- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

NEW YORK

One time, a Hare Krishna passenger gave her a foil-wrapped ball of chocolate he said was infused with herbs and spices. Then there was the time a guy gave her $140 for a $4.10 fare. She once dropped off a stripper at a date to see the musical “Wicked.”

Welcome to the world of Melissa Plaut, a taxi driver who chronicles her chaotic, adventurous job in a blog called “New York Hack” (newyorkhack.blogspot.com).

With words and digital photographs, Miss Plaut offers a glimpse into the life of the New York cabbie, from the locker room where she and other drivers wait to begin their shifts to the pit stops they make and the gridlock and grueling 12-hour night shifts they endure.

Dirt accumulates under her fingernails from handling money all day. She eats hot dogs and brings peanuts for snacking. Once, she had to make an emergency bathroom stop at a passenger’s Brooklyn home.

“The whole way back to the city, I was filled with gratitude … for the reminder that sometimes humanity can, indeed, be humane,” she wrote.

So far, Miss Plaut said, nothing she would consider “really outlandish” has ever happened while behind the wheel. “Nobody had a baby in the back of the cab.”

She said she has never been really frightened by a passenger — except the guy who got in wearing a ski mask on a cold winter day.

After a few minutes in her cab, he took it off. “He’s like, ‘Everyone’s so afraid of this ski mask,’” she said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s scary.’”

Traffic accidents scare her more. She once saw a taxi get hit by an 18-wheeler.

It is difficult work, and Miss Plaut said she doesn’t like it most of time. The blog, which she started in August, “has really helped me cope with the job.”

It has also given her readers — including some far from New York — a taste of the Big Apple. Her Web site gets between 400 and 900 hits a day.

Miss Plaut, 30, is an unlikely representative for the roughly 42,000 licensed taxicab drivers in New York: Just 197 are women. She hears some variation of “Oh, a female cab driver” as many as 20 or 30 times a night.

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