It’s official: Old-time drivers, who hang out at the Belmore, say they’re suffering.
Meanwhile, over at the Belmore (at Park Avenue South and 28th Street), the official “relief-stop” restaurant of the cabbies who “own their own,” the mood is grim. The women handing out the buttered rolls are punching higher numbers on the pink cafeteria price tickets. The little guy sharpening his knives behind the steam tray is deleting a few slices per sandwich to compensate for the pinch that’s hit the pastrami market. And at the long tables in the rear, a group of older cabbies, many of whom have been through it all before, are laying into their Belburgers and sounding off.
“You can’t blame Ford,” says George, a “semiretired” cabbie who got his hack license during the Great Depression when there wasn’t any other work around. “Ford is just an accident of his times.”
Sam, who remembers ‘32 “very well,” says: “This is a new ball game, and we need someone with a new set of rules. I heard in five years the oil producers are gonna have 65 percent of everything.”
“We have the power to help ourselves,” George says. “We don’t need those Arabs. First we have to stop buying things on time. There’s too much credit.” “And too much waste,” says Mike, pointing to his Belburger. “We’re the biggest wasters in the world. This country should take a lesson from Siegel [the owner of Belmore]. He doesn’t waste a penny.”
Lou, a big barrel of a man wearing a blue beret with a red pompon on tops, slams the tabletop and stands up. “Enough of theories; this is serious. You got to break it down to what it means to the cabdriver. We used to get lots of ladies taking interior decorators back to their apartments during the bullish Johnson years, right? Where’s the trade today?”
Nobody answers, so Lou continues. “Or the expense-account work. Where are the business men on the expense accounts? It used to be during the bullish Johnson years I would wait on Sixth Avenue and pick up a very good lunch-hour trade. Where’s the trade today, huh? Well, I’ll tell you, the expense-account trade started to go down the toilet during the sluggish Nixon years, and now their ain’t any of it left. Along with the interior-decorator trade. And who’s suffering? The cab driver is suffering.”
Still nobody says anything. Lou interprets the silence as an affront to his judgment and says, “So you don’t think we used to have a big lunch-hour trade?” He goes to the next table and comes back with a diminutive cabby with white hair.
“We used to get a lot of decorator and expense-account lunch trade during Johnson, right?” Lou demands.
“Yeah,” says the white-haired guy.
“Two, three years ago we still had lunch trade, right?” Lou fires, slamming the table again. “Yeah,” says the white-haired guy.
“You used to take a lot of expense accounts to the Four Seasons, the Gaslight, and the Forum, right?”
“Now you tell me, what kind of lunch trade are you getting now?”
“I ain’t getting’ balls lunch trade now,” the white-haired guy says. “I get McDonald’s lunch trade.”
“And gentlemen,” Lou says, slamming the table in triumph again, “people who eat in McDonald’s do not take taxicabs.”