Opinion > Star Staff
Shadows in my rearview mirror
By Bob Weir
It was during the late 1970s, and NYC was experiencing a wave of robbery-homicides of taxi drivers. A team of three black male were killing cab drivers after forcing them to drive to Harlem neighborhoods and taking their cash.
Since I was a member of a plainclothes undercover unit, I was assigned to drive a cab during the evening hours in Manhattan. The driving dexterity I had accumulated in countless stolen car chases in my Brooklyn precinct would surely be put to the test as a cab driver in the Big Apple. The plan was to publicize the fact that off duty cops were acting as decoys, therefore, potential thugs would be dissuaded from preying on cabbies. In order for the plan to work, we had to actually be taxi drivers, which meant picking up fares, driving them to their destinations and keeping a record of the money, and the tips. Each night, when I picked up my cab, I would head for the busiest streets of midtown Manhattan, with the "unoccupied" light on the roof.
My .38 caliber Smith and Wesson, snub-nosed revolver was placed between my legs with the handle just barely visible and easily accessible. When I had a passenger in back of me (before they installed the bulletproof glass separators in cabs), I would drive with my left hand while resting my right hand on the stock of the pistol. I had worked for several nights without incident, moving people from uptown to downtown and all areas in between. Then, one night, I was flagged down by three black guys waving their hands and whistling on the opposite side of a wide avenue. I did the usual taxi driver stunt of cutting across traffic and nearly causing several collisions with fist-waving, horn-honking drivers. The three guys in their mid-20s jumped in behind me and one of them barked, "A hundred-twenty-fifth Street and Amsterdam Avenue," a location smack dab in the middle of Harlem. "Uh oh," I thought, as I turned down the flag on the meter and pulled back into the traffic while grasping my weapon and steering with one hand.
When I began to drive toward 8th Avenue, planning to stay on crowded streets all the way uptown, one of my passengers said, "Cut through the park, it'll be faster that way." Although he was correct, I didn't want to be driving along the multi-curved, often deserted roadways of Central Park about midnight with three possible killers sitting behind me. I could barely make out the three shadowy figures in my rearview mirror as perspiration began to dampen my forehead. The grip on the wooden handle tightened and a sudden rush of adrenaline burst into my veins. Peering at the dimly lit, grim-faced reflections gave me a sense of impending doom. "How did I get myself into such a vulnerable position," I asked myself. "Although my hand is on a loaded gun, they may have three cannons pointed at my head right now." After taking a deep breath and bracing myself for the worst, I turned into the 850-acre forest that represents all that is left of the original landscape since Peter Minuet conned the native tribes into selling the island of Manhattan for $24.
Realizing it was too late to make any adjustments to my situation, I decided that the best defense is a good offense, so I pressed down on the accelerator and hit those curves at 60 plus miles per hour. I figured it would be tougher for them to get a good aim at the back of my head if they were slamming into each other from right to left and back again as I speedily maneuvered through each hairpin turn with one hand, while making permanent impressions in the handle of my gun with the other.
Suddenly, from one of the silhouettes in the rear seats, I heard, "Man, look at this cat go! We got ourselves a regular wheel man here." They continued to rave about my one-handed dexterity, never aware that my other hand was occupied, and that my driving "skill" was motivated by fear. I exited the park amid pats on the shoulder from my cheering section, who told me it was the most exciting ride they had ever experienced. When I dropped them off, I was able to bring my pulse down a bit, but it spiked again when I noticed they had given me the largest tip since I started driving a cab. Incidentally, the stickup team was eventually captured after a set of fingerprints found on a taxi door was matched to one of them. No, they were not the same guys who careened through Central Park with me.