Top critical review
9 people found this helpful
A Mixed Bag
on November 2, 2006
In the end, this book wasn't what I hoped it would be, but was still worth the read. As a cabbie in Boston, I picked this up hoping to get a feel for the cab business in NY. And as a history buff, I was particularly interested in the promise of a good back-story. Unfortunately, there's very little history here. Despite the book's extensive footnotes section, most of the "history" comes from the memories of a few old-time drivers, and is generally concerned with settling grudges and exposing exploitation. In addition, this book reads like a doctoral thesis in hardcover. "White middle class suburbanites" get almost as much page time as the immigrant drivers. And there's barely a word about the interesting job these drivers have, instead the focus is on their place as it relates to globalization, exploitation of Third World labor, and "neoliberal economic practices." Not exactly what I thought I was getting into.
That being said, even though I'm in Boston and not New York, I can safely say that the subjects of Mr. Mathew's book are not exaggerating, and the tale he tells is true at its core - driving a cab is a tough job, and the driver has to dodge the brokers, the cops, the city and the frequently abusive passengers just to make a basic wage. If you're looking for some scholarly views on the function of immigrant labor in cities, strategies for labor organizing in a diverse workforce, or another reason to distrust Giuliani, this is a great read. If you're looking for a good history of cabs in NYC, or just an interesting peek into the lives of the people who risk life and limb to roam the streets, this isn't it. I'm still waiting for that book.
A final nit-pick: as you'd expect from an organizer for the Taxi Workers Alliance, there's not a single word about the possible role of the drivers in the heat brought down on them. In my view, it's simply irresponsible to ignore the significant number of rude, ignorant, criminal and even dangerous people who drive cabs. If I were given the choice between reforming the lease agreement (an odious situation, to be sure) and cleaning the Boston fleets of the worst drivers, I'd probably boot the drivers. There are issues in the industry that go beyond race, class and economics, and even those issues go much deeper than Mr. Mathews takes them.