50th anniversary

My New York

Chapter 7: Taxi Fares

220 West Houston Street. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
220 West Houston Street. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
220 West Houston Street. Photo: Joseph Rodriguez

This anniversary issue is devoted to what might make other people in other places go crazy but here we call connection. Not just the connections we choose, like our poker groups or going-out friends, but those that could happen only in a city as clotted and manic as ours. Fifty years ago, New York’s founding editor Clay Felker wrote a mission statement for his new magazine. “We want to attack what is bad in this city and preserve and encourage what is new and good,” he wrote. “We want to be its voice, to capture what this city is about better than anyone else has.” Here, we return to this mission, attempting to capture the city’s voice through stories that are spoken as much as written, almost entirely in the first person, and always about how our disparate lives intertwine. Read more about the project here.

My Fares: “She sees her pimp and he jumps in the cab.”

The people Joseph Rodriguez saw through the windshield.

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.

220 West Houston Street (above): “This is an after-after-hours club that was right across from the Film Forum. This place stayed open from like five in the morning to five in the afternoon. It was where you went after the big S&M clubs — Anvil, Hellfire — in the Meatpacking District closed. Back when Al Pacino was doing his research for the film Cruising, you’d see him cruising in this neighborhood.”

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
Pulaski Skyway, New Jersey (left), and 14th Street: “I had a fare once with a guy who I think was mob connected. He said to me, ‘Hey man, listen, I want you to take me to New Jersey.’ He was with a woman. At this time in the morning, I’m just like, ‘Okay, get in the cab. Let’s go.’ And he used the cab to have sex. He paid me 100 bucks and I said, ‘Okay, great.’ That shot with my hand is me coming from New Jersey with that fare.” 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
East Village (left) and Upper East Side:“That whole neighborhood looked like this back then. The graffiti is by Luca Pizzorno, an Italian artist who died because of AIDS in the mid-’90s. The Rolls was somewhere uptown. Today you see them more than you did before. Even in my neighborhood in Park Slope, I’ve got Lamborghinis and Maseratis.” Photo: Joseph Rodriguez
Watch Joseph Rodriguez talk about seeing Old New York from his cab.
New York’s 50th Anniversary Issue: Chapter 7