THE CABBIE PRINCE
It was a long time ago in a place called Long Island City N.Y. Long Island City was a small community on the East River in Queens New York that holds two gateways to Manhattan. The Queensborough Bridge and The Midtown Tunnle, and at that time was mostly warehouses and old three story one family houses many of which had been turned into three apartments.
I came to Long Island City to find a job as a taxi driver, and after eight months of commuting from sixty miles away I found an apartment on and old cobbled street, 43rd Ave. in the shadow of the Queensboro Bridge.
It was a era of discovery. In those "Good Old Days" I fancied myself a poet, and spent a good deal of time with a pen in my hand serving my angst with rhyming couplets and an occasional exercise in iambic pentameter. They were glorious times of uncertinty and exploration for a Brooklyn born white-boy running away from the suburbs and coming home to New York City.
In my quest for action, and too be seen, I arranged for a small theater at 500 Greenwich Street where I would read my poetry. Another taxi driver was convinced to join me and Hack Poetry was born........
Our first reading was furiously promoted by ME...Flyers, lots of flyers, and calling all the local "cool" news outlets and some of the upper end ones. The night before the grand event my phone rang. It was Marc Singer from the New Yorker and he was planing to come to the reading..WOW....I had nudged the receptionist at the New Yorker and she apparently had obliged and sent the flyer up the food chain.....So we would have at least one person in attendance.
We were two rookies but none the less adreniline pumped and after about an hour of taking turns reading our poems we served some juice and cookies to our now swollen audience of seven people and then adjourned to Joes Bar on 6th Street in the East Village for the night.....A SUCCESS
On August 19 the New Yorker hit the stands and we were celebrities at the Taxi Garage. dozens of drivers came to tell me that they had read the article....One, a tall thin man name Pete asked if he could read a poem at the next event....What next event..."Sure" I said.
A day or two later he approached me at the Taxi garage and began describing the poem he was going to read and reading me excerpts....He further explained that he was going to wear a Zorro Mask and call himself the Cabbie Prince....WHATEVER!?
When the night arrived, there he was. Six feet twoo inches of denim wearing the Mask Of Zorro. When his turn to read came he stuttered through a beautiful poem laced with racisim and hate for his passengers. I cringed at his crowning line as he uttered the words "French men and N$%#^ don't tip. And those fat F%$%$ Arabs, but here comes the ship"
The dozen people in the audience could not stop their jaws from dropping....We sat agape, my girlfriend, who is a very dark skinned lady looked at me in a hurt way as if I had said it.....It was raw poetry in a raw place spoken by a raw man in a raw way...indigenous art...before rap had conquered....
He slogged on and closed his poem with lines of beauty...."New York City, I'm part of its energy, power and pain, tomorrow I'll do this all over again, and again and again till I shot in the head, die in a crash or just plain drop dead. Randals Island not known for its beauty, on my stone let it say, Prince of Cabbies off Duty"
A smattering of applause and he walked off....
Hack poetry played in various off off off broadway venues for three years developing into a reading and poetry contest, but after a year or so The Cabbie prince didn't come around. I learned he had died in a fire in his apartment in Long Island City, apparently from smoking in bed....He was a heavy drinker so I was not surprised, but I was troubled as he was the first of my contemporaries to die, and in such an awful way.
I, and one other hack poet held a memorial reading at the RED ROOM in Hells Kitchen in his honor. It was scantly attended. I had an audio tape of his first reading which we played for those present to hear...." ON my stone let it say, Prince Of Cabbies, OFF DUTY".