CNN Money calls taxi driving one of the 10 most dangerous jobs in America.
It rivals firefighting, but firefighters are comparatively well-paid. (A cabdriver's median yearly income is $21,550, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook.) A 12-hour day consists of sitting upright on a sagging cracked-leather seat with a cushion to support his back and a gallon jug of water for company -- until it's time to lift heavy bags in and out of the trunk.
There is no rest; time is money, especially for the cabbies who move 241 million riders around New York City each year, battling trucks, buses and 13,000 other cabs in what can only be described as blood sport. Yet New York taxi drivers have one-third fewer accidents than the state's residents as a whole, a Schaller Consulting study found.
Daily, if not hourly, a cabbie's finely honed instincts avoid the kind of scrapes and fender-benders and traffic-light transgressions that would send your car insurance rates into the stratosphere.
The Manhattan Grand Prix
Ford Crown Victorias once used as police cruisers spend their last days as cabs lined up to ferry tourists to Big Apple sites and carry harried businessmen to LaGuardia. Signs atop these bright yellow relics advertise everything from soap to the "Private Eyes Gentlemen's Club."
You don't really pay much attention until you need to catch a flight or make that business meeting. Then you truly appreciate the finesse with which even the least aggressive cabbie navigates his eight-cylinder frigate through the potholed streets of Manhattan, avoiding the bollards, concrete terrorist barriers and falafel stands, Mayor Bloomberg's Times Square pedestrian mall, and other vehicles. You'll pass each not by inches, but by millimeters.
When a New York cabbie tells you how to drive, pay attention. Even if you don't mimic his tactics, you're still likely to encounter them on the streets of the busiest American cities.
9 tips from traffic jockeys
We asked cabbies waiting for fares just outside the trendy South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan for their best tips on slice-and-dice driving in one of America's most aggressive cities. You'll be surprised as what they said.
Learn the "tells." Like card players, drivers reveal "tells" that show what they're thinking. Crafty drivers don't signal on city streets; it only gives other drivers reason to cut them off before they change lanes. But cabbies can tell whether they'll make a move by the way a driver speeds up or slows down or constantly veers to get a better view of the next lane.
Parking? Look for lovers. Pedestrians usually walk fast, in a straight line and don't care who they bump into. When you need a parking spot, look for a cooing pair coming out of a restaurant with car keys in hand, says limo driver Tony. Follow them down the street like a stalker. When they reach their car, pull up behind so no one else can slide in before you.
Beware the biker. Bike riders and cabbies are natural enemies because both compete for the bike lane when there is one and the curb when there isn't. Bikers complain that cabbies pull over and pull out without signaling and passengers open doors in their faces. Cabbies say bikers come out of nowhere, especially at night when everyone orders Chinese food for delivery. But it doesn't matter: The biker always has the right of way.
Don't flash your stuff. Meter maids seem to flit around as randomly as moths, but they have a pattern and they have eagle eyes. If you're pulling over to double-park or are in a place you shouldn't park, don't put on your flashers. It attracts a traffic cop three blocks away just as surely as honey attracts bees.
Don't block the box. If you are the last car to cross an intersection, check to see who's watching. Not getting all the way across might earn you a ticket for creating gridlock, even if you got cut off. You could pay a fine and lose your license.
Watch the wobblies. All the laws in the world won't stop people from talking on their cell phone while driving. Cabbies say there are several ways to spot these imbeciles: First, they tend to stay in the left lane, ignoring drivers who want to pass, because they feel protected from traffic coming in from access roads on the right. Second, they tend to be "wobblies," veering slightly back and forth as they lean their heads in to listen.
And the pedestrians. Pedestrians think they own the town and are always playing a subtle game of chicken with motorists, crossing streets where and when they shouldn't. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani had tickets issued to people who crossed in the middle of the block, but everyone still does it. No matter what, they always have the right of way.
Siren song. Cabbies say the fastest way down a crowded street is to follow in the wake of a "siren vehicle," an ambulance, fire truck or police car. The only problem: fighting off every other cab doing the same thing.
Smile, you're on candid camera. A limo driver in a real rush to get to Newark Airport changed lanes in the middle of the Lincoln Tunnel. But guess who was waiting at the other end? Traffic cams are everywhere -- and you can never forget they (and your car insurance company, too) are watching.
The good part about New York City is that if you go online to nyctmc.org, it will show you exactly where the cameras are located. There's probably a similar site for your own city.