My First Hack License

The year was 1970. I had just quit going to college at NYU’s University Heights campus. Except for those of us who were able to avoid the draft due to an educational or health deferment, everybody was in Vietnam fucking hookers, shooting heroin and trying not to die. I was 18 years old with no marketable skills except driving like a lunatic. I shared a pretty house in a dangerous neighborhood with three other guys, one of whom was Harold, who was already driving a cab at the old age of 25. Harold said that the money was good, especially if you worked for AAR Garage down around 160th St. underneath the Jerome Avenue El.

In those days you had a job with a garage or you owned your own medallion (in spite of being offered a medallion and a car for $27,000 I thought to myself, “I’d rather eat an empty shot glass.”). Union drivers got 49% of the meter 100% of their tips and 100% of the money they could steal; the garage got 51% of the meter, paid for the gas, and barely maintained the vehicle so it could limp out onto the streets. On a good weekday night I could make 35 bucks and 45 on the weekends.

So I had this job at AAR which was a precursor to getting a hack license. I took my proof of employment down to the Hack Bureau and showed it to them. They fingerprinted me and sat me down at a table with other hungry hopefuls. To each of us they handed two sheets of paper, each numbered 1 through 10. On one were intersections and on the other paper were places of interest to which a tourist might ask to be taken. To pass the test one had to write the number of the intersection next to the number of the destination. Since my score was 100%, I have no idea what a passing or failing grade consisted of, but nonetheless that was the sum total of one’s examination. Having passed the test I was told look at the camera and the cops took my picture. They then handed me a temporary license and told me to go to work. That was my first night driving a cab in New York City. That was also the night the other drivers showed me how to “hack” the meter system.

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