Taking Stock

I never thought I would say this but I’m am taking stock. It seemed like only yesterday, I at the tender age of sixteen had to go down the the Bureau of Records at the New York City Health Department to get a copy of my birth certificate. It seems during some sort of kerfuffle at home, the original document was either lost or destroyed. I needed a replacement copy in order to get my “working papers”, which in turn would allow me to hired for my first job.

My first ever job was no biggie. It was a Summer job s through Youth Corps, and working in a day camp. It paid very little, in fact, I think we made below minimum wage. But no one fussed back then because we were grateful to have work and make a little money. I was happy to get off the hot streets of New York City during the Summer, and go on some great trips and have fun with the kids.

Back then the few dollars helped to buy a few Back to School outfits, perhaps a warm coat, some school supplies, and a few trinkets. My late Mom always admonished me to open a savings account and start saving. Which I never did, you know silly, air-headed teens. Yep, I was one of them.
I’ve been working steadily ever since then (which was in 1975) until now. From the summer jobs I went to full time by working at The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. This is a city agency which regulates yellow cabs, their owners, and drivers. This was my first foot through the doors of law enforcement.

This was also a very intense learning experience for me. Me, being a very shy and introverted soul, was inducted, more like shanghaied into Public Service Boot Camp 101. How? I was simply thrown to the wolves……….

It was rough, I tell ya……..

In addition, I had no clue that the yellow cabs on New York City’s streets were so heavily regulated. I’d see them pass me on the busy streets, but didn’t know that everything from fares, pick up sites, drivers keeping records of each trip, to their personal grooming, number of continuous hours behind the wheel, to the paint job was under TLC scrutiny.

Speaking of paint job, did you know that there is a specific shade of yellow every NYC taxi must be painted? If that shade is just a tad off, too bright or too dull, the taxi company or garage can be summonsed and fined. The vehicle must be taken out of service until it is properly painted, inspected, and approved.

The same goes for the lettering which is printed on the side of every New York City cab. If TLC decides to use say “Tahoma” style lettering instead of “New Times Roman”, every single cab must have all of their information painted in that font.

It also used to be that only one specific brand of vehicle was allowed to be part of the yellow cab fleet. It used to be mandatory that the fleet be uniform. Back in the 50’s and 60’s the fleet were solely the Checker cabs.

They were big, wide, boxy cars that were roomy enough for luggage without having to stash it in the trunk. For past twenty years or so, the fleet consisted solely of Chevy Crown Victoria’s. But, recently TLC has allowed the addition of the Ford Escape, the Toyota Corolla, the Ford Highlander, and I can almost wager I saw a Land Rover or two. As long as the vehicle can be “hacked up” (customized with the special equipment used by TLC cabs – partition, GPS, On Duty Light on roof, two way radio, meter, trouble light, the paint job, plus the medallion, rate card, insurance, and drivers who have a Chauffeurs license), it can become a yellow cab.

My dealing with the public came from interacting with the cab drivers themselves. TLC has a taxi court, where drivers attend hearings for their summonses and find out the fate of their licenses. Idiot driver = fine. Bad driver = suspended license. Very bad driver = license revoked.

Many drivers didn’t speak and/or understand English very well, as a result, they were always in trouble with the law. They did not comprehend that there were strict laws which governed what they did in, or with their cabs. Many times I wondered how did they a) pass their driver’s license test, b) pass the “hack” or taxi license test? I was laughingly told by seasoned co-workers that, “They paid an English speaking friend or relative take and pass the test for them.”

Another beachhead I had to surmount was the cultural divide. As I child I grew up in a multi-cultural neighborhood but not quite so multi-cultural. I being Black and West Indian, grew up with Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Chinese. However at work, I met and had dealings with people from all corners of the globe, everyone wanted to argue. And the argument was always the same.

“But, in my country we can do this, that or the other.”

My response was always: “Well, this is the United States and you can not do that here. If you do, you get a summoned, wind up without a license, or wind up in the clink.” Then came the crying and moaning: “How am I going to feed my six kids and two wives with no license?”

“Well, you should’ve considered that before you tossed your passenger out on her noggin, and threw her luggage out after her.” You see what I went through?

Yes, that really did happen, numerous times……….

Needless to say, many drivers were forced to find other means of support because they could not conform to TLC’s standards. To me some were downright too dangerous to drive anything but one of those old fashioned red wagons. However, that was just my opinion.

After fifteen years of working for The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, I was ready for something new. It was both interesting and scary working there. Interesting because I’d met so many people from all over the world.

It was scary when after the first World Trade Center bombing the Three Letter Agencies (CIA, FBI, and ICE) came to our main office to comb through our records. Why? Because those very same bombers had been cab drivers! OMG! I believe this is when they started officially profiling NYC cabbies as part time bombers. Supposedly using the funds they earned to either buy and make bombs themselves, or send it back to their country to purchase weapons.

So in 1995, I took this as a cue to get gone, so I took the opportunity to jump ship to another city agency.

That will be the subject of “Taking Stock – Part 2”


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