Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I've spent the better part of a week and a half reading this book: Taxi! A Social History of the New York Cabdriver. For the most part, this is a title that delivers. It's a long, well researched, jaunt across the eras from the original cabbies of New York emergence in 1907 to the contemporary industry of 2006.

Overall the chapters are extremely dry. This is a history book, it makes no pretenses of being anything else. And there is the odd gross grammar error and edit glitch to smirk at here and there. I did enjoy mostly the anecdotes peppered throughout the text. However, they are too spare to really make it light reading. For those looking for a comprehensive look at the evolution of this industry in New York, this is probably the book. The beginning few chapters cover decade spans each, attempting to convey the brimming emotions and zeitgeist prevalent to the era.

Both industry/union strikes and the legislation that lead to certain elements of the modern day career are developed. The slang and the attitudes of both cabbies and the public are discussed. And some of my favorite parts of the text involve the popular portrayals of cabdrivers in movies. I will probably try to purchase some of these films and TV shows to draw more ideas for Vexations.

The image of the cover is a link to the book at Amazon.com. I suggest anyone who has any interest in these interesting people who prowl the city streets, providing that last link in transit to many millions of people a year, get it and read it.

I gravitated to this book because of Ms. Vex Harrow's taxi driving experiences. I already read Mean Streets, but that didn't give me a lot of comprehension of the history of a whole. While New York City isn't much like Phoenix – or so I gather – it is another large city and some of its problems will be reflected here. Her taxi isn't supposed to be just some paper-mâché backdrop, it’s her lifeline, and my best method for bringing the audience into Phoenix.

I have a lot of experience riding in cabs, but not driving them. It is, therefore, necessary for me to bridge those gaps.

Who is more free on the streets than a taxi cab driver? Catching fares from various areas and conveying them to and fro with a veteran ease. They are blurry birds, acute in their apprehension of the motion of traffic and the layout of the city. If there is a heartbeat driving those arteries, they’d know it. It’s the perfect place for someone like Vex to gaze at the motions of the city around her—it gives me the perfect chance to move the world through the backseat of her cab and deliver their hearts, minds, and lifelines to the audience through her senses.

And it gives me numerous, less-than-contrived, entrances to the otherworldly wonders that Phoenix possesses.

And everyone is invited.


Jess said...

Try out a San Francisco taxi sometime. They have no pretensions at being anything other than the homicidal/suicidal couriers of doom that they are. Lived there two years... Learned quickly to avoid cabs-they were as likely to mow you down as pick you up.

Kyt Dotson said...

"Couriers of doom." That phrase reminds me readily of an anecdote, I believe, I heard from the Taxi! book about how a particular bronzed statue in a New York district had to be moved.

It displayed a man, waving into the street as if hailing a cab. Numerous accidents crunched and fisticuffs erupted from cabbies fighting over this "fare." Until the city moved the bronze man away from the curb.

The moral? "Beware bronze men bearing hats."

I haven't been back to San Francisco since my early childhood -- perhaps once when I was a Freshman in college -- but I'll keep that in mind. I suppose that I've been lulled into a sense of comfort by the sedate taxi's that roam Mill.

Thanks for posting!