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Taxi Driver — A Trip To 1970

“Taxi Driving Man: Hail and Farewell”

Ninth Avenue at 6 a. m. is a surrealistic study in flaming trash cans and steaming manhole covers. In the pre-dawn gloom, the streets are dimly lit by fruit and vegetable merchants preparing to display their wares on the sidewalk. From inside the cab, all is still, but unnaturally still, and since it is New York, the stillness only heightens your anticipation of an approaching cataclysm. It is an exceedingly ugly street, even for New York. But in its monumental ugliness it commands that special morbid fascination that all New Yorkers feel toward their city, despise it as they may. 

Driving down toward Port Authority, the feeling is more that of crossing the River Styx than one of Manhattan’s commercial arteries. You have the road practically to yourself, yet there is a restraining force which causes you to drive along slowly, at a steady pace. You are in a phantasmagorical place, and you better not disturb the unholy balance of things, lest you be spotted as an outsider. 

It was in that frame of mind that I decided my career as a cabby was to come to an end. It was a decision I turned over in my mind throughout the day, and although the circumstances hardly warranted it, toward turning-in time, I began feeling a little cheerful, mostly because I couldn’t see any footing beneath me to which to sink from here. There was, I thought, cause for optimism. Leave the job, I assured myself, something worthier is bound to come through. (It seems that one side effect of a middle-class adolescence is that in the pinch, you are taught to rely on everything and everybody but yourself. Just when you are at the peak of your desperation — if you have been weaned on Hollywood westerns — is when you most expect your salvation to come galloping across the plain and smash that redskin to smithereens before he detaches your scalp. What entirely eludes the realm of possibilities is his one day making off with it — consequently, you grow up totally unfit to face reality.)

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My last passenger of the day was a decrepit old woman with bony, heavily rouged cheeks, whose accent might have originated anywhere from the east bank of the Danube to the Urals. I mentally took a bet on Hungarian refugee and, as it turned out, I wasn’t far off the mark. We headed down Seventh Avenue. 

“You not have rrahdio?” she asked, rolling about four extra Rs onto each syllable. 

“No.” 

“Too bad. It must be lonely, young man like you, no rrahdio.” 

“It’s not too lonely.” To settle my mental bet, I asked her where she hailed from. 

“Oh, I have been born Rrussia, but now here 45 yearrs.” 

I supposed that if it had been 145 years her syntax would never have improved. After a spell, she tapped on the plastic divider the company throws into their cars as a bone to the driver’s peace of mind. 

“Tell me, this glass bullet-proof?” she asked. 

“No, I don’t think so.” 

“Ah, too bad. You better have bullet-proof, no?” 

“Yes.”

Another silence. Then, as we passed through Times Square: 

“You like pretty girls?” 

“Yes, they ‘re okay.” 

“Yes? You like young pretty girls?”

“Sure, young ones.” We waved our way between the hand trucks in the garment center. 

“Maybe you like meet young pretty girls? Yes?” 

We turned east on 15th Street to Sixth Avenue and got held up behind some trucks. I cursed at the trucks so as to avoid following the bait. She came at me again, this time in a more determined tone.

“No, I don’t think I want to meet any just now,” I answered. 

She feigned shock. 

“No? You not want meet pretty girls?” There was a brief pause. “You like meet young boys, maybe?” 

Her voice didn’t betray any sign of facetiousness; it was very routine. I pulled over at 16th Street and threw up the flag, trying to avoid her glance and remain aloof. She took the hint, I guess, and paid and got out. 

There was no reason to take her seriously, but when you drive a cab, you run such a daily gamut of these two-bit desperadoes that it soon ceases to be a laughing matter. I started back to the garage very pissed off. 

At 17th Street, I turned west and saw a car pulling in on my left. He had the right of way, so I went to slam on my brake to let him pass. I slammed on the accelerator instead. 

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It was over in about two seconds: I scraped the car, veered right to get loose, ran straight for a pedestrian sitting on a fire hydrant, he jumped up, I knocked him back down, jerked the car left to avoid the hydrant — not far enough — and came to rest half on the hydrant and half on the back of a parked truck. At last, just before pushing all of 17th Street in to the Hudson River, I remembered the brake pedal. 

“Shit!” I said aloud, disgustedly, and threw the car into Park. That was all. My victim knelt on the ground, nursing a battered leg. He moaned some, and coincidentally enough, also said “shit!” Good. At least there would be no manslaughter charge, I thought to myself. 

The only damage, aside from the leg, was a touch of shock, so with the help of a few bystanders, we stretched him out on the front seat of the cab. Suddenly, my thoughts turned to my brand new 60-cent cigar which I carried in my shirt pocket. As I looked down at my victim’s leg, I vaguely remember hoping that the cigar didn’t get smashed in the impact. All in all, my indifference to everything except the cigar should have appalled me, but it didn’t. 

There was one regrettable moment, when I realized that I had left the cab’s motor running and that in the collision I had inadvertently knocked down the flag. The meter was ticking away, and I dashed into the cab practically having to climb over my victim’s prostrate body, to turn off the ignition. This, just to save myself a few pennies. I admit it was a disgusting thing to haw done, but at the time it seemed quite logical and proper. 

The truth is, there was really nothing else to do. The driver of the other car got out and we chatted a bit and whiled away the time explaining to the bloodthirsty spectators that the fellow on the seat wasn’t dead. 

One woman shouted from the opposite corner to her friend. “Tell me if he’s dead. I can’t go over, I just can’t look.” 

“It’s all right,” she shouted back, “he’s alive,” and her friend crept over to join the crowd. 

The police came by too and had a look. They took everybody’s papers and went back to the patrol car to sort them out. By now, I began to feel like a fool. Every now and then I’d lean into the car to ask my victim how he was getting along. He mumbled that he didn’t know, he was very cold, and when would the ambulance arrive, please? The police called three times for the ambulance, meanwhile jotting down more important data. The spectators bunched up around the cab, three or four deep, to have a look. 

The ambulance eventually arrived, and after several attempts to jerk my victim off the seat, they decided to go through the bother of rolling out the stretcher. 

I quietly backed away from the crowd and called the garage. The police departed, then the ambulance. The driver of the other car stayed around for a while, hoping for a quick settlement with the company’s inspector. Finally, he too moved off with the rest of the crowd, and I waited alone with the cab, in the darkness, for the tow truck. 

After making out a preliminary report at the garage, I walked up West 46th Street toward the subway, counting my day’s take. It was a Friday, supposedly the best day for hacking. Forty-five dollars and 90 cents in bookings, half, or more correctly 51 per cent, of which belongs to the garage, and about $10 in tips. Thirty-two dollars for 10 hours’ work, and on the best day. 

Halfway up the block, I stopped to look at some new pushcarts standing outside a sort or garage-warehouse arrangement. They were the type you see in front of the Museum of Modern Art or up near Central Park, loaded down with pretzels and chestnuts. I stood for a minute, dumbly examining the crude workmanship, when an enormous hulk approached me from behind and dribbled out in old-time Newyorkese: “So, tell me sumpin’.”

I looked back, not sure of what the come-on required for an answer.

“You buying or selling?” he asked.

“Selling,” I said instinctively, since my situation wouldn’t have allowed me to take the other alternative much further. Then he wanted to know what I was doing now. I said nothing, but he insisted and playfully ran down a list of down-and-outer possibilities. We settled on part-time actor.

“Here you make 50 bucks a day. Fifty, 60, 70 — whatever you want. You lose nothing. I give you the pretzels at four cents apiece and the chestnuts for 20 cents a pound. You sell them for whatever you can get. You interested?”

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I was just desperate enough to get suckered in, so I let him hustle me into this dark cavernous hole on the West Side, and when my eyes became accustomed to the shadows and I had a look around all I could think of was Dickens. Off to one side was a group of old people (women, I believe) crouched over a mountain of chestnuts. Some were splitting the shells, others passed them on to still others who were doing the roasting. I say “women” hesitantly, because at about 10 yards and in the darkness , it was difficult to make out what those grubby specimens really were, wrapped in about six layers of tattered cloth. Some amateur carpenters were putting together new carts or patching up old ones. And some more of those ogres were off in a corner doing something to the pretzels I won’t describe (I will never eat another).

My friendly giant took me closer to them and said in a loud, obviously theatrical tone; “Here our motto is ‘Fuck the People!’ ” There were a few assenting grunts from the old men-women of “Yeah, fuck the people!” It warmed my heart to see that there are thieves left in New York who are still only after your money.

He went on to enumerate a few more highlights of the profession and wound up with a cheery “and remember, here you don’t pay taxes to no one.”

Again, the grizzly chorus: “Yeah, no taxes!” accompanied by a few chuckles. 

He told me to come in the following day, Saturday, which, along with Sunday is the most lucrative in this business, provided it’s good and cold. I left feeling like I had stepped out of a primitive picaresque novel, complete with beggars, harlots, and assorted outlaws and outcasts.

So I was to sell pretzels. That was something worth considering very carefully.

The train was delayed at the Times Square station. After that day’s experience, I had little desire to get on a subway, so I loafed around a hot dog counter, sipping an orangeade and looking at the hordes of commuters running every which way like animals trapped in a forest fire.

Above the tumult and the screeching of the trains, I slowly became aware of a sharp tapping on the pavement outside the lunch counter. It was as audible as tapping on a glass with a fork in a crowded restaurant and I don’t think I would have caught it had my nerves not been so keyed up. The tapping, I soon saw, came from the canes of two blind people — a man and a woman — slowly moving toward each other along the platform. Maybe you’ve seen them. They usually ride the Brighton line, though not together. They are beggars who play the accordion and, if I’m not mistaken, she sings. He is undistinguished, much like any other shabby, middle-aged beggar. She, on the other hand, has an enormous shock of frizzy red hair and resembles a relic from the worst days of the 1940s. Anyhow, I was impressed by their calm, steady manner, how they seemed to head for each other like homing pigeons, following the tapping of their canes, apparently oblivious to the shrieking and shoving of the other million or so blind beggars around them.

The tapping of the canes was enough for them to find each other, and when they finally did — my God — I have never seen such an embrace in my entire quarter century in this god-awful place. They flung their accordions over their shoulders and held on to one another — brilliantly smiling, mind you — with a passion that could only be observed with a trembling lip.

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For a moment, I was taken back to my senior year in college. I remembered standing in the hall one morning between classes, trying to recruit a friend for the NYU Fascist Club which I had formed out of sheer maliciousness or boredom or both. He said he hadn’t the time to hear about it, he was expecting his girl from Philadelphia whom he hadn’t seen in months. After a while she showed up, freshly scrubbed and in madras, and when he spotted her, my friend dropped his books on the ground next to him and they ran for each other. He gave her a big kiss and hug and threw her into the air and then, just for a second, out of the corner of his eye, I saw him look back at the books he had so heroically thrown to the ground. There was something in the look he gave those books, while holding his girl, that explained everything. At once, all the disgusting repressions, fears, anxieties, and miseries that have turned this country into the grandest shithouse on the face of the earth gushed in torrents out of my poor friend’s eyes. 

Back at the BMT station, I stood watching these two blind beggars. The longer I watched, the more I felt a strange sensation coming on: one of being totally washed out, limp from physical and nervous exhaustion, yet somehow cleansed, like after a day at the gym and steam room. And as I watched, gradually all the sentiments and pointless words made into mush and emptied of meaning by the hippie-flower-beautiful people crowd — sentiments like compassion for a pathetic humanity, words like happiness, charity, and love — began to come to life and, to my own amazement, acquire a freshness and meaning l had long given up for lost within myself. 

This, I thought, would be a good time to take the next train downtown. So I went home, thinking about pretzels and chestnuts and two blind lovers, and not feeling bad at all. 

[Editor’s note, January 1, 2020: This essay originally appeared in the Voice’s Personal Testament section, “a department open to contributions from our readers. They may write on any subject and in any style they choose, with the editors selecting manuscripts for publication on the basis of literacy and interest.”]

 

“THE SIXTIES: Remembrance of things past — and present”

January 1, 1970

IT BEGAN with the beats: Tuli Kupferberg, in front of the Gaslight on MacDougal Street (top left); at the end of the ’60s there were the militants: Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and David Dellinger; in between, and throughout there was Allen Ginsberg and a school strike that ripped New York apart (left); and finally — nudity: its first intimation was brought to the big stage, at Hunter College, by the Anne Halprin dancers. (Photographs by Fred W. McDarrah)

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The Green Cab Invasion: Court Upholds Outer Borough Hail Plan

It’s two o’clock in the morning on a Saturday night in Astoria. You’ve just left the bar with your friends and, because of the way the world works, the N/R/Q trains are running every hour and you just missed it. You try to hail a cab back to East Williamsburg, but to no avail, since, you know, you’re in Queens, where cabs are an endangered species. This is the plight of thousands every night in the outer boroughs and, as of yesterday, it will end very soon.

The Five Borough Taxi Plan is Mayor Bloomberg’s last great public transportation effort before he leaves office. It would put 18,000 new livery cabs on the streets of uptown and the outer boroughs. These cabs would be green, a color meant to designate “Not From Midtown.”

A year ago, the New York State Supreme Court sided with cab industry groups and stopped the effort, issuing a plaintiff request to temporarily enjoin the proposal. The court argued that it was unconstitutional because, normally, the City Council has to pass public transportation plans. But, with a lingering, billion-dollar deficit, Bloomberg was unable to garner enough votes. So, in classic Bloomberg fashion, the mayor went around the council to Governor Cuomo.

That all changed yesterday. After an appeal by the mayor’s office, the Supreme Court has upheld the Five Borough Taxi plan. So it begins.

Since livery cabs are limited to request pick-ups, the city would sell 8,000 hail permits every year for three years; once that happens, cabs above East 96th Street and West 110th Street, as well as those living in the outer boroughs, will be on the street. Plus, the city will sell another batch of taxi medallions, adding 2,000 new yellow cabs to the fleet and raising millions in revenue. In effect, the plan will drastically change how cabs maneuver in New York City.

In reaction to the decision, hizzoner was in high spirits and added the news that Citi Bike–the Five Borough Taxi Plan’s young, bicycle-bound brother–has seen 100,000 rides in 10 days. “Put it all together, so far this is a phenomenal week,” he said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do tomorrow. The city certainly is going in the right direction.”

We sure hope so, Mikey.

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Uber App Gets Thumbs-Up to Hail Yellow Cabs

On Friday, New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission approved the savvy, San Francisco-based Uber as the first app New Yorkers can use to hail yellow medallion taxi cabs. After nearly a year of delays, the announcement marks the start of a year-long pilot program, during which the TLC will be able to experiment with different “e-hail” providers.

Since 2010, legions of drunk, lost, or tightly scheduled San Franciscans have been using Uber to hail luxury cabs without standing in the middle of the street and trying to flag them down. The app operates like a map, showing users which cabs that have signed up for the service are closest to them. From there, it only takes a few finger swipes to arrange for one of those cabs to come pick a traveler up.

Last week, Uber won a lawsuit filed by New York’s black car and livery lobby. The suit claimed that implementation of the app would discriminate against the elderly who lack smartphones, among six other causes of action, but the Manhattan judge ultimately denied all of them. The decision arrived seven months after New York City officials first started questioning the app’s impact–last September, Councilman James Vacca, City Council transportation committee chairman, told the New York Times he was concerned the app would create a “two-tiered taxi system,” between those who own smartphones and those who don’t.

Our guess is that there are other forms of inequity in New York City that are probably more pressing than the smartphone/phone-phone divide. Still, Uber has run up against the industry establishment in its hometown, too–class-action lawsuits have been filed in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco over the app’s fare protocol and legality.

Last year, Uber’s lawyer, John Quinn, called the S.F. lawsuit bollocks. “Uber complies with all laws and regulations applicable to its business. Any claim to the contrary is baseless and motivated by those who seek to deprive the public of this safe and convenient transportation option,” Quinn said in a statement.

“Uber would rather compete for business on the streets of San Francisco than in the courtroom, but Uber will defend these claims in court and is confident of the outcome,” he said.

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The Best Passages From This Weekend’s Reddit AMA With a NYC Cabbie

The Ask Me Anything forum on Reddit allows users of the insanely popular (and insanely addicting) aggregation site to propose inquiries of all shapes and sizes to the character in interest. It’s a Q&A for the masses and, seriously, the “anything” is highly stressed.

By now, we’re sure you’ve heard of it. Why? Because the President has done one. And so has a participant on MTV’s deceased wonder “Pimp My Ride.” Pretty much everyone currently significant in pop culture has signed on for the ride.

But, last weekend, the AMA was localized for our viewing pleasure. On Friday, the Reddit community welcomed a 26-year-old cabbie from the Big Apple with open arms. The twentysomething gave this description about himself:

I’m not the typical New York City cab driver. I’m younger and I was born and raised in the USA. I went to prep school and four year university. I have been moonlighting, sometimes heavily, for 3 years. I’m working full time now until the end of the summer when I’m quitting for good. I work the night shift.

Transportation truths we’ve all been thinking about definitely ensued. Here’s a few that every New Yorker should read:

On tipping…

Q: @InedibleOhio asked: What’s a good average tip?

A:

I guess if you want a percentage 20 percent is cool. But from my standpoint and having been driving around for a bit I think tipping should be based on the the length of time during a ride. Time is much more valuable to a cab driver than the metered fare. Typically as a driver you want to be averaging a dollar a minute. Some rides get 3-4 dollars a minute even more. And some get 50 cents a minute. Then they get 50 cents a minute you’re really losing money. So I guess take that into account. Also if you’re going to an outerborough or a remote location realise that the cab driver might not get a fare for a while so take that into account as well

On the graveyard shift…

Q: @anairawins asked: When does your night shift start and end? And who is the most interesting person you’ve come across in your cab? Btw, get well soon 😀

A:

I’ve had a lot of people in my cab I’d normally never meet. Like the pimp I talked about in an answer to another question and escorts and prostitutes. But I wouldn’t really ever hang out with a lot of those people. I’ve met some awesome people who I’ve exchanged numbers with and ended up hanging out with at some point. But I’ve met pretty interesting people from all over the world. I had a guy who toured with bands and photographed them. He’s worked with snoop and other famous people. His stories were pretty awesome. Usually people like that are fun to talk to. And thanks I hope I get better soon too

Also- night shift typically starts at 5pm and you have the car for twelve hours. Technically you can quit whenever you want since you pay for just the rental up front. But I work the full twelve.

On drunken conversations…

Q: @elbythirtysix asked: What, for you, has been the most interesting conversation you’ve had with a passenger? I’m wondering because my conversations with cabbies always ends up going the way of the meaning of life or something of that nature. Or maybe its just because I’m usually drunk.

A:

I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations and met interesting people but I don’t think I can single one thing out. I like food and restaurants a lot. And fashion. So conversations with people regarding that are always good. But these are people I normally associate with in regular life. However I meet a lot of people I normally do not associate with. I picked up a pimp in the upper west side around 3 am on a weekday. He paid me 60 bucks to drive him around the Bronx so he could collect money from his girls. And he told his life story. That was pretty interesting.

Also I’ve picked up a lot of escorts and they’re pretty open with me about their business. I once picked up a kid who was on the phone trying to sell some handguns he was carrying in his backpack. I told the cops who were sitting around the corner from where I dropped him off. I don’t know what happened after that. Also I’ve had some guy invite me into his house and he made me a burger. Our convo was about burgers and he was insisting he made the best.

On wages…

Q: @dontbeadickbag asked: About how much money do you make per year if you don’t mind me asking? I have heard that cab drivers actually make a decent amount of money, more than most people think.

A:

On a bad night I make about 250 for myself. On a really good night about 500. On average about 350-400. This is working a full twelve hours. And most drivers don’t make this because they’re either lazy or don’t know what they’re doing. Finding the passengers late at night is the real work.

On mimicry…

Q: @cgerb88 asked: Do you ever pretend that you’re the new host of Cash Cab and then crush their spirits when they find out it’s all a sham? I would.

A:

No but a lot of people always think they’re on cash cab or something. Maybe I should.

On going the distance…

Q: @bubbah1012 asked: 1) What is the biggest tip you have ever received? 2) What is the farthest destination you had to drive to?

A:

150 on a 650 dollar ride. But I’ve gotten a 100 bucks on a 18 dollar ride and 40-50 on a ten dollar ride. Farthest place was Delaware or new haven Connecticut

On sex…

Q: @Antal_Marius asked: Have you ever had passengers get it on in the back while you were driving?

A:

Yes many times. Sometimes they even ask. To which I usually just reply really? Because the cars NEVER get cleaned. They’re filthy. I’ve also had a girl masturbate in the backseat while her friend was very embarrassed. I usually try to hit as many potholes when I know a blow job is going on in the back. It’s always funny then you arrive at the destination and there early was not enough time for completion and the guy gets out of the car with a boner.

That’s only half of it. Reddit wins. Check out the entire AMA here.

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Two Middle-Aged White Guys Wearing Suits Hail Same NYC Taxi. Slap-Fight Ensues *VIDEO*

(Sigh.)

When two middle-age white guys wearing business suits get into a fight, there are no winners — there’s just disheveled thinning hair, bruised egos, and damaged street cred. 

That said, the street cred of middle-age white guys wearing business suits is at an all-time low this morning thanks to two middle-age white guys who got into a fight over a cab last week. Video of the scuffle was then posted on YouTube.

No punches were thrown — just a few slaps and a brief headlock — and nobody was injured, which is everything you’d expect from a fight between two middle-age white guys wearing business suits.

We don’t encourage anyone to get into a fight, but if you’re gonna do it, try to not look like a couple of prepubescent girls — the street cred of others depends on it.

See the video of these two sissies slapping away at each other after the jump.

]

*UPDATE* Youtube has disabled the video. Our apologies. We’re looking for another version as we speak and hopefully will have something posted shortly — if possible.

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Judge Pauses Bloomberg’s “Livery Cab” Plan, Outer Boroughs Must Suffer

Contrary to popular belief, there are people that live outside of Manhattan. The hustle and bustle of New York City is not limited to one island; actually, almost 80 percent of New Yorkers live in the outer boroughs (probably because they cannot afford its real estate horrors).

And, if taxi cabs follow the people who use them, that should mean that 80 percent of those yellow autos should be leaving Manhattan, right? Wrong.

A Supreme Court justice ruled against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to expand street-hail service to Northern Manhattan and the rest of the metropolis, issuing what is called a plaintiff request to temporarily enjoin the proposal. In other words, without a final ruling issued yet, Bloomberg’s ambitions have been put on hold for the time being.
However, the temporary restraining order from the Court precludes a part of the “livery cab” plan that would auction off 2,000 of those lucky cab medallions, worth millions of dollars in city revenues. The only thing being restrained now is the fleet’s new additions in the form of Boro Taxi permits. The outer borough-ers will just have to wait.
However, the Court did not make this temporary decision solely on its tangible proposals; the ruling came to question how Bloomberg went about getting the plan passed in the first place. Looks like he didn’t exactly play by the legislative rules.

There is a tiny loophole in the city-state politk. If you cannot get a proposal passed in the City Council of New York, you can circumvent their authority and take your case to Albany, where the state government decides the fate of the City miles south of them. It’s called the ‘home rule provision’ and that’s exactly what Bloomberg used.

When he took this “livery cab” plan to the Council last year, it was blasted for being fiscally irresponsible, since the Mayor was banking on selling those expensive medallions to plug up a nearly $1 billion budgetary hole. Once they declined to hear him out, Bloomberg took his business to Governor Cuomo, who convinced lawmakers to pass the measure in December.
Albeit technically unconstitutional, the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade and the Taxicab Service Association took Bloomberg to court, arguing that his use of that loophole was illegal. And they won. The Justice, Arthur Engoron, wrote:
“This court has trouble seeing how the provision of taxi service in New York City is a matter that can be wrenched from the hands of city government, where it has resided for some 75 years, and handed over to the state.”

 

Bloomberg and his officials are not taking kindly to the decision; the Hozziner straight up called it “stupid” and argued that the home rule provision holds “contempt for the public.” The office of Michael Cordozo, the City’s Corporation counsel, is now seeking appellate options so not all hope is lost for those waiting for a taxi to pick them up on Broadway in Queens at 3 in the morning.

The Mayor has your back, outer borough explorer!