’ case, you can interpret his words literally.

Somehow, Iris learned to make really good lemonade from very sour lemons. On behalf of the women of New York City, she’s taken all the violence she’s survived and transformed it into street wisdom that keeps her – and her passengers – safe. She thrives on the danger and the strangeness of her job.

“If I stopped driving a taxi, I think I’d die,” she told me, “My husband says it makes me stronger.”

She now has about 60 regular lady customers who call her whenever they need a ride through the Naked City. She only drives at night. Most of the time, Lulu, her white Shih Tzu, is with her.

“Everyone loves Lulu,” she said, “She usually sits on my neck. People think she’s a fur coat ’til she starts moving around.”

Despite her rough childhood, Iris has fond memories of deep sea fishing with her dad, who came to New York from Puerto Rico and made a living selling his catch on the docks of Brooklyn.

When she’s craving seafood mofongo (the signature dish of Puerto Rico, made from mashed plantains) and doesn’t have time to make it herself, Iris told me she heads to Sofrito (400 E. 57th Street).

I’m going to Sofrito tomorrow night to taste the dish for myself. Stay tuned for the food report.

In the meantime, if you’re in a bind and need a ride, Iris wants you to have her number: (347) 613-6080. Note to pet owners: dogs ride for free, as long as they’re nice to Lulu.

Photo credit: ZeroOne on Flickr

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