Yellow Cab NYC
Five Decades of Patter
Posted: 16 Nov 2014 09:04 AM PST
Sal Locascio, 87, is the oldest medallion-owning cabdriver in New York City.
With a half-century’s worth of experience driving a yellow cab in New York City, Sal Locascio, 87, knows the streets as well as anyone.
“I do all right for a hillbilly,” said Mr. Locascio, a joking reference to his lifelong residency in the village of Pleasantville, in Westchester County.
“I’m the oldest yellow cabby, or I’m pretty darn close to it,” he said. The city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission said that there were several drivers older than Mr. Locascio who hold hack licenses, but that he was the oldest yellow-cab driver with his own medallion.
Mr. Locascio, a World War II veteran, was hardly savvy when he began driving a yellow cab in the early 1960s.
“I had a passenger who came in as a guy and got out as a girl,” he recalled. “And I said to myself, ‘O.K., this is New York.’ ”
Fifty years later, he said, the traffic is worse and he recognizes fewer celebrities. But it is still the same city that Mr. Locascio commutes to six days a week in his 2011 Crown Victoria, which he keeps immaculate with daily washing and waxing, hitting a different section each day.
The front seat is a sea of belongings, including the daily newspapers and a clipboard where he constantly jots down personal notes and the day’s to-do list. He leans his right elbow on several grapefruit-size balls he has made from rubber bands people have given him during his daily circuit of social pit stops in Manhattan. He keeps hard candy in his pockets and a box of dog biscuits in the trunk, for dispensing.
Mr. Locascio sits on a stack of four mats and cushions, and on Monday he wore faded brown slacks and a ripped flannel shirt, as if dressed for a 1970s New York movie.
He dropped a British businesswoman at Bryant Park and slipped the tip she handed him into a wad of bills in his shirt pocket.
Mr. Locascio said that after high school, he worked in construction for his father, a Sicilian immigrant, and then did a stint as a buildings inspector in the city. He lost the job and began driving a yellow cab in the early 1960s.
“I could see I was stuck in the racket,” he said, so in 1968 he bought a medallion for $25,500.
Mr. Locascio said a broker recently told him that medallions now sell for around $1 million and implored him to sell.
“I told him, ‘Listen, I’ll retire when you retire,’ ” Mr. Locascio said.
“So I’m not lying when I say I wouldn’t trade the job for a million bucks.”
He paid off the loan for his medallion in four years by working more than 80 hours a week, he said, but he now drives only from 1 to 8 p.m., every day except Sunday. He credits his longevity to avoiding driving when not working and to the exercise he gets on his daily walks into the village to run errands.
His wife, Anita, and several old friends have passed away in recent years, he said.
“So, what matters to me now is to keep myself going,” he said. “You’re a short time alive and a long time dead.”
Mr. Locascio said he had turned down many offers to take on a night driver. “Everybody wants to drive my cab,” he said, “but I’ll only let three guys drive it: me, myself and I.”
He described his style of driving as “slow and getting slower,” but added that this was not the case in the 1960s when he once picked up Judy Garland.
“She said I was going too fast — and at the time I was much faster than I am now,” he said, adding that he once picked up Joe DiMaggio on a stifling hot summer day, with no air-conditioning in the cab.
“It was so hot in the cab, the poor guy was turning colors,” he said. “We were in heavy Midtown traffic, so I said, ‘Mr. DiMaggio, you’re turning colors — you’d be better off walking,’ so he got out.”
After picking up Eli Wallach repeatedly on West 81st Street, he gave the actor an ultimatum.
“I said, ‘Mr. Wallach, if I pick you up there one more time, you’re going to have to hire me,’ ” Mr. Locascio recalled.
“I once picked up Vincent Price, and I could tell it was him by his voice,” he said. “I told him, ‘You used to scare the heck out of me — I used to crawl under my seat in the theater.’ ”
As for Gregory Peck, Mr. Locascio recalled, “His wife was very good-looking and he caught me looking at her.”
The list of famous riders goes on, including Mickey Mantle, Burgess Meredith and a coterie of New York politicians that has included the likes of Mayors John V. Lindsay and Robert F. Wagner and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
“Now they’re all gone, except me,” he said.
Mr. Locascio said he was less talkative in the cab now and had refrained from getting aids to help his declining hearing.
“After all these years, I don’t want to hear half the baloney people are saying anyway,” he said.
Name Sal Locascio
Where He’s From Pleasantville, N.Y.
What He Is Cabdriver
Telling Detail After half a century of driving, Mr. Locascio has developed a schtick, complete with reformulated names for places that are problematic — “Horror Hills,” for Forest Hills, or the “Van Wack” for the Van Wyck Expressway. Or, he said, “If a passenger gets in and says ‘Queens,’ you respond, ‘Kings – you lose.’ ”