The relationship between the hack and his fare is a curiously distant one, considering they are sitting mere feet from each other throughout the ride. For the most part, cabbies are fine with ferrying irate, deluded, or wildly loaded New Yorkers and tourists around the city, and are just trying not to get robbed or hurt. And for their part, those who hail cabs generally accept that their drivers may regard them as cretins not worth a syllable of their attention.
But when the plastic divider does come down, as it did for seven-year veteran driver Adil Aboussalham last fall, the city takes notice.
"What happened could have happened to anyone. New York is a good place to live, and we should keep it like that."
Here's how the New York Times described his heroics:
It was 5 o'clock on an early autumn morning last year, and Adil Aboussalham, 32, a cab driver from Astoria, Queens, was nearing the end of his shift. Suddenly, on First Avenue near 11th Street in Manhattan, a frenzied man hailed his yellow cab, jumped in and yelled, "Go, go, go!"
In his rearview mirror, however, Mr. Aboussalham (pronounced (ah-BOO-sah-lahm) saw something odd: a woman with a bloodied face and bleeding knees, crying. "Please stop, I'm begging you," she yelled.
Mr. Aboussalham jumped out of the cab, pressed his body against the right-hand rear door and flagged down a passing cab to block the left-hand door, as the man inside the cab screamed, "Let me out, let me out!" Mr. Aboussalham called 911.
Moments later, the police arrived and arrested the man, Luis Garcia-Ponce, and emergency workers treated the injured woman. Mr. Garcia-Ponce, who has a long criminal record of sexual assault, was charged with sexual abuse and other crimes, and is awaiting trial.
Since then, Aboussalham has been recognized and honored by numerous parties, including local councilmen, and, this past April, by the Taxi and Limousine Commission in a citywide ceremony. Meanwhile, Garcia-Ponce pleaded guilty to four charges of first-degree sexual abuse, two charges of first-degree burglary, and two charges of second-degree robbery, according to a spokesperson for the New York County District Attorney's Office. In June, Garcia-Ponce was sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.
Gelf spoke with Aboussalham about the incident, the cabbie lifestyle, and how to get the best tips. You can hear Aboussalham and other cabdrivers speak at the Non-Motivational Speaker Series on Thursday, July 24, in New York's Lower East Side. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Gelf Magazine: What were the circumstances of your coming to NYC? For how long have you driven a taxi?
Adil Aboussalham: I came to New York directly from Casablanca seven years ago. My first place in the US was in Sunnyside, Queens, and for the last three years, I've lived in Astoria.
GM: What made you want to drive a cab? Was it something you always wanted to do? Did you work anywhere else?
AA: I've been living in New York since 2001. I love New York. Until now, I've worked as a taxi driver, full-time. I love my job, working hard to make a living.
GM: What are your typical hours like? Do they vary?
AA: I drive a night shift now, 5 pm to 5 am, in all five boroughs.
GM: Have you ever pulled a 24-hour shift?
AA: I can't do it. For this job, you need to be fresh with a full eight hours of sleep. You need to be on the road with all your mind, for my own safety and for the passengers'.
GM: How much can you usually bring in on tips? Can you tell who is going to tip well and who isn't when they get into your cab?
AA: New Yorkers know who deserves a tip. I try to look good and keep my cab clean. I shave everyday and smile all the time, even if I'm having a bad day. I also try to help older or handicapped riders, and drive slower if I know I've got a baby or pregnant woman in the back. If you do the right thing, you deserve the tip.
GM: OK, talk to me a little bit about your heroics last fall, with the attacker you locked in the backseat.
AA: I saw a man fighting with a woman, and when the light turned green, he came running, turning his head from left to right, looking very nervous. When I pulled up, he jumped into my cab and said, "Go, go, go!" I heard this woman screaming, her face and leg all bloody, so I decided to turn off my engine and lock the doors. He tried to escape, but I forced him to stay in the cab.
GM: That's pretty intense. What was going through your mind?
AA: I told myself, "This situation needs the police." I put my "trouble" light on and called 911. About that time, another taxi pulled close to mine, locking the guy inside. When the police arrived, they told me they were looking for this guy for several months.
GM: Councilman Eric Gioia called you "Superman" when you were honored by the city. Do you consider yourself a hero, or was it more a natural reaction for you?
AA: What happened could have happened to anyone. That woman could have been my sister, or my mother, or my wife. Anybody who sees something like that would do something. New York is a good place to live, and we should keep it like that.
Photo courtesy of Pat Arnow Photography.