Eugene Salomon, a seasoned New York City cabbie driving since 1977, shares his experiences of driving around one of the busiest and most hectic cities in the world. He has two blogs, Confessions Of A New York Taxi Driver and Pictures From a Taxi. His blog includes a range of stories, from outrageous middle-of-the-night pickups to touching encounters with New Yorkers. He has recently released a book, Confessions Of A New York Taxi Driver, which includes more original stories about Eugene’s experiences as a cab driver written as if the reader were a passenger in his cab. Check out our interview with this awesome taxi driver!
You have been a taxi driver since 1977, wow! Can you share with us how you got started in the profession?
After living in some of the more remote parts of the world as a teenager, I returned to NYC (I grew up in the suburbs of the city) and was doing various odd jobs while independently studying philosophy, religion, the theater, and photography. My friend Harry was already a taxi driver at the time and set me up with a job at a taxi fleet. He thought I might enjoy taxi driving more than selling umbrellas on the street, and he was right.
You have 2 blogs – Cabs Are For Kissing and Pictures From A Taxi – how did each start? And where did you get the idea to start blogging about your experiences as a taxi driver?
Before there was a blog – much before, actually – I started keeping journals. This was a practice I’d begun when I was 13 years old and my father challenged me to keep a record of what my activities and thoughts were for each day of the upcoming year, 1964, in a book with a blank page for each of its days. I took him up on the challenge and today that book is my most valuable possession.
When I first started driving a cab, I realized quickly that this was a profession ripe with stories. Already seriously interested in writing, I began recording my more memorable rides in notebooks, thinking that someday there will be a book. After completing various writing projects, mostly stage plays, in the mid-90s, I wrote a first draft of a book which was really just a collection of stories without a narrative voice. It did receive some attention but, alas, no bites. I put it aside for other projects. Then in 2006, knowing that what my book needed was an opinionated narrative to connect the many stories, I decided to give it another crack. But almost immediately I realized that there were now these things called blogs and what would be a better idea would be to start a blog, hopefully gain an audience, and then write the book. So the idea of writing a book was the impetus for starting my blog, which I call Cabs Are For Kissing.
My other blog, Pictures From A Taxi came along four months after I began Cabs Are For Kissing, in November, 2006. I had studied photography at the School of Visual Arts and the NY Institute of Photography, and had even taken a brief sojourn from taxi driving to be a child photographer in 1991, but had pretty much dead-ended in the professional area. To be truthful, I didn’t like professional photography as much as I liked hobby photography. But with the advent of digital, and with the advent of instant photo cropping and editing, it became easy, fast, and very creative to snap street shots from my cab and edit them at home.
Also there is a significance versus mass thing going on here. My Cabs Are For Kissing blog is mostly text (significance), whereas Pictures From A Taxi, obviously is mass. I like the balance of the two, significance and mass.
In 2009, with the blogs running steadily, I began serious work on the book again, and finished it in 2011. It was first published in the UK by The Friday Project, an affilitate of HarperCollins UK, in 2013 as Confessions Of A New York Taxi Driver. It’s being published by HarperCollins in the U.S. on Jan. 28, 2014.
You have over 2,000 photos from the past 6 years on your blog Pictures From A Taxi and together they truly capture the spirit of New York City. Do you have a particular favorite photo or type of photo?
Great question. I do inded have three favorite types of photos.
The first is a shot showing groups of pedestrians as they cross from one side of an avenue to the other in NYC. I label these “islands in the stream” in the blog. What interests me about this type of shot is what you see, and what compositions you can create with cropping, when you get the pictures home. The faces of the people can be so interesting. I always wonder who they are, what their stories are.
The second is a type of shot I call “collage” in the blog. These are shots of windows and the reflections that are upon them. Often you don’t realize what you have until you see it on the computer, a reality that is quite surreal – faces may appear in reflections, for example, beside objects that are part of a restaurant’s interior. Again, there’s a lot you can do with composing these shots at home.
The third is a shot I call “neighbors”. There are endless storefronts on the streets of NYC. Sometimes I’m stopped at a red light and I’ll notice two shops beside each other on a street, with their own completely separate activities in progress. I’ll take a shot which shows these two realities, so close together and yet so apart from each other. I appreciate their contrast. And it’s so “New York” – busy people squashed together doing their own things.
We loved your recent post about your favorite types of riders. Today, what type of passenger would you label as your absolute favorite?
My three favorites, in order:
1. The newly-minted father on his way home from the hospital after particpating in the birth of his first child.
2. The wide-eyed “agoger” (someone who is agog) en route to Manhattan for the very first time from the airport.
3. The elderly active. Like the lady mentioned in my book who was 99 “and a half” (her own proud words) coming home from the theater with a younger man. (Not hard to find younger men when you’re 99!)
Can you share you all-time favorite story about a passenger over your years of driving?
I’m afraid this is too broad a question. After 36 years of taxi driving, there are so many. I can say this, though – my all-time favorite stories are in my book!
You talk about a ‘Taxi Hall of Fame’ in your blog. Can you explain this idea to our readers and tell us which passenger would be #1 in the Hall of Fame?
Actually I have various types of “Halls Of Fame” in my blog. There’s the “Giving Directions Hall of Fame”, the “Unusual Reasons For Taking A Taxi Hall of Fame”, the “Celebrity Comeback Line Hall of Fame”, the “Pass/Don’t Pass Hall of Fame”, the “Slogans On License Plates Hall of Fame”, the “Descriptions of Exactly Where To Stop the Cab Hall of Fame”, and, of course, the “Traffic Jam Hall of Fame”, which is also a chapter in my book.
I guess these titles are pretty self-explanatory. These are stories, or lists, about the most remarkable incidents I’ve encountered in each genre.
If I had to pick my number one person mentioned in these hallowed halls, although not a passenger, it would be Fidel Castro. It was the traffic jam caused by his exotic exit from NYC in 1979 that was the most astounding. That story is in the book.
During your time as a taxi driver, what is the greatest lesson you have learned?
People are basically good. Always give them an opportunity to demonstrate their decency.
You certainly have a vast knowledge of the NYC taxi industry – if you can change one thing about it, what would it be?
Right now it would be the damned “Taxi TV” in the back of all yellow cabs. The sound they emit I consider to be a safety issue. It comes on automatically whenever the meter is started and the volume is under the control of the passengers. Plus it’s a revolving loop of programming which a driver must listen to over and over and over and over… and over!
Every driver, and most passengers, despise these things because they add annoyance and distraction into the environment, as if the environment of a taxi driver in NYC wasn’t already annoying and distracting enough without them. And that is why they are a safety violation.
So they must go. Or at least be silenced.
You recently published Confessions Of A New York Taxi Driver, congratulations! Could you give our readers an idea of what to expect from the book
Thank you. It’s my best stories from 36 years of taxi driving in New York City, categorized into chapters, and connected together by an opinionated, first-person narrative. For example, there’s a chapter called “Road Rage”, another called “Extreme Behavior”, and another (of course) called “Sex and the Taxi”. Each chapter has several stories pertaining to its own subject matter.
Also, I wrote it as if the reader were a passenger in my cab. In fact, most of the stories are ones that I’ve been telling to the captive audiences known as “passengers” when it seemed appropriate, so they have a verbal tradition.
Excerpts from the book can be found by going to either Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk and searching for Confessions Of A New York Taxi Driver within those sites.
Do you plan to continue to drive and write? Is there another book in the future?
I sure do. I have three more taxi-related books in mind that I plan to write, one already in progress.
A big thank you to Eugene Salomon for taking the time to complete this interview. We appreciate the support and participation! Best of luck!