Ten Money Questions for Melissa Plaut
Melissa Plaut is a thirtysomething, blog-posting, college-educated, New York City lesbian. She also drives a taxi and is the author of Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do With My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab. While the meter was running, I asked Melissa to get personal about money, work, and the average tip on a NYC cab fare. Enjoy!
1. Do you believe that the money will follow if you do what you love?
Sadly, no. Most often it seems that people do things they’re not that in love with in order to make the money that will support the things they really want to do.
2. What is your most significant memory about money?
For some reason, as I kid I thought it was important to know whether or not my parents had “a million dollars.” We definitely didn’t, but it seemed like it was something we should have. I surveyed my friends at school and some kids claimed their parents did have a million dollars and it made me insanely jealous and worried. Other than that, the other big memory is of my dad “lending” me three dollars so I could buy Mad Magazine. Then he forgot that I paid him back and now, 25 years later, still claims (jokingly) that I owe him that goddamn three dollars!
3. What is your worst habit around finances?
I go out to dinner way too much.
4. Is driving a cab about having more time to write or something to write about?
Neither. When I started driving a cab, I had given up on writing. A year or so into it, I found myself more and more inspired and excited by my experiences in the cab so I started writing about that. These days, the job definitely affords me time to write, but I find myself writing about stuff that has nothing to do with the cab. And what it mainly does is support my other endeavors that don’t necessarily pay the bills, such as volunteering for the Red Cross. I’m also looking into working with animals somehow, which will probably mean I’ll be volunteering at a shelter somewhere. So driving the cab has essentially become my fallback income.
5. I understand that you make about $200 or less on a typical night. How do you survive on modest means in an expensive city?
I can always pick up extra shifts if I fall behind on the bills and stuff, but beyond that, I don’t have very expensive tastes and I don’t have a family to support. That helps.
6. Do women tip better than men? What’s the average tip on a $12 fare?
No. I hate to say it, but women generally tip worse than men. Especially business women. The average tip on a $12 fare should be around $2, but more often than not people give $1. The rule of thumb for tipping in a cab is the same as it is in a restaurant: 15 to 20 percent of the metered fare; more for excellent service; less for crappy service.
7. What’s been the most valuable thing left in your cab by a passenger?
Most people leave their cell phones, which I always return and usually get some sort of reward for doing so. One visitor from Canada left his ID and credit card in the backseat. I called his credit card company and gave them my number. He called within a half an hour, totally relieved that I had his stuff. He was flying back to Canada the next day and would’ve been screwed without his ID. I drove back to where I left him and joked that I had only done a little shopping at Circuit City and Best Buy with his credit card. He had such a good humor about the whole thing and gave me $50, saying I was the best cab driver ever. I didn’t expect such a nice reward, but I certainly wasn’t going to turn it down!
8. Do you think the proposed congestion pricing will have any impact on cabbies?
It will help the cab business, for sure. I’d love to see an actual decrease in city traffic, which is just totally out of control and unmanageable at this point. Cabs will be able to get around easier and quicker and we’ll obviously have an increase in business. But I also think it will hurt the outlying neighborhoods like Long Island City and Williamsburg, converting them into virtual parking lots. That’s a major concern which will hopefully be addressed before anything goes into effect.
9. If you could buy one thing right now what would it be?
A townhouse on a nice block with a backyard. Maybe throw in a hot tub and a roof deck for good measure.
10. Do you pack a lunch and eat in the car? Or are there favorite cheap eats you seek out during your shift?
I usually just bring some peanuts or cashews with me in the cab. Late at night I’ll stop by Punjabi on 1st Street for some good cheap Indian food, or I’ll meet up with one of my cabbie buddies at Gray’s Papaya on 6th Avenue for a hot dog. Every now and then, I’ll sit at the bar at Corner Bistro and eat one of their amazing — and relatively inexpensive — cheeseburgers. But that can be dangerous because I’ll get so full sometimes that I’ll have to call it a night and head home.
More about Melissa Plaut
Melissa Plaut was born in 1975 and grew up in the suburbs of New York City. After college, she held a series of office jobs until, at the age of twenty-nine, she began driving a yellow cab. A year later she started writing “New York Hack”, a blog about her experiences behind the wheel. Within a few months, the blog was receiving several thousand hits a day. Melissa Plaut lives in Brooklyn. Her new book is Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do With My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab
Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.
Photo credit: Meghan Folsom