January 18, 2010

Scenes from a Yellow Cab



These shoes shined nicely but pinched my foot so badly I woke up in extreme pain after driving all night. So I switched to my most comfortable pair, in which I painted houses for several years.

(Click once on photos for close-ups.)









Taxi drivers are not famous for stylish footwear.



The bright lights on the left are JFK International Airport ...looking south over Brooklyn from Highland Park, which is a high place at the end of the Terminal Morraine; what the glaciar left as hills thousands of years ago. Old mansions on this stretch had the best view of Brooklyn, until apartment houses blocked their view.



Modern mountains of steel and glass humming with electricity and fiber optic magic quivering with information, viral with all the imperfections of the species. Impressive, if you've forgotten what the night sky looks like.



Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn on the coldest night of the year, when my van broke down with a busted universal joint, hours after my heater had gone haywire. I spent an hour on my cell phone looking for a tow truck, freezing my ass off.



Cops engaged in their favorite activity: jawboning with each other while the world passes them by.



The Cynic. It's a dirty job but someone has to do it. All this upbeat positive-thinking shit gives me the blues. Give me a break; the planet's going to hell faster than we can make ice cream.



Statue of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built Grand Central Station, which was saved from demolition when his great-granddaughter, Jackie Kennedy, became chairwoman of the Committee to Save Grand Central Station. One of America's first millionaires, Vanderbilt made his dough in shipping and railroads; his desire for a canal through Nicaragua helped fuel William Walker's war there in the 1850s, which nearly ruined Nicaragua and poisoned our relations with Nicaraguans unto this day. Viva capitalism...



The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue. Right after I snapped this photo a cop siren beeped, telling me to move on. The Met is slowly devouring Central Park, acre by acre. Jackie-O lived across the street.



A nicely-restored old building on the Lower East Side, looking better than all of the buildings around it.



The new skyline of Long Island City in Queens, going the way of Manhattan: up.



Port Authority bus terminal, which most New Yorkers know by heart. Walking through PA at night in the Sixties was like walking through an insane asylum; hundreds of street hustlers, pimps and and other predators leaned over the balcony watching for prey. Mayor Koch cleared them out.



This was a Brooklyn bank at the turn of the 20th Century. It stands at the corner of Essex Street (Avenue B) and Houston. I wanted it for The Free Speech & Democracy Cafe, a pet idea of mine. On investigation, I found it belonged then to the artist Jasper Johns, who wouldn't have considered renting it, because his paintings were stored in the vault. Now it is a restaurant/night club appropriately named, The Vault. I wanted it to be a cheap cafeteria with a free mike for people to come and voice their opinions on anything; anything at all...



Another sexy dame brimming with talent and swimming in money, her face blotting out the sky. The night sky is full of sexy women.



Looking north on Eighth Avenue past Port Authority.



The most-common sight in the City: a taxi speeding past. There are about 14,000 yellow cabs.



During the Sixties, when the Lower East Side was crawling with hippies, Gem Spa at the corner of St. Marks Place and Second Avenue was the place to find every revolutionary newspaper from The Black Panther to the Berkeley Barb,and every counter-culture magazine from Ramparts to Grok. Now it is full of slick mags and blah newspapers, like a hundred other newstands around the City.



Crossing the 59th Street (Queensboro) Bridge to Manhattan at twilight.



A popular club in the West Forties.



Grand Central Station at 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue.



Grand Central and the Chrysler Building. I was looking directly at the unlighted Chrysler Building in the late eighties when the lights went on for the first time in the 50 years since it had been built. The architect had died with the schematics for connecting the lights in his desk, and his will had been in probate all that time, so no one could open the desk or figure out how to connect the lights.



"Shape up" is when fleet drivers wait for a taxi. Some have been working 10 years in the same garage and still wait 3 hours for a car.





This driver is so impaired he can hardly walk; but drive he must, to pay an extravagant rent and for overpriced food. He probably has no health insurance. Since fleets went back to "horse-hiring," drivers are no longer employees, but "sub-contractors." How convenient for the capitalist fleets. Sub-contractors can't unionize.





Conversations in a dozen languages going on at once. In 2003, 90% of drivers were from other countries; 44% from the Middle East; 22% from South Asia; only 6% are Americans, black, white and latino.





My dashboard.



Looking East on 42nd Street at 3 a.m.





Same cops an hour later. I haven't seen a cop with a whistle in his mouth directing traffic in years. Now they lurk around the corner waiting for someone to miss a newly-installed "No Turn" sign on streets where drivers have been turning for 50 years. New York street cops have become tax collectors for the bean-counting administration of our billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who spent $100 million of his own money to be re-elected, and barely was.

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