Chicago Hack: A View From Behind the Wheel

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Have you ever wanted to see the roads through the eyes of a taxi driver?  Take on the life of a cab driver through Hack, a blog turned illustrated memoir, by former Chicago cab driver Dmitry Samarov.  Samarov began driving a cab in 1993 to support himself as an artist and utilized his creative abilities to produce amazing blog entries, memoirs and pieces of artwork.  His stories and paintings bring you into the daily life of a cab driver, through the rush hour nightmares, rowdy passengers and long waits with fellow drivers.  Hack as well as Samarov’s paintings provide a memorable and moving view of the taxi industry, certainly a misunderstood profession.

So you write “Hack,” a very popular blog based on your experiences as a Chicago taxi driver.  What is the blog about?   What prompted you to start this blog?  

The blog started in 2006 as a way for me to write about my experiences behind the wheel of a cab in Chicago. I’d first used the name “Hack” (short for hackney carriage, which is what taxis used to be called) for a zine I made in 2000-01 about my time driving  in Boston from 1993 to 1997.

We would love to find out more about you.  What initially led to you the decision to give driving a cab a try?

In 1993 I graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a BFA in painting and printmaking. I moved back to the Boston area to be near my family and needed a job. Scanning the paper one day I came across a DRIVERS WANTED ad and followed it to the Checker Taxi Company of Boston on Saint Botolph Street. I’d end up driving a cab twelve of the next twenty years.

We hear once you start, it’s hard to stop!  You say you feel at home in Chicago; what makes this city special to you and why did you choose to drive a cab there?

I went to school here and after going back to Boston for a few years (and being reminded of all I hated about that city) I was thinking of where I could move to. An old art school friend needed a roommate at his new place in Wicker Park and that seemed like a good excuse as any to move back. I can’t really say why Chicago is the place for me other than to say that I’ve been here over twenty years now and still feel like there’s more to see and know.

I started driving a cab here in 2003 because I got sick of bosses, co-workers, bars, restaurants, and stores I’d been working at. One of the perks of the job is that you work for yourself.

Yes, working for yourself has great benefits and also a great satisfaction.  You told us you are no longer driving a cab, but I am sure you have a lot of stories from your experiences.  Can you share your most bizarre encounters with passengers while driving a taxi?

Anything and everything you could think of was done in my cab at one time or another during my twelve years on the job. Check out my book to read all my stories.

“Challenged accepted,” huh?  Hahaha.   OK, a serious question: If you were the “taxi king of Chicago,” what would be the one thing you would change about the taxi industry and its job expectations?

I would raise the fare rates so that drivers could earn a living without having to put in 80 hours a week. Most people have no idea what lengths drivers have to go to to just scrape by.

Not only were you a taxi driver,  you are also a popular painter.  We love your paintings of taxis and taxi scenery.  How did your experiences as a cab driver influence your paintings? Did you draw inspiration from your co-workers, passengers and surroundings alike?

Spending sixty to eighty hours a week anywhere can’t help but make an impact on your artwork. I did many paintings sitting in the cab at the airport or just on some corner in the city, looking out the window. I also did a lot of illustrations of my passengers and things that happened while driving to help tell my stories.

You say you decided to take your blog down; why?  Will we be seeing some of your great stories in upcoming projects?

I felt that the stories had been up for anyone to read for free online for long enough. Also, since publishing my first book in 2011, I’d thought of the blog as a sort of first-draft for a more finished project. I have a second book of cab stories that will probably come out in 2014.

Lastly, what you are currently working on and what we should expect next?

As always, I continue to focus on my artwork first and foremost. I update my website fairly frequently but you can also follow me on Twitter or Tumblr. Then there’s that second cab book, which should have a publisher pretty soon. I’ve also been working with filmmaker John McNaughton on a TV show adaptation of Hack which will see the light of day whenever the mysterious forces in Hollywood decide to give it the green light. I’ve recorded a spoken-word CD with improvised music. The pieces were culled from cab stories as well as other newer material having to do with my immigration experiences. Lastly, I’ve started another project called Art in its Own Terms.  I keep busy!

We would like to thank Dmitry again for his willingness answer our interview questions; your time and effort are greatly appreciated!  Find out more information about Dmitry Samarov on his website:

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Drive a taxi? Manage a taxi fleet?  Get listed on TaxiFareFinder! 

Why? Here are four reasons:

  • National Audience – Travelers, especially those from out-of-town, look to online resources to plan their trips. Think about it; they have no access to YOUR local newspaper or phonebook. Whether they are visiting from the suburbs or from another city, TFF is always available.
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Create-a-Caption Monday!

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To enter, please visit our Facebook page here.

The winning caption will receive a TaxiFareFinder t-shirt!

On how to play and for official rules, please click here.

Australian Cities – Initial Release (5/16/2013)

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TaxiFareFinder is excited to announce the release of taxi fare calculators for eighteen cities in Australia.  Although we already had a few Australian calculators before this, we are looking to expand our presence and continue to add new cities.  Please let us know how these calculators perform: they are still in the early phases, so feedback is always welcomed!

Taxi etiquette in Australia is a little different from that of the United States as well as many other countries.  After hailing a cab in Australia, it is expected that you sit in the front seat next to the driver.  If there are multiple passengers in a party, it is customary for the first rider to fill the passenger seat and the rest to then continue into the back seat.  It is viewed as very impolite to sit in the back seat first and drivers see it as an indication of inequality. For more information on this, check out our article.

Australia – Cities Supported as of 5/16/2013:

  • Adelaide, SA
  • Alice Springs, NT
  • Ballarat, VIC
  • Bendigo, VIC
  • Blue Mountains, NSW
  • Brisbane, QLD
  • Canberra, ACT
  • Darwin, NT
  • Geelong, VIC
  • Gold Coast, QLD
  • Gosford, NSW
  • Hobart, TAS
  • Launceston, TAS
  • Melbourne, VIC
  • Newcastle, NSW
  • Perth, WA
  • Sydney
  • Wollongong, NSW

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Taxi Trivia Giveaway!

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What is the vehicle brand of the new NYC ‘Taxi of Tomorrow’?

Answer this question on TaxiFareFinder’s Facebook page for a chance to win a TFF t-shirt!

Travels In A Cab: A NYC Taxi Far From Home

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Travels In A Cab is a truly unique blog written by a man with an obsession for cars with personality: in other words old, loved automobiles and especially his coveted New York City cab.   This blogger purchased a retired NYC cab and uses it to travel around the country.  In each blog entry, he recounts the huge amount of publicity and attention received by his beloved, abandoned taxi in the various cities he visits. We are so pleased to have had the opportunity to learn more about the adventures had in this 2006 NYC taxi cab during our interview.

Your adventure is truly an unique one: you drive a traditional “NYC Taxi” outside of the city, all over the country.  Where did you get this idea?

 I’ve always had an affinity for cars that no one else wants; I’ve had a stable of them.  But for some reason, I’ve always thought of a NYC Taxi as the one vehicle that reigns supreme in the “cars that no one wants” department.  They do not exist for very long when their service life is over, and accumulate an insane amount of mileage that any sane and financially intelligent person would stay far far far away from.  When they are retired, dead tired and hated by most, I love them.

A NYC Taxi is unique, since it is an embodiment of the city’s landscape itself.  So, instead of buying a coffee mug with a picture of a taxi on it, I bought a real one!  Plus, few people know that the Crown Victoria in NYC had to be specifically made for taxi use, unlike used police cars in other cities.  A NYC Taxi from 2002 on up, is actually a long wheelbase model meaning it is stretched for leg room.  Therefore, the back doors on a NYC Taxi would not fit any other Crown Victoria, making the vehicle even more unique.

I see.  So how do you go about getting a real NYC taxicab…in case I want one?

I bought my taxi by doing a search on searching for a Crown Victoria with a price range of $200 to $1500 in the New York City area..  Occasionally I would find some real beaters listed on there.  I bought mine private sale from a garage that I assume did the work on it while it was a cab; it was an extended owner operator, meaning it had been on the five year plan.

Many of us, including myself, are wondering what the laws and regulations are surrounding driving a NYC taxi cab outside or even within its home city.  Can anyone do this?

In NYC, regulations state a yellow medallion taxi must start it’s service life new and can only remain on the streets for a period of three years, or five years if it is an owner operator cab, not a fleet garage.  It is my understanding, that most of those taken out of service are either stripped for parts to keep others going, or sold wholesale to other cab companies in other cities.  Many of these old cabs actually go to Chicago.

I have not found a place where I am restricted from driving it around, especially because I am not operating it as a taxi. However, it would be too confusing and most likely some sort of  violation, to drive around NYC with my taxi, as it is branded with the trademarked NYC logo.  My hope is that twenty years from now, when none of these exist, someone will be glad I kept it in its original glory.  It is in the same condition as the day it left the city, including the contents in the ashtrays and all!

Do you ever get hailed when driving around in your cab?

I actually never get serious hails.  If I do, it is usually someone trying to be funny.  Sometimes they yell out “Taxi!” as I drive by, although I’ve never in all my life seen anyone yell TAXI to actually get one!

Hahaha, that’s great.  You must get some interesting reactions.  Can you share with us some of the most memorable encounters you’ve had while driving?

I think the most attention my car has ever gotten was in Montreal, Canada.  It was parked near the Notre Dame church and I was walking around.  When I came back, there were crowds of people posing and taking pictures next to it.  Then, later on at a stoplight, a group of fifty children on a school trip spotted my taxi while waiting for the walk signal.  As if in choreographed unison, all eyes were locked onto the car and soon enough the cameras, waves and yells surrounded my cab!

Also, when visiting Kennebunkport, Maine (home of President George W. Bush), my cab made the newspaper in full color after one of the Town Selectmen took a picture of it and made friendly inquiries about it.  One time in Vermont, a Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission followed me while he was here skiing.  He loved that I saved the old cab and had his picture taken with it for his office.  The car consistently gets photographed on the highway and people have been very friendly about it whenever I stopped someplace.

You must meet people from New York who are familiar to NYC cabs.  They must enjoy a little taste of home!

In NYC, this car was one of 13,287 cabs and hardly revered.  However, it is certainly funny how much a New Yorker likes a New York cab, when it’s not in New York.  They love seeing this thing outside of the Big Apple; I think it makes them comfortable.  There has only been one situation where a man from Brooklyn approached me and told me how weird it was that anyone would drive a NYC taxi. In a city of 9 million people, I guess I can’t tug at everyone’s heart strings.  Also, I almost forgot, my girlfriend is Dominican and grew up in Harlem in NYC. She too is not a fan of my car and it doesn’t mean much to her other than the fact I love it.

You know we are a Boston based company.  Did you visit Boston in your taxi and how did you like it?  We are not so kind to NY people, you know.

Oh yes, I wheeled into Boston and remarkably, it hardly even got a blink or wink.  I roamed all over the place and even had it’s picture taken at the entrance to Yawkey Way. I was hoping a big brawl would ensue, but nothing!  Like most places I take the old cab, I write a blog about it with pictures. I love Boston.  Being a New Englander, everything is Boston in terms of sports anyways.

According to TaxiFareFinder’s algorithm the fare for your travel across USA would have cost a passenger  $7,375 dollars.  Don’t you wish you had one? 🙂

Actually, a few years ago two guys actually finagled a NYC Taxi to take to California and back, but I think they went off meter and haggled the driver down to $5,000 plus paying for his meals and hotel.  They did it in a Ford Escape!  What a trip that must have been.

What are your future plans?   What about for your beloved taxicab?  

At the moment, my plans are keeping the thing going – it has 350,000 miles on it, hard miles.  Things break consistently: my rear axle is on borrowed time, to name one.  The next trip planned is to Washington D.C., followed by a trip to Ocean Boulevard in Miami Beach, Florida.  We shall see!

Thank you so much!  Keep us posted of your adventures!

TaxiFareFinder Mention in USA Today

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At USA Today’s request, TaxiFareFinder calculated estimated one-mile, five-mile and ten-mile fares in the 60 largest U.S. metropolitan areas.  All fare estimates are based on real rates and a mathematical algorithm, not solely on trip distance and duration. They exclude tolls and additional fees.  It was discovered that fares in Honolulu, San Jose and San Francisco are among the highest. Fares in Detroit, Dallas and Pittsburgh are among the lowest. Check out the full article here!

Create-a-Caption Monday!

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To enter, please visit our Facebook page here.

The winning caption will receive a TaxiFareFinder t-shirt!

On how to play and for official rules, please click here.

Irish Cities – Initial Release (5/2/2013)

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TaxiFareFinder is happy to release new taxi fare calculators  for thirteen cities in Ireland.  Whether you are a tourist or a native, you are now able to determine how much a cab will cost in these specific Irish cities.  Please let us know how our calculators work out: they are still in the early phases, so feedback in encouraged and welcomed.

Not many people realize that the Irish taxi industry operates a little different than that of other countries. The taxi rates for the entire country are capped by the central government.  This means that individual taxi companies are free to set their own rates, but are unable to exceed the flag drop, per mile and wait time charges that are defined by government officials.

Ireland – Cities Supported as of 5/2: