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Into the Driver’s Seat: 6,400 Miles to Learn

6th Avenue & 42nd Street

Halfway through my final day in the abbreviated (24 hour) taxi class at La Guardia Community College, I took a look at New York’s 31 bridges and tunnels, its 6,400 miles of streets, 188 theaters, 28,000 acres of parks, 500 museums and galleries, and who knows how many hotels and hospitals – and I started to panic.

I knew there was no way that 24 hours of rules and regs and map reading would be enough to help me pass the December 11 exam for my yellow cab license. The next day, I signed up for the 80 hour, here’s-all-the-geography-we-can-stuff-down-your-throat course.

40 hours in, I started having the driving dreams: someone gets in my cab wearing nothing but a clown nose, or someone forces me to drive to Connecticut when neither of us knows the way, or I just keep circling Manhattan in my empty taxi, too terrified to pick anyone up.

The dreams spooked me into riding the subway with my five borough street atlas, which I open to random maps and try to memorize. Where does 5th Avenue start? Which Central Park transverse is closest to the Tavern on the Green? You may think this is overkill, but check out these sample questions from the yellow cab exam:

1. The most direct route from the Empire State Building in Manhattan to Citi Field uses:
a) Clearview Expressway
b) Long Island Expressway
c) Major Deegan Expressway
d) Cross Island Parkway

2. In Queens, the west end of Queens Blvd is:
a) Jamaica Ave.
b) Northern Blvd.
c) Roosevelt Ave.
d) Hillside Ave.

After living in New York for a measly five months, they might as well be asking me to navigate the moon. Thank goodness I’m going on a practice drive with Constance Barnes (a.k.a. the cabbie in the purple fedora) tomorrow – I’ll tell you all about it next week.

In the meantime, if you happen to get into a yellow taxi in New York City or anywhere in the world this weekend, please salute your driver. Obviously, I’ve always believed that we should appreciate our cabbies, but until I started the journey from observer to participant, I didn’t realize how much respect they really deserve.

Answers: 1. b) 2. b)

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  1. It could be worse…they could force you to drive to Rhode Island. You’ll do fine. Heck, I drive like an old woman(really I do). :)