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Eugene Salomon p2

Taxi driver and street photographer Eugene Salomon talks about getting started as a taxi driver in the 1970s, and the geography of New York...

READERSVOICE.COM: The geography of New York is immense, and then you have to know all the details of streets, bridges, tunnels and locations. How long had you driven cabs before you felt you really knew your way around New York?
GENE SALOMON: One of the things I enjoy impressing on people new to New York is the simple immensity of it.  Almost anything you could say about New York would be a subjective reality, but one thing that’s pretty much indisputable is its sheer size.  God, it is huge!  If you took the populations of Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, added them together, and then tripled that number, you would still have a million less people than there are in New York.  New York is nearly triple the entire population of Ireland!  However, it’s not as difficult to navigate as you might think.  Due to the street grid of Manhattan, where 80% of a taxi driver’s destinations will be, the main thing you need to know is how to count.  Still, those fares out of Manhattan can be challenging.  Fortunately, 99% of the time, the passengers who leave Manhattan are going home and know how to go in case you don’t.  And for that other 1%, there are maps and GPS navigating (if the driver has the device – they don’t come with the cab).  It took me about six months to feel I really knew my way around.  I’m still learning, however.

RV: Where did you grow up and what places have you lived?
GS: I grew up in Levittown, Long Island, a town that is famous for being the prototype for the suburban sprawl.  My parents bought the house I grew up in in 1951 for $8,000, and it came with a television built into the wall, a modern feature at that time.  You had to be a veteran of WWII to buy a house in Levittown, so that meant it became Baby Boomer Headquarters.  There were children everywhere, and I do look back at it as Paradise.  I traveled extensively between the ages of 18 – 22 and have lived for extended periods of time in Kenya, Mexico, and Morocco.
RV: How did you start driving taxis?
GS: My friend Harry Gongola was already driving a cab and suggested it to me.  He thought I might enjoy it more than selling umbrellas on the street, and he was right.
RV: What was different about driving taxis in New York in the 1970s? 
GS: Basically it is the same today as it was then.  I mean, it’s the same job in the same city.  The regulatory agency, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, is more controlling of the industry than it was in those days.  And statistically it was certainly more dangerous then than it is today.  There were far more hold-ups and murders of taxi drivers, a situation that has thankfully improved.

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-copyright Simon Sandall.