No matter how you picture a typical cabbie might be—at 5'4", odds are petite brunette Melissa Plaut is hardly the first person you'd imagine.
After seven years of monotony in the corporate world as an ad sales copy writer, Plaut had had enough. With her unemployment benefits exhausted, the dot com bubble burst and dreading another slog in an insufferable office gig, Plaut struck out—or rather, revved up—on the road. "Taxi driver was the first adventure on the list, says Plaut. "I was like, I'm going to make it happen, after all I had nothing else to do."
Not that the transition was a smooth ride from the start. "It's really scary to walk into a room with fifty guys waiting to turn in their applications, and be the only girl there that's not working there behind the counter," says college-educated Plaut who was just 28 at the time. "But that was part of the adventure. Just like, 'OK, here we go, I'm going to just really try and live this life.'"
That existence included getting to know a city she'd grown up next to in an entirely new manner. "The first two years were so intense," she admits as one of the only 400 female (out of 40,000) drivers in the city. "All these things were happening, and my relationship with the city was changing as I got to know it on this whole other level." That new found experience resulted in a blog, New York Hack, where the cabbie documents her daily travels though personal photographs and postings. "After about a year on the job, I got a digital camera and started snapping photos of things, like when I'm at Kennedy airport in a sea of 500 cabs. It's such a sight to behold". When her friends demanded she also write about what it's like to navigate the mean streets of Manhattan in her own version of taxi cab confessions, Plaut admits she had a little apprehension. "I was nervous. But I would come home after my shift, and sit down at five in the morning to write. I'd be so tired that I had no time to be insecure. That was sort of the trick." Her fear factor challenge worked—and soon that little blog with 15 to 20 dedicated readers, turned into 30,000 hits on a good day. With media outlets like Gothamist, Gawker, ABC News and the Associated Press all logged on to read about everything from Plaut's tipping guides to dealing with road rage, New York Hack evolved into a book.
Hot off the presses this week, Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab recounts those first nerve-racking days on the job and all 6,400 miles of Manhattan's mean city streets. "It's basically my life over the last two years—what happens in the cab or at the garage, and how being a driver took over my life," says Plaut. "I'm kind of slowly moving on—but I'm probably not going to ever totally give up driving a cab cause there's something addictive about it." Wherever her journey takes her, we know Plaut will arrive at her destination firmly planted behind the wheel, still living her life on her own terms.
Read an exclusive interview with Melissa Plaut on the official ontheinside.info blog here.
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