From celebrities to unabashed lovers, veteran cabbie Gene Salomon has driven all sorts since his first fare in 1977. Salomon talks with Metro about one of his strangest trips, what cabbies fear the most and his memoir "Confessions of a New York Taxi Driver."
Metro: What do you like about driving a cab?
Salomon: You're just cruising the streets like a cowboy. I can go anywhere. … In this particular job you also have this incredible window with which to view humanity. Exposure to the human race in New York City is just extraordinary.
What was one of your wildest rides?
I'll give you one. … This was probably 20 years ago. I was taking a 30-something couple from Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights at midnight. We're in Brooklyn, they're a few blocks from their destination, we stopped at a red light, and two cops came running toward the car and got in. One cop in the front with me, one cop in the back with the two people.
They commandeered the cab. There was some crime scene they had to get to immediately. They didn't know what it was, they were very thankful, 'sorry, sorry, and run the red lights,' and we went right past the passenger designation, another 15 blocks or so.
Did you ever find out what happened?
There's a jail on Atlantic Avenue right over there. … I think somebody escaped.
Did you keep the meter running during the detour?
Yes! Why should I have to suffer?
How did you come up with the seven types of passengers you use in the book, like "the Workerbees" and "the American aristocracy"?
I think economics, more than any other category that I can think of, is a good way to divide New Yorkers.
What's your favorite type of passenger?
It'd be the 'Gonnabees.' … That's people who are most alive, got that 'I'm gonna to do something with my life, I'm going to accomplish something' attitude. They're not living at a higher standard necessarily, but more alive.
You've driven around a lot of celebrities, but one you highlight in the book is your trip with Leonardo DiCaprio and his friends to a club.
This was before "Titanic," so I had never heard of him. … After we get to the club, this is a kid, 17 years old, and he stays in the cab, starts asking me questions about what it's like to be a taxi driver in New York. … He asked me, 'Who was the best celebrity tipper you ever had?… I said, 'John McEnroe gave me double the meter' and Leonardo DiCaprio says, 'Well, I'm going to give you triple the meter!' And he did.
You usually ride from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. -- why do prefer the night shift?
There's less traffic. There are more fun passengers. The people during the day are very business-like in New York. At night, you get people going out, enjoying themselves, and of course the drunks at night. What would we do without them?
But then there's the chance the drunks will throw up.
The possibility of somebody puking in your cab is really the worst fear of a cab driver. It used to be getting shot.
What do you have to do when that happens?
First of all, you have to refrain from harming the person, literally flogging them. Then you got demand he pay for the trouble that he's caused -- which he may or may not do. You got to throw them out of the cab in disgust. Then you got to drive back to your garage and you have the guy clean up after the guy. That means hosing the cab down in the back, taking the seat out, wiping it all down. … This is all of course, lost time.
What about passengers fooling around?
It does happen, not as frequently as it used to, back in the day. It's awkward and annoying.
What do you usually do if you see someone in what you call the "taxi cab position" -- woman straddling a man?
I'll make left and right turns as strong as I can to knock the girl off. This is the taxi cab driver's revenge.
Why did you decide to write a book about your experiences?
There's so much material that comes in the door, virtually every night. It's a great place to collect stories, so writing a book was a natural thing to do.
"Confessions of a New York Taxi Driver" is on sale Jan. 28 at $14.99. Salomon also blogs at Cabs are for Kissing.