Baby, you can drive my car.
That’s what I was hoping the owner of the taxi garage on Bergen St. was going to tell me this morning when I bounced over there on Huseyin Kanal‘s recommendation. The cabbie assured me that it was a good garage, that it was clean, that the owners were cool.
As I walked down 4th Avenue in Park Slope, I also discovered that Huseyin’s garage just happens to be around the corner from No Pork (the halal Chinese restaurant that cabbie Laskar Korshed is wild about. Could this be his garage, too?).
I stepped into the parking lot and buried my nervousness beneath a mask of chipper. I was used to facing the question marks in the eyes of my classmates at taxi school. But I assumed that convincing a garage owner that I’m fit to go behind the wheel – despite the fact that I’ve never actually driven a cab – was going to demand a different level of persuasion.
I knew before he opened his mouth that the answer would be “no.” In a single glance, he took in my winter coat (a full-length brown suede hand-me-down from Mom that has inspired more than one person on the street to ask me where I got it), the red purse that’s bigger than a 1-year old, my high-heeled loafers and the hair I’d done up for a morning meeting. I didn’t belong.
“Have you ever driven a cab?”
“How long have you had your New York driver’s license?”
“Since October. But I’ve had a California license since 1990.”
“You need at least two years of driving experience in New York. Our insurance won’t accept your California driving record. Thank you for stopping by.”
In the time it took for you to read that dialog, I was rejected from my first garage.
How many cabbies actually have two years of New York driving experience under their belts? Still, I knew it was pointless to argue. I walked away from the Bergen St. garage (and from visions of becoming a No Pork regular).
I thought about going home to dress down before heading over to garage #2 in Long Island City, but decided against it. Coat or no coat, heels or tennis shoes, I’d still be an anomaly, and I’d still be carrying my ridiculous purse.
Heads swiveled when I marched through the parking lot at Team Systems Corp, and I ignored the stares and murmurs of the drivers in the ‘lounge’ who were waiting to be dispatched.
When I stood on my tiptoes, handed the man behind the glass my hack license, and asked him whom I should talk to about driving a cab, he told me to come around and step into his office.
“Have you ever driven a cab?”
“No, but I got a 96 on my exam.”
“You’re already over-qualified. Here,” he said, handing me a stack of forms, “Fill these out and give me your driver’s license.”
He led me to a desk flanked by a swimsuit calendar and a bumper sticker that read: “Never drive faster than your angel can fly.”
Five minutes later, my driving record cleared, I handed over my forms, and Allen the cashier was giving me an orientation. I was in!
“If you get in an accident, bring the car back to the garage,” he began, “If it’s not serious, we’ll get you back on the road. If it’s bad, you’ll have to fill out an accident report with the ladies in the office.”
“Day shifts start at 5am. Even if you don’t get a car until 6, you still have to bring it back by 5pm. You know we have a lot of drivers right now. Because of the economy, we can’t guarantee you a car.”
Yes, I knew.
“Do you know how to work the meter?”
Rabin sat me down in the driver’s seat of his cab, hopped in the passenger side, and explained the inner workings of the meter and the GPS (designed to give the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission the ability to find any one of its 13,000 cabs at any given moment). He reeked of cigarettes, but he didn’t seem to mind that I was clueless.
As the cabbie/radiologist-in-training broke down the functions of each button, seeds of panic sprouted in my stomach. I imagined a series of worst case scenarios. It was too easy to picture myself pressing all the wrong buttons, pissing off my passengers, getting lost, crashing the cab –
“It’s easy,” Rabin said, “No problem.”
When I went back into the office to thank Allen and put down a deposit on my EZ-pass, I ran into Joe Hennessy, my reserved but very kind defensive driving teacher. He remembered me from class.
“So you want to drive a cab?”
He handed me his card, and I discovered that in addition to being a defensive driving instructor, a 40-year veteran hack, a World War II veteran who’d served in the same regiment as Elvis, and a father of four girls, Joe Hennessy is also the General Manager at Team Systems Corps. This is a good thing.
“Drive safely,” he said.
I promised him I would. Starting Sunday.