Archive for category day-to-day

Paranoia Not Probable

Might as well get to the worst …

Here is a thing I would rather not be posting, since it might “compromise my credibility” – as they say.

Admittedly it is less of a problem now than previously. It refers to surveillance. At this point, with the Edward Snowden affair having been daily news for several weeks, the possibility of excessive snooping has gained a credibility of its own : fewer people, at this point, can deny snooping exists, and that there is a lot of it.

My own experience of excessive snooping has to do with the Taxi TV (another reason for wanting to publicize that gadget as the truly atrocious idea it really is.)

Since the first introduction of the TV, I have been struck by the curious timing of meter breakdowns. For a while it seemed to me that meter troubles developed according to a pattern. This pattern was : strenuous discussion between me and a passenger of the faults of Michael Bloomberg’s governance of the city  …  followed by meter breakdown. At first I assumed it was me, that I was imagining it all, and it was just a funny coincidence.

It persisted, however, and it was hard not to think the discussion was causing the breakdown.

After a month or more, there seemed to be an improvement. Long, even vociferous, discussions were not followed by, and even interrupted by, a meter shutdown. I was ready to admit to paranoia – it had all been a mistake …

No, not really. While the meter had originally “reacted” (seemingly) as the discussion between me and the passenger was in progress, or when the trip was over and the machine was supposed to accept payment, the meter mishap was offset by 20 or 25 minutes. I.e., it happened after the passenger got out – a fairly good time after.

Not hard to find a “paranoid” explanation for that : when the meter failed while the passenger was in the car, there was a danger that the passenger would notice, and draw the same conclusion anyone would draw – that the critical comments about the mayor had caused the mishap. (I had even pointed the timing out several times to passengers, all of whom found the suggestion of foul play very interesting.)

Now, with the meter mess delayed by 20 minutes, there was no anti-Bloomberg discussion taking place as the meter failed, and no suspicion on the part of a passenger likely to arise.

Now, we’re all used to the phrase, “This phone call will be monitored, in order to ensure quality control.” We assume that surveilling service representatives is done, and that it’s acceptable. Question : why wouldn’t “the powers that be” do the same with cab drivers? It seems to me likely they would – and, with the growing sense of the pervasiveness of spying and snooping, I see no reason why there should be a great deal of skepticism about such a claim.

Since my experience of this problem first arose, in the first few weeks after the installation of the TV, the same scenario has presented itself to me many hundreds of times, maybe a thousand or more.  It’s inescapable. It happens over and over – it happened twice last night, as a matter of fact …

I will get to my ultimate point as quickly as possible.

When spying is accepted as a normal part of life, those who practice it are emboldened to go way beyond any acceptable limits with it – it is as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning that they will do so.

Remember, I am not complaining about having a lesson in bomb-building being interrupted by a bad meter. My discussions with passengers never involve conspiracies against government, criminal activities, racism, homophobia, plots, threats and the rest : these are serious discussions of whether the governance that Micheal Bloomberg and his people have brought to New York is of an acceptably high quality.

So what’s the matter with that?

In this case you have, it can be said, an example of the sort of snooping and surveillance that is justified as fighting crime or countering terrorism being used to protect an elected official from criticism.

How delightful! Freedom speech rescinded, because it makes Mike Bloomberg look bad!

He doesn’t want to be criticized! How like Muammar Gaddafi!

Where the carte blanche so willingly granted to snoops has gone in New York City is in the predictable direction : it has made it far easier to deny people elementary rights, and that is exactly what has happened here, if my perpetually reinforced suspicions are correct. The man in charge doesn’t want to be criticized, or even mentioned in unflattering terms, so, in order to keep that from happening, an electric trick takes place whenever that does take place : the meter, without which a driver can’t get paid – at least in the case of credit cards – cuts out, and the speaker is penalized immediately for his unacceptable speech by being denied payment for services rendered. Instantaneous punishment! What a dream for the dictatorial! The Soviet Union never had instruments like this. But, God, how they would have loved to have them!

But, to repeat : if you put the technology in their hands, they will eventually use it, and for the most self-serving of purposes.


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Another Week …

… begins tomorrow : a week that will see the normal strain of knowing something horrible is going on, and not knowing what to do about it.

The very first time I pick up a passenger, I will be waiting for the sound of idle chatter coming from the tv audio in the back seat. Then, and only then, will I be able to ask the passenger(s) (politely) if they would mind “pressing the off button on the tv.”

If I ask too soon, they forget by the time the tv goes on, and I have to ask them once again. If I wait too long, they will be on the phone, and I won’t want to interrupt them, in which case the tv will be on for the whole ride.

This is time wasted.

In the best of scenarios, the instant a passenger gets in his cab a good driver will start thinking  about how best to get them where they’re going. This requires him to have been staying aware of the situation he’s in in the immediate sense — what cars are behind, or to either side, of his own car; what are the traffic restrictions on lanes or turns or in other regards; whether there are any bicyclists in the area; what traffic patterns he has noticed up until now; etc., etc.

The purpose of this awareness is to reinforce best what he knows he has to do above all other matters : to get out of the area he is in, and into the area the passenger is going to.

Exact destinations are irrelevant at this point. A driver merely has to know, for example, that he must take his passenger to the Upper East Side from Eighth Avenue and 14th Street. The immediate question now, for him, is to figure the best route to take East and North away from 8th and 14th.

A missed opportunity creates problems down the line : miss a turn-off for the east side at a crucial moment, and the trip could take twenty minutes longer and cost $6 or $7 more.

Let me draw the conclusion :

Time spent worrying about the tv noise is time out of focusing on taking the best route from pick-up to destination. This distraction can quickly translate into lost time and lost money for passenger and driver alike.

Nevertheless, if he wants to drive safely, attentively and efficiently, the driver has got to concentrate on getting the tv off as quickly as possible. If he misses a turn at 23rd Street that could have brought him and his passenger more quickly to the Upper East Side than any option available after 23rd Street is passed — so be it : the tv has to go off : that is essential, it is not something that can be trifled with.

And why not, a skeptic might ask.

My next post will address that question.

NOTE : As I have pointed out in a couple of previous posts (“This Blog Gets Its Name” and “The Story Thus Far …” ) this blog has been a long time coming. I believe I am closing in on a way of making it feasible. Since I can’t include as much material in each post as I have previously tried to (the drafts are all unpublished), I will have to break off in the midst of an issue and come back to it — though, I hope, as quickly as possible. So, the posts will be partial and fragmentary.

The idea of installments, therefore, is an essential feature of this blog at this point. Any given post will cover only part of the subject it addresses.

Any business left unfinished in any post — like this one — will be resumed in a subsequent post, until (presumably) the day arrives when I have said what I had wanted to say, and what I thought the public would find useful or diverting.

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I Crash Into Another Car

It is possible to go through life just “living” it. It is possible to observe yourself living as you live, as well.

At some point I chose the latter, not consciously at all, but inadvertently, when I began studying meditation years back.

One fruit of meditation is that you are generally aware not only of what you are doing and what is happening to you, but of what you are actually thinking when all this is going on.

As a result, I can tell you why I got into an accident on March 5th, 2011.

Normally, I do not drive into intersections when other cars seem to be on a collision course with the car I’m in. On March the 5th 2011 I did.

I did because I was experiencing an unnatural high. I was euphoric. I had heightened enthusiasm, I was full of optimism. I had a warm glow all over. I felt as if no harm could possibly come to me.

I was, in short, being injected with a loud dose of stupid advertising from the back seat.

I don’t know what the product was, or who was pitching it; I only know that I had lost the ability to think critically.

The TV advertising tube that was installed by mandate in all New York City cabs a few years ago aims at one thing : bringing money in. (Just who it brings money in for, is another question for another time.)

Any assumption on the part of the passenger that the tube is meant to disseminate useful information or edifying content is foolish indeed.

The TV generates revenue, because people (companies) will pay to have their wares advertised over it. (As people from advertising have advised me, at 5 to 7 million taxi passengers a week, the industry can offer advertisers massive exposure — something they are willing to pay for.)

And so, sometime between late 2007 and late 2008, under the cover of creating credit card capability for passengers, the city slipped an ugly mechanism into the back seats of all yellow cabs.

Headaches, fatigue, and jangled nerves for drivers, as well as discomfort, annoyance,  and frequent nausea for passengers, has been the end result.

But not the only end result.

Isn’t it just common sense that repeated distractions make driving unsafe?

So, to return to march 5th, 2011 …

On that night, around midnight, I found myself in the Meat-Packing District, waiting at a red light. (All well and good –nothing unusual there.) When the light turned green, I pulled slowly into the intersection. (Everything fine so far.) Approaching from the right, perpendicular to my car, and seeming not to be slowing down at all, was another car, also headed into the intersection.

Now, ordinarily, I would have slowed down, mistrusting this other driver, because he (or she) didn’t seem to know what he or she was doing.

— It’s like this : I had learned long ago to drive “defensively,” which is to say, to be careful not only to obey the law and drive attentively yourself, but to watch out for what other drivers might do to cause trouble : that is, to be on guard against the unforeseen, constantly.

It’s the only way to protect yourself from getting into an accident.

I should have hesitated, foot on the break, ready to respond in case this other car kept on coming.

Instead, however, on this night, I distinctly remember saying to myself : “Oh don’t worry, they’re not going to run a red light and cause an accident. That would be ridiculous.”


Ke-e-e-e-e-rash-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ———- !

… Fancy sound effects aside, this is what happened :

Having given up the idea of getting through to a talkative group of twenty-somethings in the backseat, I neglected to ask them — as I do virtually every other passenger — to kindly turn the TV off.

As a result, I was inundated with the inane compulsiveness of American advertising, and had become incapable of rational thought.

In order to program people to buy things, it’s helpful to raise their confidence level, even to outrageous levels if necessary. Music that is upbeat, a voice full of manic enthusiasm, an intrusive ambience of “good times” and “great opportunities” — all these make people eager to but the product at hand.

And what is wrong with that, you might ask.

The answer : it doesn’t mesh with  driving a car.

As I said above, a certain skepticism and caution make for a good driver.

To be a good customer for advertising, on the other hand, it’s best to be loose, eager, unquestioning, unafraid. Yes, you’re going to buy that product, ’cause it’ll make you happy if you do, and you know it.

Doubts about its cost, usefulness, or maybe even its poisonousness are not to be asked.

On the other hand, if you’re driving into an intersection with another car coming at right angles to yours? Doubt is a really good idea.

Doubt was not available to me that evening. I was too busy being brainwashed by advertising.

So : four fairly shook-up passengers, especially the one riding shotgun, since that is where the other car impacted ours.

A crushed right front door, which will cost me 200 dollars or more.

An hour lost from work — i.e., more money lost …

You get the picture : a mess, and a costly one at that.

And all so that Mike Bloomberg’s people and associates can make some money for themselves. (As for who exactly is making the money? Despite mayoral claims that the city budget, for the first time in history, is perfectly “transparent,” and all its contents are fully available on the ‘net — it is impossible for the ordinary person to find this out. There is no accounting of it on the city’s “transparent” budget web site. So much for “transparency”!)

But there will be more on this …

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And Just What Does the Word “Hack” Mean?

This evening a passenger asked me what a “hack license” is.

“It’s the sort of license a person needs to drive a cab,” I replied. “It’s issued by a city agency called the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and not by the Department of Motor Vehicles in Albany.

“If you want to see mine, it’s there behind my head, with my picture on it.”

My passenger then wanted to know why the word “hack” was used : “Hack means a nerd, or something like that. Why would they …?”

“You mean why would they use such an insulting word?” I replied.

“A hack means a sort of low person, doesn’t it?” he said, not wanting to be so blunt as to use the word “insult.”

I think I made some comments on class and language, before returning to the essential point. Why the word hack in the first place, anyway?

Well, my kindle was no help. Not that it wouldn’t have told me if I had known how to ask it — but, I hadn’t studied that procedure yet, and so : no definition. (How technologically challenging a simple conversation can be these days!)

It remained for me to promise this friendly passenger that I would look the word up when I got home, and make a post on

So, here is what I found out about “hack,” and how it relates to taxis.

The word hack can mean a horse not set aside for use in war or carting. Both require strong, or fiery and brave horses. A hack is not necessarily a bad horse, just an average one, and is often for hire as a riding horse or carriage horse. So, a horse-drawn carriage for hire might be called a “hack,” with respect to who or what is pulling it, not with respect to the carriage itself. And the word would have stuck even after the carriages-to-let were motorized and not horse-drawn.

So far, so good; but the question still remains, why the word “hack” and not some other?

Here the Oxford Dictionary of American English (the default dictionary on my kindle) came to the rescue again.

It seems that in England, several centuries ago, there was ripe pasture land in East London, where most London horses were kept. The name of the district?

Hackney, of course. The horses from there frequently would  have been  used as carriage-horses, and the name Hackney cabs came into being.

It has been passed down from generation to generation, automatically and thoughtlessly, and though the question of where the word comes from might be answered, the question of whether the word is fitting after all this time is still a matter for consideration.

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I Direct an Email to David Yassky, Chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission of New York City

On the day after writing the previous post, I emailed the Chairperson of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, David Yassky. He had made statements recently about changing the programming of the TV in the back of the cabs, and I wanted to make a few points to him before his decision was final. The text of the email was :

I’ve driven a cab for 30 years and no stress or headache of the job has equaled the stress and headaches caused by the Taxi TV.

Now there is talk of a “change.”

With regard to the audio, I would like to recommend it be discontinued entirely. Opt in or opt out, it is a distraction  that precludes my  doing my job safely or carefully.                                

It has caused me lost revenues, depression, and — last year — a serious accident.

Available to a drunk or hostile passenger, it is an instrument of torture.

After transporting 200,000 or more passengers effectively and well, I do not deserve this insult.

(And — so far as the video goes — a majority of woman passengers claim that it makes them car sick, and about a third of men say the same.)

Please discontinue this curse — if not entirely, then at least the audio.

Now I will wait to see if an acknowledgement comes to me via email, as is promised on the website of the TLC (Taxi and Limousine Commission). As with all matters dealing with this body — the TLC, that is — a certain amount of resistance is to be expected. We shall see if this rule applies in this case.

As to why it was necessary for me to write and send this mail, a later post will explain …

NOTE : As of January 20th, 2013, fully half a year after emailing the text above to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, I have yet to receive the acknowledgement their web site promises for those who email them.

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This Blog Gets Its Name

The idea of this blog was first suggested to me about five years ago, by a couple who got into my cab on the Upper East Side. It was around the same time of year at which I am writing this current post, which is to say : during the last weeks of May,  around the Memorial Day weekend. Like many people who live in New York for a while, they were curious about what the world looks like from behind the wheel of a taxi.

When I explained to them that I was enduring one of the worst traffic times of the year, they seemed particularly interested. They didn’t know why the traffic should be any worse then, than at any other time. They seemed, in fact, to find it intriguing that traffic follows any patterns at all. Like most healthy and sane people, I assume, they figured traffic was pure chaos, and looking for a pattern in it is utter futility.

On the contrary, I explained, the reason things were worse now than normal was that the public was gearing up for summer : people were staying out later at night than they did in the cold months, and traveling back and forth between bars and clubs and friends’ houses. It was as if they were flexing their weekend beach muscles without being at the beach yet, and the result was sociable beach chaos right in town — with the Upper East Side being a central chaos zone.

And with this went ugly traffic.

Her interest piqued, the young woman suggested I start a blog to explain such things.

And then there was a pause.

There are times when you know that “something is in the air,” as they say. This time was one of them. I knew something was cooking, but didn’t know what. I remained thoughtful for a moment or two, and then it occurred to me to ask if she had a name for this blog.

“honknyc,” she said, about as quickly as if she had been waiting all along for me to ask, apparently having thought of a title even before I thought of asking her for one.

It was one of those moments — you might say — when human understanding and rapport become all they could be, but so infrequently are.

And so the title of this blog was born.

I told my friends to wait “about six months” before they looked for a blog by the agreed-upon name, scarcely knowing it would take me another 4 or 5 years before I got it off the ground.

The story of why it took so long will be grist for the next installment.

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