“There are eight million stories in The Naked City. This has been one of them.’’
That is the oft-quoted closing line from “The Naked City’’ TV series. The show, based on a 1948 movie of the same name, told New York City stories and ran from 1958–1963.
A New York City cabbie named Eugene Salomon has seen most of those stories in his 37 years of driving a taxi in the city and now he’s captured them in a book, “Confessions of a New York Taxi Driver.’’
Salomon is something of an anomaly in cab-driving ranks: He’s a native New Yorker, English is his first language, and, boy, can he can tell a story.
As a young man, he studied philosophy, religion, theater, and photography while supporting himself with a series of odd jobs. In 1977, he quit selling umbrellas on the street and began his higher education as a New York City taxi driver.
As he tells the story, on a July evening in 1979, he picked up a trio of Spanish troubadours who needed a ride from one restaurant gig to another.
Pretending to be skeptical of their talent, he got them to turn his cab into a rolling concert hall as they drove down Broadway.
He writes, “It wasn’t long after that ride that I stopped looking through the help wanted pages. New York City Taxi Driver was to be my profession.’’
New York City has 13,237 cabs and more than 40,000 licensed cabbies to serve the millions who live, work, and visit Manhattan. It’s a lucky passenger who lands in Salomon’s cab.
His passengers, and their stories, come from all over the globe and all corners of his city. He’s driven the rich and famous, been hustled by some world-class panhandlers, occasionally been beaten out of fares, and devised a rating system he uses for both Hall of Fame hails and weird causes for traffic jams.
His writing habit dates back to Christmas, 1963, when he was 14 and received a journal of blank pages for 1964 from his dad, along with a challenge to fill one in each day. He took up the challenge and dutifully recorded his life day to day.
“I can tell you what I did every day that year,’’ he said via phone recently. “Also every Mets’ score that season. That yearbook also is my most precious possession.’’
When he started driving, that writing habit, which he had continued at Friends World College (now LIU Global), segued into notebooks detailing his “Fare of the Night’’ or the day’s “Thing on the Street.’’
It seemed inevitable that would lead to a writing career.
In 2006, he started a blog: cabsareforkissing.blogspot.com. And that blog became this book, although, he says, “I kept 100 of the best stories out of the blog, saving them for the book.’’
His first blog post is titled “Jump In’’:
What happens during a ride in a taxi? There are three possibilities, he writes. “The first: nothing. The driver drives and the passenger looks out the window.
“The second: fly on the wall. The driver finds himself being the observer of a scene in the passengers’ lives.
“Then there is the third possibility, and this is where it gets interesting. A ‘conversation’ takes place. Cab drivers and their passengers find themselves in a unique human situation. It’s a business relationship but, like barbers and hair stylists, it’s a relationship that shares a close space for a specific length of time. Due to these factors, the thin shell that divides strangers from each other is easily shattered by the act of communication, and the potential for just about any kind of conversation exists.’’
Ever since, he’s been having what he calls a conversation with the human race.
One of the chapters in the book is about karma and coincidence. He feels that when your attention is fixed on something, there’s a mechanism that sends that thing your way.
In 1980, he wrote a full-length stage play and sent the manuscript to noted documentary filmmaker named Bert Salzman.
“Several weeks went by and I had not received a reply,’’ he writes. “Then one night I was cruising up 1st Avenue in the Upper East Side and a man and a woman got in my cab headed for the Upper West Side. The gentleman looked familiar. I looked at him carefully in my mirror. Was it possible? It was Bert Salzman!’’
The result was a stunned passenger and ultimately some helpful advice from Salzman. That play never has had a stage reading but another Salomon play was performed off Broadway 12 years ago.
Salomon isn’t a fan of Nissan’s Cab of Tomorrow “because it has a solid partition and conversation is impersonal via an intercom. “It cuts my rapport with passengers. I enjoy the back-and-forth with them, and often that interaction leads to bigger tips,’’ says Salomon.
One of his car stories stemmed from July, 1981, and involved giving a laundry list of the Checker Cab’s deficiencies to a gentleman who turned out to be a close friend of the company’s CEO. Three weeks later, Salomon read that the iconic Checker was going out of business.
“Too bad the guy didn’t ask me what I liked about the Checkers,’’ he says. “I did love the jump seats.’’
This past June Salomon was invited to speak at the Checker Club of America’s annual gathering. “They had 50 cars in Brooklyn from all over, including one used in the sitcom ‘Taxi’,’’ he says. “There was also one I’d never seen, the Aerobus, an extended wheelbase used for airports and train stations.’’
What keeps him driving?
“I take off after one unusual fare wondering what my next out-of-nowhere adventure might be. To tell the truth, this is the best part of being a taxi driver.’’