Technology continues to advance and change our world, human nature does not change. Technological advancement does not mean moral advancement. While we can summon a wealth of information in less than a second, the human race isn’t applying this knowledge in a way that makes our world any more just and fair.
And so it is with our taxi cabs. While technology enables us to hail cabs, it has not improved the ethical standards of drivers or riders. I have seen this illustrated across our city in several ways, but most vividly this past week.
It was after 6 p.m. and since I was out of work late I wanted to waste no time in getting home. I was in downtown Manhattan and the traffic looked painfully slow. I positioned myself near a street corner so a car could make a quick exit off of a bumper-to-bumper Broadway. I requested a ride from Lyft.
I got a call from the first Lyft driver.
“Hi this is your driver from Lyft, can I confirm where you are?”
“Yes. I am at Broadway and Worth Street. I’m a bit before Worth Street so you can make a left and get out of this terrible traffic.”
“And can I confirm where you are going?”
“Flushing, Queens,” I said truthfully.
A few seconds after our call ended. I saw that the driver had canceled my ride and the mobile app was searching for a new driver for me.
I also realized how I had made a terrible mistake. One of the features that is supposed to make ride hailing services better than hailing cabs on the street is that the application does not tell the driver where you are going until they confirm on their device that you are in their vehicle. This stops them from cherry picking rides the way yellow cab drivers do, asking passengers where they are going before they get in the cab, so they can avoid taking fares to destinations they don’t like.
Ride hailing drivers subvert this system in two ways: they will pull over and confirm on their device that you are in the cab when you are not, and then canceling the ride before you get to them. And, like they did with me, they call you and ask where you are going and then cancel the ride if they don’t like what you tell them.
The second Lyft driver called a few minutes later, doing the same thing. I didn’t tell them, but it didn’t help anyway.
“Can you confirm where you are going?”
“I’m on Broadway and Worth. I’ll see you soon. Are you nearby?”
“Yes. I am at Broadway and White Street. I will be there soon. … Can you confirm where you are going?”
“That’s a great question. I’ll confirm when I see you. And I’ll see you soon,” I said with the friendliest confidence I could muster.
My phone soon indicated that this driver had canceled as well, and now I had to start the request for a driver all over again. And guess what? The price for a ride was now about $20 more than when I was first looking for a ride. This made me livid but I was too tired to get worked up about it, and besides, I would have been mistaken for a crazy person, shouting at my smartphone in the middle of Broadway as downtown traffic slowly crawled by.
The third driver arrived and completed the trip. With all the shady driver shenanigans, I probably saved no time in getting home and would have been better off taking a subway or express bus.
A friend who is a yellow cab driver broke down the one issue he may have with taking fares to the outer boroughs: if it’s towards the end of his shift, he faces late fees if he brings his cab back to the garage late. That’s the only time he picks and chooses his fares, and he recommends reporting those drivers that won’t take customers where they want to go. My friend is exceptionally good at what he does, and even lets passengers know when they can get somewhere faster using public transit. I had one Lyft driver tell me that in Maryland recently, and I much appreciated it.
In a few short years, the drivers at ride-share services like Uber and Lyft have perfected many of the repugnant practices that sent riders away from yellow cabs to begin with. Ride-hailing service drivers are known to cancel rides in time to take advantage of surge pricing times. No-show cab drivers can still saddle would-be riders with $5 cancelation charges which are difficult (though not impossible) to fight through the companies’ Web sites. And yellow cab drivers are left in the lurch, many of them deeply in debt with loans for medallions that they may never be able to pay back, a situation regulators ignored.
At the same time, ride sharing services are in greater demand, since our public transit system is so rotten to the core the subways lines can be delayed even by an overflowing toilet.
As with yellow cabs, remain vigilant when you are taking one of the raid hailing services. What looks like a minor inconvenience could be another scam.
I was in Atlanta for work this past week and I wanted to go someplace for lunch. I was working in a very modern office that had some free pizza for lunch, but I wanted something healthier and to get out of the office for a little while.
Atlanta is not a pedestrian friendly city and my options were limited unless I wanted to take a cab someplace. A coworker recommended a shopping center a little way up the hill in the corporate park where we were, so I walked there.
My options for lunch were a Subway (no, a Subway worker once tried to put mayonnaise on a meatball sub and once you get past a certain age the smell of their bread is disgusting), a salad place, and a New York-style deli. For some reason, I picked the New York-style deli place. I thought maybe they would have good sandwiches.
The walls were painted with images from New York: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the like. It was a poor imitation of a New York deli. People waited too long at the counter and too long for table service. Maybe they have brilliant pastrami or hot dogs but the sandwiches I saw pass by were pretty paltry and would not have made it across the counter at a quality deli in the Big Apple.
I tried to eat a healthy option so I ordered a salad and a side of cottage cheese. I also ordered an egg cream because it’s rare to find those anywhere, so when I see one offered on a menu I feel I should order it. The egg cream was only OK: again, it would be way below par at a place like Ray’s Candy Store, where I’m proud to have taken people for their first egg creams.
This kind of fraudulent “New York” is not limited to outside New York. But if you’re within the five boroughs or even within a hundred miles of the city and you stumble upon a restaurant or deli that makes grand pretention to how “New York” it is, you can usually count that as bogus. If you’ve got to advertise it, you’re not the real deal.
Atlanta, and the South in general, has some of the best food in the world. I’ve been to outstanding barbecue restaurants, had soul food, Cajun food, and many varieties of Southern cuisine that are mouth-watering just to think about. I know there is better fare on offer in Georgia. Sadly, the metro-Atlanta area has undergone rapid growth that has scrubbed away meaningful culture, leaving it with a lot of the mundane corporate subdivision architecture. You see what this kind of consolidation has done to the New York suburbs and parts of the five boroughs as well: there’s an Olive Garden making money in Times Square while independent Italian restaurants in Little Italy struggle to get by.
I did not find an authentic New York restaurant in Atlanta. Maybe I never will, but that’s OK. The search for the real New York is enough of a herculean task at home. My children may have a radically different idea of what makes for a true New York experience than I do. As generations make changes and the demographics of the city churn through neighborhood after neighborhood, what counts as a true measure of culture fluctuates.
I made it back to the office after wolfing down my salad and cottage cheese. I had to get more work done before flying back to New York.
The roads and parks this spring and summer are filled with tourists and our highways are busy with people driving through our great land. Among them are my aunt Alice and her husband Dave Siewert.
Dave and Alice are going on a giant road trip and are seeing some of the great beauty of the Western United States. There are no people more worthy of experiencing all of the natural beauty of America than Alice and Dave. And this road trip is special for them because it will be their last together.
Bad news came fast for them at the end of last year. Dave was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and has not been given long to live. Alice is a cancer survivor and Dave had heart surgery years ago. They have more than paid their dues to the trials of medicine; they have endured enough health hardships to last two lifetimes already. This just isn’t fair.
If you look up the definition of “balls of steel” in a proper dictionary, the entry will have Dave’s picture next to it. Dave is facing certain death and has doubled down on embracing life.
No one would blame Dave if he holed himself up in a dark room and gorged on cheese curds like some kind of Midwestern Howard Hughes. Not a soul would find fault with him if he numbed himself from the specter of his own approaching death.
But that’s not how he does things.
Alice and Dave acquired a camper and set their sights westward, making the journey from their home in Wisconsin to Yellowstone National Park. Early on they had an accident due to a blown tire that delayed their journey. But what is a little traffic accident when you’re spitting in death’s face every day?
Dave has to return to Wisconsin every six weeks so his esophagus can be dilated to prolong his life. Yet he’s out there, rolling down America’s highways with no regrets and no apologies. He is boldness personified and the baddest badass cruising America right now because I guarantee you the toughest trucker or biker on the road today is not staring death in the face like Dave is.
At a time when it would be easy to voice bitterness or rage at life’s unfairness, they have remained a moving example of grace and love. The way they insist on living life to the fullest and refusing to be beaten down is itself like a great work of art. Like all great artists, they make it look easy.
But no one who knows them is surprised. Alice and Dave were married outside on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year. It somehow didn’t feel that way though. The breeze was just right and no one seemed to notice the temperature. Alice’s vows included a promise to support the Green Bay Packers. After the ceremony, Alice and Dave enjoyed their first dance together as a married couple. Before their song was over, Alice beckoned everyone to join them on the dance floor. She would tolerate no slackers. Even those guests who normally do not like to dance at weddings happily obliged.
Alice created a Facebook page to document her and Dave’s travels. She is a gifted writer and has posted comments and photos. “We can feel the petty retreating by the hour,” Alice wrote in a post. “This has not so far been a year too full of laughs. Yet we have been laughing and crying and learning things about ourselves and each other that the world of cubicles and chemo bays muffles somehow.”
“We are witnessing natural things that were previously beyond my imagination,” Alice wrote me in an email. “Talking stops and all one does is stare dumbly at a magnificence that renders your life, worries, ego all meaningless. It is fun to be on the road. But some day we come home for good. And that is a principle to wrestle with the starry night through.”