I had the opportunity to get in touch with Laurie. A friend introduced us, and I had my first dogwalk ever with her lovely dog Tasha – but that is another story, today I wanted to learn more about Laurie’s world as a taxi driver in the big apple.
This is the first post in a series of interviews, most of them will be in German and focus on immigrants from Germany.
Reto: Laurie, can you share a little bit about you and your story with our readers?
Laurie: It all started out as a joke!
I had been unemployed over thirteen-months after having been laid off from a marketing management position in the crash of our economy and Wall Street, as we once knew it. While trying to recalibrate my life and reinvent myself as a writer and a full-time art dealer, I was also being courted for an executive position with a large ad agency, although I was not aggressively looking or eager to return to the corporate rat race.
In NYC people live to work rather than work to live. And though the pace and the stress is grueling, people tend to identify their self-worth, their importance and certainly their social status by their jobs—I always had! Be that as it may, I was enjoying the more balanced, civilized pace of my unemployed daily life: taking long walks with my dog, going swimming several days a week, cooking, writing and having time for friends and activities that I was too burnt out for after 20 years of 50+/hour work weeks and only three weeks of vacation a year.
Despite my enjoyment of this new life routine, which my Italian friend calls, dolce far niente (so sweet to do nothing), my money was running out, and I was sleepless about survival and slowly going broke. However, I felt quite certain that I was going to land the job at the ad agency, having been introduced directly to the president and chairman of the board, and traveling to meet their senior management team at various locations. So, one day while taking my daily dog walk with my best friend and neighbor JoJo, I said, “If I don’t get this job I can always become a cab driver!”
The flexible hours were appealing, I can work when I want, and I don’t have to answer to a boss or a corporate, political system that I despise! Plus, I could bring my dog Tasha along for the ride (she loves the car), and I was always so guilty about leaving her alone for so many hours while working. Additionally, driving a cab in New York City would give me the opportunity to meet and talk with people from all over the world—I’ve always been the kind of person who could strike up a conversation with just about anybody—even from the back seat, with my own cabbies I would all to frequently hail about town.
You see, I once had a very serious, expensive taxi habit, and I also thought there would be some poetic justice in the payback of being in the driver’s seat. The melting-pot of life gets into the back seat of a taxi in New York City, and I truly believe, now more than ever, that a NYC cab driver sees more and hears more raw, honest information about people and bizarre life stories than does a seasoned psychiatrist!
Reto: You decided to experience the life of a cab driver in New York city. What did you learn on the job so far – about yourself, people in general and the city – and what are the biggest challenges?
Laurie: I prefer to be called or referred to as The Taxi Lady, and I didn’t choose to live the life of a cabbie; it chose me by default—and I certainly don’t plan on doing it for the rest of my working life!
There are many things I really like about being a cabbie. First, the shock-value of being The Taxi Lady is a perfect match for my personality—it’s a challenge being out of my comfort zone physically, psychologically and socially—but the real turn-on is primarily about the people I meet, the adventure, the unpredictability of each fare and each shift, and the endlessly fun game of discovering new and unusual places in New York.
In addition to the numerous tourists, business travelers and everyday commuters, students and shoppers who get around town by taxi—tales of lust, sorrow, crime, brushes with fame and just plain weirdness all seem to find their way into the back seat of a New York City cab, whose drivers have a front row seat —albeit a fleeting one— for all the city’s glorious street characters and theater.
After my hail climbs in the back and tells me their destination, the conversation begins. Most people comment about me being a female taxi driver, and appreciate the fact that I speak perfect English (since New York City cabbies are typically immigrants from Muslim countries, who illegally talk on their cell phones in their mother tongue during the entire ride).
Some people tell me about their personal problems, or their hassles of the day; others act as if I’m but a fly on the wall. They have arguments, fist-fights, make-out and engage in foreplay (I don’t allow sex in the back), or they just talk on their cell phone like I don’t exist. I try not to listen to conversations in the backseat, but sometimes I can’t help myself from eavesdropping on businessmen negotiating or discussing a business transaction, or better, a juicy conversation of men talking about or to women!
Being a Taxi Lady has been a great lesson of humility and gratitude for the privileges I’ve had in life, but most of all, a lesson in keeping my composure under pressure, and being able to focus on the power and influence of good energy, which is contagious (and good for tips). The problem is the burn-out factor, 12-hour shifts, seven days per week are both physically and emotionally draining, and the demand for renting and obtaining a taxi on a daily basis without a weekly commitment is next to impossible. This is my biggest challenge in engaging in this work, as I must have balance in my life!
Reto: What does someone have to do to get a cab driver license here? How expensive is that whole process?
Laure: See: http://www.mastercabbie.com/main.php?pageid=26 . My friend JoJo researched this for me, but I can’t find the original e-mail joke she sent after our dog walk which included this link.
Reto: What was the most funny or weird experience you had so far?
Laurie: This is another story (and why people should want to read the book) to be continued in our next interview—And I promise your readers to be at the edge of their seat!
Reto: I’ve heard that you are planning a blog or a book deal – is there anything you can share so far?
Laurie: I would welcome any publishers or agents interested in publishing my story as a memoir or magazine article or both. I have started the book TAXI LADY: Adventures of an Unemployed, Upper East Sider —but I question whether the blog would be a good thing as well, so I’ve yet to launch that.
Reto: Laurie, thank you very much for sharing these insights with me and the readers! All the best and much success, keep us posted about the book and the blog.