By Jess Goulart
Photo by Alan Turkus.
“These two non-legit passengers have taken a taxi so that they can smoke crack in the back, great I thought! I hope that vapor doesn’t make its way up front here. I cracked the windows. I didn’t ask them to stop because I thought they might kill me,” the anonymous taxi driver John Doe reports in his latest “Craziest NYC Taxi Stories” blog entry.
Doe tells BTR that cases like this are a rare extreme. Drunk passengers, however, are a fact of life, and making good money late at night means picking them up.
“You sort of get a sense of who would be at risk of vomiting in your cab or ripping you off. That’s something that you have to watch out for,” Doe says, recounting a few weeks ago when he took a drunken passenger from lower Manhattan to the Bronx before the guy realized he didn’t have any money. Nearly incoherently, he insisted Doe follow him into his house, where a very confused, nightgown clad woman begrudgingly paid the fare.
Doe’s story is just one drop in an inebriated ocean. BTR spent a few hours at the Midtown Operating Corp, a taxi outlet in Long Island City, interviewing dozens of drivers for their best drunken passenger stories. All worked themselves into a frenzy regaling tales of blacked out passengers forgetting where they lived, refusing to pay the bill or, the most despised of all, vomiting in the back seat after insisting they did not need to pull over to the side of the road.
Another told BTR about a young woman who climbed in at the Meatpacking District and asked for the Upper West Side, rolling down her window in the dead of winter. The driver noticed movement in the back seat almost immediately after getting on the highway, but was distracted by icy conditions. A few minutes later, he glimpsed her throwing something out the window.
“I pulled over – yelling ‘that’s dangerous!’ When I turned around, I realized she had taken off most of her clothes, including her shoes, and thrown them out the window on the highway.”
Luckily for her, the driver took her to her apartment and helped her call a roommate to meet them out front with emergency clothing.
The tendency for drunken passengers to rid themselves of inhibitions often manifests itself in shameless back-seat sex. In his blog “Cabs Are For Kissing”, NYC taxi driver Gene Salomon explains that the “Taxi-cab position” is where the male sits normally, facing front, and the female straddles him, facing the rear window. In driver speak, this means the passengers have gone from “presumed innocence” to “you’ve got to be kidding.”
When confronted with the situation, Salomon has two approaches.
The first is “an attempt, by means of hard braking and sharp turning, to knock the female off her joystick….kind of like a party game.” The second is the patented “there’s a surcharge for the hotel room” line, which cab drivers tell BTR works much better.
Ted Rall, a famed cartoonist, author, and columnist, tells BTR that in his days as a driver “there was the girl who passed out and I had to carry her from doorman to doorman until I found her building. There was a also girl whose boyfriend gave me $20 to get her home safe. The fare was $15, but when she woke up she demanded all the change that he had paid me. Mostly, there was just a lot of vomit to clean up.”
Sometimes drivers try to take an unexpected approach when dealing with drunks. Raphael Leone, a native Italian and NYC cabbie for over twenty years, tells BTR he once learned that classical music can have a calming effect on people, so he bought some Mozart to play in his car.
“On a given shift, there are different kinds of people getting into your car at different times. In the morning everyone goes to work, in the afternoon to a doctor’s appointment or interview, in the evening they go home. Around 2 a.m. you get the tipsy ones from the bar, and these you have to watch out for. I played Mozart all day, to see how people reacted.”
Leone discovered that most appreciated the music and relaxed atmosphere… until he got to the 2 a.m. crowd.
“I took five very drunk passengers home that night. Of the five, one cried hysterically, believing from the music he was going to a funeral, no matter how much I insisted I was just taking him home. Another one tried to sing along. The other three fell asleep right away and wouldn’t wake up. I ended up having to carry them to their doors. The first time I thought it was coincidence, but by the third time I knew it was the music.”
Leone says he no longer plays Mozart after midnight.
Despite all the risks and annoyances, Doe insists “we usually want to help [people] even if they are incoherent, because we want to be good citizens and most are well meaning people who just had one too many.”
Though they shared their stories in good spirits, you can imagine what a trying situation these drivers frequently find themselves in. So the next time you get into a cab and that last shot is threatening to make its way back up, just let the poor guy pull over. And always, ALWAYS tip extra.