Anyone who’s ever sat at a desk day after day and thought, “Is this what I want to be doing with my life?”—that is, most of us—will take pleasure in one lesbian’s account of escaping the office job route three years ago for an adventurous taxi ride through New York City. Once a bored corporate sell-out, now a published author, cab driver (“hack” in cabbie terms) Melissa Plaut rose to fame blogging about her unique female perspective behind the wheel of a taxi (newyorkhack.blogspot.com). Last month, she released HACK: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do With My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab (Villard), a funny and captivating book detailing her run-ins with crazy passengers, eccentric colleagues, other automobiles, and her own self-discovery. We asked Plaut about a topic pretty much undocumented ‘til now: the lesbian hack experience.
GO: We know there are very few women hacks. Of those, did you meet many lesbians? How about gay men? Any cross-dressers besides Harvey (one of the drivers detailed in HACK)?
Melissa Plaut: I’ve only met a few women cab drivers and none of them were lesbians, at least to my knowledge. Same with the men, although there are one or two at my garage that I suspect might be gay. Harvey is actually a transgendered woman (as in, male-to-female) who goes by Helen and uses female pronouns in her everyday life. She is in her mid-sixties and considers herself a lesbian. So I think it’s pretty safe to say there are no other cabbies like her—she’s one of a kind.
Is there even a noticeable number of LGBT people who take on this kind of job? Why or why not, in your opinion?
I don’t think so, not that I’ve noticed. I think there must be more LGBT people driving taxis out there but that they’re not totally out about it in the cab. As cabbies, we take enough abuse from passengers as it is so we certainly don’t need to add homophobia and gay-bashing into the mix.
Do passengers have cab driver gaydar?
Not that I’ve found. I mean, I’ve always thought that I’m pretty obviously gay, but no one’s ever seemed to notice. There was one time when I came out to a young gay guy and he didn’t believe me! I had to prove it by listing off all the gay bars in town. Of course, any smart cabbie would know where they all are anyway. I finally convinced the guy and thought I would get, you know, like a “solidarity” tip, but it didn’t happen.
Was your sexuality ever an issue for passengers or fellow drivers, or was the issue usually only your gender?
My buddies at the garage don’t think twice about my sexuality. My gender, on the other hand, took a little getting used to on their part in the beginning. But now, after three years, it’s so normal to them, they treat me just like one of the guys. The only other time it becomes an issue with other cabbies is when I’m stuck out at one of the big taxi lots at LaGuardia or Kennedy Airports. I get shamelessly stared at by all the other bored drivers in the cafeteria or out in the lot as we’re waiting to be dispatched.
As far as passengers go, they usually just ask me what it’s like to be a “female driver.” It’s kind of a dumb question that I have to answer 15 to 30 times a shift, but it often opens the door for further, better conversations. The only other time other non-cab drivers on the streets seem to care is when they’re cursing me out in a fit of road rage. They always make sure to use gender-specific slurs.
How did driving the night shift affect your social life? Could you still get out to the bars to meet girls?
It didn’t have a negative affect on my social life. I was still able to go out. I used to work Wednesday and Thursday nights so that by Friday I was exhausted. But I would just sleep all afternoon, then drink a Red Bull and be at The Hole by midnight. It was great. If I was working a shift and there was something going on, I would stop by in my cab. On Wednesdays, if I got a fare to Williamsburg, I’d swing by Metropolitan for a little break. The only drawback was that I was still on-duty so I couldn’t have a drink.
Do you still use your cab stories as a way of impressing the women you meet?
It seems that half are impressed by the cab thing, and half are impressed by the book thing. Of course there are some that are decidedly unimpressed! But it’s a moot point anyway because I have a girlfriend.
On that note, did you ever make a love connection with a passenger?
Not really. In my first year driving, I got really crushed out on one passenger. She was a slightly older woman who I’m pretty sure was flirting with me (and I don’t usually assume that!). She was a therapist and I picked her up in the West Village. It felt like I should’ve given her my number when I dropped her off, but I clammed up and just let her go. I fantasized about that for weeks after and even cruised her neighborhood on subsequent shifts, but I never did see her again. It was probably for the best as therapists are usually the craziest people anyway.
Have any good lesbian passenger stories that didn’t make it into the book?
There was the young hip black girl who had a screaming break-up on the cell phone with her girlfriend, whose name, if I recall correctly, was Candy. I’ve also been hit on by a couple of teenage girls, and I’ve driven some yuppie lezzies to the Upper East Side. My favorite lesbian encounter in the cab was the time I got hailed by an older woman who was on the phone with her girlfriend in Portugal. At the end of the ride, she jokingly offered to pay me with sex. …At least I think she was joking. n