The Checkered Taxis Project

Jose Vilson Race

New York Cab

To interpolate Jeremiah Wright Jr., I’ve had too many cabs whiz by me and not pick me up.

Over the last 8 months, just by informal observation, I’ve been passed over by an NYC yellow taxi cab 60% of the time (9 times out of 15, more or less). Of course, I’m basing this on knowing that a cab is on duty when their number is highlighted above their cars, they have no passengers, and, in a couple of cases, the cab stops and keeps bobbing his head. As a matter of fact, I’ve actually had a cabbie wave at me while he passed by. I’ve had witnesses of all backgrounds come up to me after observing a passing and say “That’s fucked up.” I even had one cabbie who, after I saw him stopped at a light, shake his head after I opened his door (before I even gave him my address).

But this isn’t anything new. I’m sure it’s been happening since a public cab service became available in New York City, yet one might believe that, because of the diversity that exists amongst the driving corp of that company, we’d see less discrimination based on color, or whatever they perceive as such. After all, I’m just as brown as any African, dark Latino, or Indian, but I suppose what we think we see is more important. The biggest complaint of said discrimination came from Danny Glover, who in 1999 filed a complaint against New York taxi drivers, and prompted Rudolph Giuliani to create a task force specifically for this and other forms of discrimination in this livery service.

Naturally, because the ex-mayor went overboard, the city had to pay back millions in dollars over wrongful suspensions of these taxi drivers’ licenses. There was also a finding that only 15% of the drivers involved race, and the issue was more destination. Yet, my only concern about that is: NYC polarizes people by their destinations, and thus much of it involves race after all. Fast-forward to today, and the jokes about certain people not catching a cab have become as commonplace as Whoopi Goldberg having no eyebrows or GW Bush not being an effective president. Actually, it’s more commonplace than dental appointments and only a little less commonplace than people checking their e-mails. (Don’t ask for research.)

So naturally, I have every right to be at least perplexed by this lack of courtesy. I thought Danny Glover’s message way back in ’99 when he sent a letter regarding this matter would discourage cab drivers from practicing such overt racial prejudice, but no. Some might even feel more emboldened because of the latest lawsuits’ outcomes. And to some degree, I understand some of the taxi drivers’ trepidations: there are a few of us who engage in robbery, abusive talk, and just ignorant behavior that often scares anyone, maybe even someone who just immigrated into the country.

But there’s just as equal an amount of citizens in this city who vomit all over the back of the taxi after an inebriated and really blurry night with their equally disingenuous partners, businessmen who just scream and holler at the taxi drivers while on their Bluetooths, rude customers who roll their eyes at any taxi driver who has even a hint of an accent when asking for directions, or even those ditzes who have no idea where they’re going as soon as they get in the taxi and change their minds 4 different times but still expect the taxi to charge them for the first trip … and won’t even tip at the end of it all.

I wish I could say it’s my fault, like I didn’t look professional enough, I wasn’t wearing obvious clothing, or I looked menacing and stood on the wrong side of the street, but none of this is true. To wit, most nights, I’m wearing jeans, a peacoat, and a winter cap i.e. average NY male 25-35 wear. I’m probably one of the better tippers they encounter in the night, and I even know how to navigate to where I live from wherever I am. In other words, I’m a good customer, and there are good customers just like me out there, wondering why they’re not getting picked up. Yet, I’ve witnessed cabs actually stop traffic and hit reverse when they missed a White person’s wave.

Enough! BASTA! Ya!

From now on, I’m going to start doc’ing these taxis. I’ll be writing down their numbers, and calling their offices promptly. I’ll even write what street corner, what I was wearing, and how long I had to wait in order to catch a cab. Then, at the end of the year, I’ll list all their numbers in a letter, and mail it directly to Bloomberg himself. I’m no celebrity, but it’s time for a change, and I’m tired of sitting on my ass and not doing anything about it. I have a voice, and I’m going to use it to make changes happen. Except for their IDs, I’ll also be logging these incidents here on my blog too, probably as a separate entry.

The one thing I won’t do, though, is base my reports on race, because I wouldn’t want to engage in the same sort of profiling many of these violating taxi drivers do. To their credit, though, the 6 people who have picked me up were of various backgrounds. After one particular ride, as I was calming down from my seething rage, I thanked him for picking me up, and questioned why his fellow taxi drivers weren’t as good to customers as he was, he replied in broken English:

“No worries. Everyone the same, every body a customer. Thank you …”

Cab Window

And that was that. I was dropped off at home. That’s really all I need …

jose, who wonders why we still only count our troops as part of the death total

p.s. – I’m not trying to pit people against one another, but let’s have some honest discussion …