When Scorsese's Taxi Driver came out in 1976, it drew a lot of attention for its graphic violence and unforgettable portrayals, including De Niro as disturbed cabbie Travis Bickle and Jodie Foster as an underage hooker. But when I first saw the film I had a couple of additional thoughts. For one thing, I was drawn to the soundtrack's lush and haunting music from Bernard Herrmann — probably the best movie composer not named Mancini or Williams. One of the best pieces was the theme song itself, with it's mournful sax solo creating a perfect dark mood. But I had a second reason for finding the movie a little special — for a while in the late 1960's, I was a taxi driver myself.
It goes without saying that I was not Travis Bickle or anything resembling him, but I did have a few adventures of my own (including one involving hookers) and the whole experience was eye-opening. That began the very first day of my training, which consisted of me riding along with an experienced driver — without pay. Although that might seem a little unfair, it was consistent with the way they had things set up. As a cabbie you were sort of self-employed, with the company furnishing the taxi for a percentage of your earnings, so it wouldn't have made sense for him to give me a cut.
While he was showing me the ropes he also revealed a few ways to bend the rules. Some of the tricks revolved around trying to avoid turning the meter on - a firing offense - but the one I remember most involved the wives and girlfriends of inmates being held in the big prison near our city. They'd arrive at the bus station and then take a taxi out to the prison, which was a nice, profitable fare for us. However, he'd try to find two or three arriving on the same bus, take them all at the same time but charge each the full fare — while only reporting one to the company.
When I finally got my own cab I was too much of a straight arrow to use any of his tricks, but I still had other things to learn. One of the first was that the older, veteran drivers got the newer cars and conversely the newer guys got the old, worn-out junkers. Halfway through my first day - and I am not making this up - my taxi's transmission locked up as I was driving through the busiest intersection in the city. It created a horrendous traffic jam while I waited for the tow truck. A few weeks later, the steering locked on me and I narrowly missed crashing. Eventually I was trusted with a better car and things went a little smoother.