So, You Want to Drive a New York City Taxi? A taxi hack needs to know the city streets inside and out — and becoming an ace in cities like New York is no easy task. Noel Hidalgo lets the Bryant Park Project ride along on his first day as a member of Gotham's yellow fleet.
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So, You Want to Drive a New York City Taxi?

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So, You Want to Drive a New York City Taxi?

So, You Want to Drive a New York City Taxi?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/90060578/90060551" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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MIKE PESCA, host: As far as first days on the jobs go it doesn't get much more daunting than that of a New York City cabbie. Imagine that. A young man named Noel Hidalgo went out for his very first shift last week, and 14 fares in, he picked up a nightmare customer, just an obnoxious New Yorker with a lot of opinions.

RACHEL MARTIN, host: Who's that?

PESCA: Me.

MARTIN: Oh, yeah.

PESCA: Noel's not your typical hack. He's blogging, and video-blogging, and Twittering the new gig, and he let me ride shotgun as he navigated the streets of New York and its demanding citizens.

Mr. NOEL HIDALGO (New York Cab Driver): Now, what we do is we just drive patiently, and passively, and looking for people who have their hands up, looking for taxicab fares, and not trying to run over messengers.

PESCA: It's funny because whenever I talk to cabbies you always get the, oh, I've seen everything on this job. Fourteen fares in, can you say it?

Mr. HIDALGO: No, not yet, although then I think most of my fares, once they start talking to me, are more surprised that I'm their taxicab driver than anything else.

PESCA: Why? Do you drop some cultural reference?

Mr. HIDALGO: You know, well, I just flat-out tell them, hey, today's a beautiful day, and it's a beautiful day to be in my taxicab, because today's my first day. And then they kind of freak out a little bit. You can see their eyes just kind of open up like a can of sardines, because they just want to get to work, and they don't want to have to deal with anything.

PESCA: Then again, the guys who have been driving forever are usually the maniacs.

Mr. HIDALGO: Well, yeah, there is something to be said about that. Many years ago, I said that I would never drive in Manhattan again, and I would never drive my Volkswagen van, nor would I drive my scooters or motorcycles here. Now all of a sudden, I am the enemy. I am the one thing that I feared coming close to, and now I'm sitting in it, and wondering, wow, now I have to be careful.

PESCA: It's a long process just to become a cabdriver. Classes, and then there's a physical, there's an English proficiency test, and Noel missed one. Then there's the geography test, which he passed with a 76. He told me has been asking veteran cabbies for advice.

Mr. HIDALGO: They said really it's about repetition. You'll find the best routes once you get onto the road. This is an on the job experience. It is purely about what the state of the city is in that particular day, that particular hour, and you just have to feel for it.

After spending so many hours driving around, I kind of feel like a fisherman already, where I have to know where the school of fish are going to be, and have to know how to lay my net down on it at one particular level, and just kind of work from there.

PESCA: What do they tell you in terms of advice on, where to go for a bite to eat, or a place to go to the bathroom?

Mr. HIDALGO: Bite to eat is wherever you can find a parking spot and a place that you like. Going to the bathroom, that's a whole other story. Now that the city has public restrooms, it's nice that I can hopefully find a spot and go to the bathroom.

Otherwise, I'd have to go to a relief stand that's situated throughout the city, but there's no concise list. Most hotels offer some type of taxi concierge if they have a relatively large taxi stand. All three airports have them. Everybody else tells you get a big bottle and hold it.

PESCA: Noel picked up the job because at the end of the day you have cash in your pocket, and it leaves his mind free to work on a book. Before this gig, Noel went around the world on 7,777 dollars, all donated. His idea was to see all seven continents, although hitchhiking to Antarctica didn't really work. But he really does need this gig. It frees up his mind, but he does need the pay, and for now, he's just trying to learn the streets, and he's just picked up a fare.

Mr. HIDALGO: Let me just figure out from here because today happens to be my first day.

Unidentified Woman: Oh!

Mr. HIDALGO: The best way to get from here would be to shoot down on Third, Bowery, or...

Unidentified Woman: No, you're headed west right now.

Mr. HIDALGO: Yeah, I should turn around.

Unidentified Woman: Keep going to the Westside because Barrack is all the way west.

Mr. HIDALGO: OK.

Unidentified Woman: It comes to like Hudson on the Westside, so you want to go more towards Seventh Avenue.

Mr. HIDALGO: OK.

PESCA: There must be a lot of streets in Manhattan you've never heard of.

Mr. HIDALGO: Uh, you know, I really get confused when I go to the Upper West Side. There are a multitude of streets that I could possibly get confused on, and that's because while it's still a grid, the names change, and because of the names changing that's a very confusing situation.

PESCA: For instance, do you know where Walker Street is?

Mr. HIDALGO: No. We're crossing it. One of my early fares yelled at me for not knowing SoHo as well, but I was very honest with her. Ma'am, this is my first day on the job. I'm very, very frustrated and nervous, and if you could just help me out. And she was like, I can't believe that they give you guys taxicab licenses without giving you a GPS or a map, and I'm like well, actually we have a map, and you were kind of standoffish to begin with...

PESCA: Everyone has to have a first day. You know, how could you argue I can't believe they let a first time driver on the job?

Mr. HIDALGO: Yeah.

PESCA: It's essentially what she was saying.

Mr. HIDALGO: Yeah, well, I went to go get a cup of coffee and the woman who served me my coffee it was her second day on the job. I mean, you know, you can tell her little bit of nervousness, a little bit of frustration, but, you know, those are the things.

PESCA: Noel Hidalgo, thanks so much for your time, man.

Mr. HIDALGO: Thanks, Mike. It's been a real pleasure, and I hope to see you back in my cab someday.

PESCA: I hope so. That'd be awesome! Take care.

Unidentified Woman: This is good. Thank you.

Mr. HIDALGO: Oh, right here?

Unidentified Woman: Yup. Thank you.

Mr. HIDALGO: Thank you!

Unidentified Woman: Have a good day.

Mr. HIDALGO: You, too.

Unidentified Woman: You all done?

Mr. HIDALGO: Thank you.

Unidentified Woman: Are you proud?

Mr. HIDALGO: Bye!

MARTIN: Mike, he was so earnest.

PESCA: That's right. He admitted upfront, he had that little spiel, it's my first day on the job. I think the people who were in the cab with me, there was one eight-year-old kid was going to tour the city unfazed. There were three Spanish people, and he regaled them with stories where he ran with the bulls.

Yeah, I think uncomprehending, and then there was that woman that you just heard who said oh, I don't want to be taped, but she couldn't be more kind to the guy. I think she just processed it as hey, it's another New York experience. First day taxi, guy doing a report on him.

MARTIN: Sure.

PESCA: Happens all the time.

MARTIN: So, he's not from New York?

PESCA: He's from Dayton, Ohio. His whole family has been in the military, and this is I guess his time in the service, and as far as tips, because that was one other question I asked him, he was getting decent tips, you know?

MARTIN: He was?

PESCA: He does - most people...

MARTIN: I tip nice cabbies.

PESCA: What I do is I almost always just round up and add a buck, unless it's, you know, a really expensive fare, and that, in general, is what people were doing. We will link to Noel Hidalgo on our blog, npr.org/bryantpark.

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