Your Best Buddy in New York"You have a different conversation with everybody."
Miguel Pichardo is not your typical New York City cab driver. For one thing, he doesn't drive a yellow car. (He's a livery driver, so you can't hail him on the street. You have to call for service.) You also won't see him yelling out the window or flipping off another driver who rides too close. (He takes his job so seriously that he believes the Livery Passenger's Bill of Rights to be as sacrosanct as biblical text.)
"At a regular job they give you a whole startup kit and tell you what to do and what not to say," says Pichardo, who worked in security, sales and the health care industry before hitting the streets as a driver two years ago. "I took that same kind of preparation into the cabbing business, and I've been successful."
Pichardo has been so successful, in fact, that he logs about 2,000 miles a week working the night shift in his dark gray 2010 Toyota Camry.
Manhattan, mind you, is only 13.4 miles from end to end.
"There's a lot of times you get into a cab and it doesn't smell good and the driver is listening to what he wants to listen to, and that kind of bothers people, especially if you're paying money for a ride," he says.
A native New Yorker, Pichardo takes an inordinate amount of pride in his work. His cab is always impeccably clean. He keeps an MP3 player in the car filled with a variety of music for his customers, and he also has water bottles and a bevy of phone chargers on hand. He won't speak unless his fare is looking for conversation. "I'm not going to go ahead and just start rambling," he explains. "That makes their ride uncomfortable and long." But he really does enjoy chatting it up.
The conversations he likes most are about life in general: "How you get to know certain things after a certain age," he says. But he also is keen on discussing food and sports. "You have a different conversation with everybody."
A lot of times he'll find himself making recommendations about where to eat or stay, but he also gets plenty of inside tips on the best new places from his customers, or by noticing new storefronts opening on familiar routes. The spots he prefers generally are casual and quirky restaurants, like the Meatball Shop, offering more balls than a tennis camp, and Blockheads, with its giant portions of fresh Mexican food.
In his free time Pichardo might play a game of pickup basketball or softball with friends at a local park. But if he needs to stretch his legs right after a shift — sometime in the early morning — he'll park a mile away from his Harlem apartment and walk home along the quiet streets. "I start looking around and think about how the neighborhood has changed from where I used to grow up," he says. "There's a lot of expensive apartments, a lot of new businesses. There's a Starbucks. I never thought in a million years there'd be a Starbucks in Harlem."
Check out Miguel's New York City.