Old New York, Seen Through a Cab Driver’s Windshield

By

This piece originally appeared in New York’s 50th anniversary issue, My New York – a special edition that attempts to capture the city’s voice through first-person stories, spoken and written, about how our disparate lives intertwine. Read them all here.

Joseph Rodriguez drove a cab from 1977 to 1985, and in the last two of those years, he was studying to be a photographer. He lost his first set of gear in a classic ’70s New York stabbing and mugging, but with a new camera, he documented what he saw on the job.

Northern Boulevard, Queens | “Self-portrait in my cab. I had one particular prostitute I picked up a few times after her shift and made sure she got home. One morning, she sees her pimp and he jumps in the cab and says, ‘Where’s the money?’ And he pulls a knife on her. Thank God they left. I never knew what happened to that woman.” Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
Stapleton, Staten Island | “My aunt was there. Back then you could take the car on the ferry. When I got off, the first thing I saw was, this guy was doing handstands. Then his girlfriend came to him, like so.” Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
Lexington & 59th Street | “I loved the frenetic energy of the city at that time. I once picked up a guy from the Hellfire club, an S&M club, and by the time I dropped him off on the Upper East Side, he had changed his leather cap and everything and put on a pink oxford shirt and some penny loafers. ‘Good morning, sir,’ the doorman said.” Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
Park Slope | “It was Easter Sunday, and I was just off work. I lived around the corner, but I didn’t know them. This is how we were on Prospect Avenue. People on the stoops, people hanging out.” Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
14th Street & West Side Highway | “That’s the back of the Anvil, by the West Side Highway. These guys would come out to take a leak from the club. And of course they’re having a conversation, so who knows what happened after that.” Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
Manhattan | “I was having a really hard time having a relationship, and I get these people in my cab who are married 45 years. So my question to the both of them was ‘How do you stay married for so long?’ The man starts complaining about her gas at night, and she was complaining about his snoring.” Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
Meatpacking District | “ ‘Don’t I look sexy?’ she said. ‘Hey, how are you today?’ My response was ‘Oh, you look very pretty.’ And then she did that.” Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
This woman was talking to me about her neighborhood and her family, the issues of the day, and unemployment and crime and poverty. It was such a deep conversation that I felt it would be important to capture her in this moment of thought. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
A panhandler at Bowery and Houston. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
A car accident. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
Outside the Vault, a popular S&M club. This was probably about 9 a.m.; some are going in, some are coming out. There’s a Dos Caminos there now. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
This was on Delancey Street. During this time you had a lot of artists really blending throughout the city. You saw interesting graffiti and murals in Soho, the East Village. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
I was parked at a taxi stand nearby, getting a cup of coffee when this Fiorucci model and her stylist started walking down East 58th Street. Many stared, and as traffic slowed some drivers tried to flirt with her. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
This is the West Side Highway, around 10th Street, 11th Street, 12th Street. It was just empty lots. The trucks from all over the city would park there. And that’s where a lot of gay men would cruise. This nice beautiful place where you can now hang out, the runners’ path, the bike path, that didn’t exist back then. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
Near Madison Square Park, an old man stops to watch a fashion photo shoot. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
Waiting for a fare early Sunday morning in front of the Mineshaft, a BDSM club in the Meatpacking District. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
Driving downtown, I saw this homeless person in a sleeping bag on top of the Midtown Tunnel on East 37th Street and Second Avenue. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
I picked him up at a club and I took him to Brooklyn. He was a happy camper. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
I used to go to Union Square a lot. A lot of nice energy there. In terms of youth culture there are probably two important places in NYC that people still frequent: one is Washington Square Park and one is Union Square. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
A street in East Harlem. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
Someone boxing training in the Bronx. That wasn’t a normal fare, but I’d go wherever people wanted to go. I wasn’t one of these cabdrivers that would turn people down. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
I remember this distinctly. I had dropped off some fare from an S&M club, which is foreign as foreign can be, and then I pick up this sweet little family going to church on a Sunday morning. That’s New York, right? Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
This was opposite where the Village Voice used to be, Bowery and East 4th Street. It looks like he’s carrying his life. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
That guy I picked up from one of the clubs. He was a transvestite performer and I was taking him home. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
This was on Park Avenue in the 30s or so, outside one of those hotels. A businessman having some kind of lunch and a homeless guy outside. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
Old New York, Seen Through a Cab Driver’s Windshield