Monday, November 26, 2018

End of the Road

I remember promising myself early on that the day I became blasé about what I saw and did driving a cab was the day I needed to quit. When I made that promise, I thought it would be obvious to me when that day came, but change happens gradually, almost imperceptibly. 

I was sitting with my wife one morning at the end of a long shift, talking before she went off to work and I went to bed. She enjoyed hearing the stories I brought home and asked what happened that night.

“Nothing,” I said. 

“Really? she answered. I shrugged, and we changed the subject to something else—the news, what she did the night before, what her day entailed. 

A bit later, almost offhandedly, I described sitting on a cab stand the night before and watching a couple of bums arguing over a pack of cigarettes. The boyfriend, I assumed, snatched the pack from his wheelchair-bound girlfriend’s hands. She lunged at him and grabbed them back, only to throw herself onto the sidewalk in the process. He then fell on top of her, and the two rolled around as if in slow-motion. Two squad cars pulled up and the four patrolmen stood in a circle around them laughing at the spectacle before breaking the thing up.

“I thought you said nothing happened?” 

I said something curt, dismissive, but her point was clear: It wasn’t that things weren’t happening, I just stopped noticing. I had reached that point. 

My mind drifted back to that summer evening outside an apartment building with the former Brazilian school teacher. 

“You have another year, maybe two,” he told me. “Then you have to quit. You quit or drive the rest of your life.” Inertia has a way of taking over one’s life.

And so I just stopped. 

The taxi industry itself too was about to undergo seismic change. The ride-hailing service Uber first appeared in Boston in 2011. I remember thinking at the time how clever it was, how efficient. The Web-based service eliminates both the guesswork of exactly when your ride will show up and exactly how much your fare will be. The taxi industry, being a legislated monopoly, has always been stubbornly resistant to change. Uber would drag it kicking and screaming into the 21stcentury.

The number of taxi medallions, those pieces of tin affixed to the rear of the car that allow the vehicle to be driven as a taxi, are fixed by the state legislature, and thus their value had always been artificially high. At the time I quit driving, a medallion in Boston could sell for as much as $750,000, a ridiculous amount given that it would take two lifetimes of driving to pay for one. For the owners, there was no incentive to improve the quality of service, as the value of their company simply depended on owning the medallion.

Uber changed that equation. By 2015, as Uber exploded in popularity, ridership in Boston taxis plunged nearly a third, and some owners were trying to sell their medallions for as little as $180,000. The industry tried to fight back, lobbying city hall and the statehouse to stop the onslaught, but there was little politicians could do. I, for one, had no sympathy for the taxi owners, as they had been riding the gravy train for far too long. The drivers, on the other hand, those who couldn’t afford to own their vehicle and drive for Uber, were left out on their own. 

That was a little over 6 years ago. Yet, incredibly, people still find their way to this blog (over 200 visits just last month). For that, I am forever grateful. Thank you.

Nevertheless, it's time to shut it down. Yet, for those of you who would like to be enjoy The Hack, I've compiled the blog into a book of the same title, available on Kindle or in paperback on at a very reasonable cost.

Me? I moved on. I still write, trying to cobble a career of sorts. And I’ve started a new blog,, about aviation. Transportation seems to be my niche. I understand it might not be your cup of tea, but I'd be honored to have you subscribe to it.

In the meantime, happy trails.