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Bagels in the basement


Making a living driving New York cabs
Peter Mayer Publisher
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I also don't remember exactly where this fits in, but I was a cab driver for years and years, two, three, four years and I remember I got my Hackman… first you had to get a chauffer's license which I did, then you had to get a hackman's license which I did, and I think in a safe in New York my hackman's license is still in that safe, but I've lost the key. I do pay the safe deposit charge every year, but I can't get the contents, but I think the hackman's license is still in there.

So that when I was in New York for the next years you could call a garage, I worked for George's Garage in Harlem, 125th Street, I don't know if it's there anymore, and you could call up and say I'm available for the next two or three days and if you brought in good money to them, which I did, they liked to hire you and… I did that. In fact, I was a very good cab driver, never hurt anybody or hit anybody and I worked the night shift, and it was the year or the time that Plymouth came out with pushbutton gears and this was a very exciting thing to people who drove cars. And I remember my biggest thrill was not literary at all, but that I was such a good cab driver that they gave me the first pushbutton Plymouth, and I was very young and all these older cab drivers didn't get the first pushbutton Plymouth, but I did. I think the buttons were on the left side of the wheel I believe. It worked pretty well. I was held up once during that period. Somebody put a gun or a finger in my back and asked for all the money. I never found out if it was a gun or a finger, but I gave him what money I had and he ran off. He took me out – it was somewhere in the Bronx – and he took me out there to an abandoned field and he said this is it, and I said what do you mean this is it? There were no buildings there. He said this is it and stuck something in my back. As I say he got the money.

Peter Mayer (1936-2018) was an American independent publisher who was president of The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc, a New York-based publishing company he founded with his father in 1971. At the time of Overlook's founding, Mayer was head of Avon Books, a large New York-based paperback publisher. There, he successfully launched the trade paperback as a viable alternative to mass market and hardcover formats. From 1978 to 1996 he was CEO of Penguin Books, where he introduced a flexible style in editorial, marketing, and production. More recently, Mayer had financially revived both Ardis, a publisher of Russian literature in English, and Duckworth, an independent publishing house in the UK.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: cab driver, hackman’s license, hold-up

Duration: 2 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015