Earlier this month, the New York Times Style section published a wistful memoriam to taxi fucking, the allegedly forgotten act of getting in the back of city-run yellow taxi cabs and—drunkenly or otherwise—going at it while drivers play accidental Peeping Toms.
The idea is that in the age of Uber—where passengers are rated based on their backseat behavior—the fun has been sucked from another one of New York's darkest and most fun illicit acts: screwing while paying to be chauffeured. For the tribute-cum-investigation, writer Alex Williams spoke with several characters between the ages of somewhere "in her twenties" and 31. Makes sense: these are precisely the ages during which having sex in a cab is probably most appealing.
But Williams managed to write an entire article about screwing in cabs without hearing from the most expert voices: the guys driving. Surely cab drivers themselves would have a story or two about the flings that happen in the backseats of their cars? Perhaps without the retrospective fuzzy film shading inebriated passengers' memories?
To find out, as they say, "the story behind the story," I went to the source. Over the course of three nights and days in Manhattan and Brooklyn, I rode in several yellow cabs interviewing drivers (all men) about whether they'd ever seen sex in their rearview mirrors, and what they'd do about it if they did.
Pickup: Broadway and Houston Street
Drop-off: 18th and Broadway
Years Driving Cab: 2
To the point and slightly dismissive, my cab driver told me that no, "Nothing happens." I tried to pry but he insisted, "I don't work nights." This was the end of the conversation and we drove on in silence.
Pickup: 18th and Broadway
Drop-off: 37th and Park Ave.
Years Driving Cab: 2
I got in this cab and tried to tell my driver to drive as far as he wanted if he'd let me ask him some questions. "Can you tell me a destination, please?" I sputtered out, "42nd?" Cool and calm, like I go there. He told me he can't drive past 41st. Dejected, I said, "go as far as you can."
Luckily, this driver did not only drive during the day, so he began a long and heated (seemed almost prepared) speech on the indecency of cab sex, while instructing me somewhat explicitly on how to do it myself if I wanted to.
"Maybe it's possible in a yellow cab, but I have never seen it. One of my passengers told me that she had it, and I asked her, how did you do it? Then she said, that way you are talking right now, right? She told me that she put her chin here [motions to the partition opening from front to backseat], and kept talking to the driver—true!—she told me she'd had it like that." I asked what he would do if that happened in his cab.
"I would kick them out, of course. In the nighttime, yes, people get intimate. They kiss. Openly speaking, with the body movement and the shaking of the car, you can feel it. With the body movement and the shaking and the intensity. They use their hands or something. It's something that I feel, in my car, too. I would still kick them out then, too.
"If you don't behave in the car, I'm working here, this is a working environment. Those kinds of things, they kick the back of the partition. It's dangerous. According to the passenger bill of rights, they do not have rights to do that. They have rights to get to the destination only. I'm not going to allow that.
"I know dozens of people who have been driving cabs for ten years, twenty years, and they all say that has never happened. It's not practical! Let's say you are asking me, right? If I lied, 'Oh yeah, it's happened to me a couple of times in my car,' you'll take it as a statement. But I don't think it's happened. I've never heard of anyone, anyone who know who has been driving for a long time, it's never happened."
I thanked him and got out, imagining a scenario where I'd put my chin on a taxi partition and let someone fuck me while I simultaneously talked to a cab driver. Unlikely! Hard to imagine!
Pickup: 37th and Park Ave.
Drop-off: 37th and 10th Ave.
Years Driving Cab: 4
My next cab driver, who wore black wraparound shades, told me, "No, not really," when I asked if he'd ever had people in his cab having sex. But he still insisted we talk about illicit behavior, which I don't mind, because he ends up recounting two incredible stories:
"I used to drive on weekends on a night shift. I was coming back from Queens and right after the bridge, and I saw a stretch limo. A girl came out of the roof and she showed me her boobs, you know? That was nighttime."
"No way," I exclaimed.
"Yes!" he said.
"The other incident it was daytime, in the summer. A lady got in my cab. She wanted to go to 81st and Amsterdam. On the way she said the A/C is not working. In front it was working fine. I told her if she wanted to come in the front, she could. At a red light, she said she preferred to come into the front. When she came into the front, she started touching me. I told her, 'I'm married, I don't want to get into this,' and it was okay. She was trying to fantasize, and seduce me. We got to the destination and it was normal."
This prompted me to ask what would happen if he saw people having sex in his cab? Would he mind it?
"If both parties agree, and it's within the limit of the journey, I have no problem. If it interrupts my working pattern, that might be a problem. If the person has to go out of state, to Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and within the duration of half an hour, forty-five minutes, they want to have their own thing going on, I have no problem. There are some conservative people, you know the drivers, who are thinking 'No, they're disrespecting me,' those kinds of things. It's not disrespectful for me. It has to be interrupting my driving ability, in case we get in trouble or cause an accident."
As I paid my fare and prepared to climb out of the cab, he told me one more important anecdote:
"I heard a story of two girls—two lesbians—who were trying to have a casual thing going on in the back of the cab, and the driver threw them out."
Pitstop: Gas Station on 37th and 10th Ave.
When I get out from my previous cab, I took a minute to go get a Diet Coke at a nearby deli. Around the corner, I stumbled upon a gas station where there were several parked yellow cabs and a group of four men standing around chatting in front of them. Serendipity!
"Do you all drive yellow cabs?" I asked.
"Yes," a man in a tan pumice sweater vest responded flatly. Would they mind if I asked a few questions? They all nod apprehensively.
"Do people ever have sex in the back of your cabs?" It comes out so loud and uncomfortable that I imagined a flock of cartoon birds flying away at the sound of gunfire.
The man in the sweater vest looked at me, shaking his head sadly.
"No. No." Pause. "No."
I slunk away, crossing 10th Avenue as if I had somewhere else to be. As soon as I was out of view, I hailed another yellow cab to steer me away from my humiliation.
Pickup: 37th and 10th Ave
Drop-off: 14th and 10th Ave
Years Driving Cab: 7
Fare: $10 (cash, tip included)
Reeling from my latest public dismissal in a series that infects my life and never seems to go away, I got into a cab heading downtown. I don't know why but I was certain I'd yield a good story or two this time. Instead, a soft-spoken Muslim man responded to me, "No, never. I've never seen that or heard that." I asked if he works at night ever, to which he said, "I like to work in the daytime." I got out at 14th Street and decided to postpone the rest of my interviews until night, where the seediest and most misbehaved are out, closing down cabs and in need of a good shag.
Pickup: Bushwick Ave. and Dodworth Street
Dropoff: Metropolitan Ave and Greenpoint Ave
Years Driving Cab: 10
Just as I'd predicted, nighttime drivers had a lot more to say about the sexy behavior that goes on in the back of their cars, even if the stories were "heard from a friend" or "another driver." My conversation with one exceedingly friendly man, who insisted that the sexual behavior was confusing to him, resulted in a few good stories. He claimed that it happens all the time.
"They're having sex and I knew it," he began. "If they are sexing, I ask, 'What's the address' and sometimes some people are saying to me from the outside, 'Look at what's happening inside!' A person shows up in the backseat of another car and he is laughing to me. Daytime it happened two times. Nighttime, probably four or five times. They were drunk at nighttime, they were having sex."
I asked him what he does when this is happening in the back of his cab.
"I'm a human, I can't do anything. My mind is running, but I have to keep my cool. Two guys were having sex and they had said to go to 51st Street and 2nd Avenue, but I heard 15th street and 2nd Avenue, and I picked them up at 14th Street and 8th Avenue. So I drop them at 15th street and 2nd Avenue, and I say, 'Here is your destination.' They are not listening, they are having sex.
The people who are crossing, they're looking inside, and then suddenly, this guy says, 'Why did you stop here?' And I said, 'This is 15th Street and 2nd Avenue, like you told me.'
He says, 'No, 51st Street and 2nd Avenue!' Well I said that, but you don't respond to anything.
'You saw?' he asks.
'Yeah, I have an eye, so I know what you're doing.' And he, joking with me, says, 'Now I will not pay, since you saw!' I said to him, 'You have to pay more money since you were having sex in my cab!' I dropped them off and they were laughing."
I wanted to know if, in these instances, cab drivers get a nicer tip, but my driver said they only contributed a "regular" tip to the normal fare. He went on:
"My shift is from five to five. This happens, maximum time, from between ten to twelve. When people leave the bar [when it closes], they just get out and go home. They are tired. They come out of the bar at 10, 12, midnight. Evening time, also. Around five or six sometimes, they are drunk."
"Probably right after happy hour," I suggested, unhelpfully.
"These two people were just kissing in my cab, and another taxi driver was crossing, and he said to me, 'Hey, listen! You don't have a bedroom? You don't have a house? Go home and then do it. What is it you're doing? Go home, inside you're room, and do it. Don't do it outside.'" My driver laughed a lot at this one, and as I got out, I had to agree.
Pickup: Metropolitan Ave. and Union Ave.
Dropoff: Greenpoint Ave. and Manhattan Ave.
Years Driving Cab: 5
I believe that the following exchange, with my cab driver to Greenpoint, is most likely fully of fabrications and exaggerating. It is presented without commentary:
Me: "Do you ever see people having sex in the back of your cab?"
Him: "Oh yeah, yeah! I'm driving and I'm like, what the hell's he doing? I've seen it and I'm like, wow, I wish I could have sex, too. I don't have a girl, but they make me horny. They're naked! A girl, she's drunk. Sometimes girls want to have sex with me. They say, 'I have no money to pay you,' so they show me some boobs, you know. Let's say you don't want to pay. 'I don't want to pay you, but can I show you my boobs?' I don't have a girlfriend, so she's kind of making me happy.
Me: "Do you accept that as payment?"
Him: "I say yeah, you can be my friend. I'll give you a free ride, you can be my friend. I live right here! I don't live far. I wouldn't kick people out of my cab, I'm a nice guy. You have fun however you want. They pay for it, so you can't complain about it. She put her leg in the opening space. She's naked. The man is on top of her and she's on bottom, and they're having sex, and she's naked, I see it in the mirror. I'm stopped at the red light, I can see everything. When I drive, I can watch a little bit. It happens mostly at nighttime. People get drunk. They're horny. A guy, he wanna fuck her, he don't wanna wait. He had sex, he pulls her skirt off. You need love, you can't complain."
Me: "How often does this kind of thing happen?"
Him: "It happens almost six to eight times a month. It happens a lot! In the morning, everybody goes to work. People get drunk, people get horny. They drink, they want everything. Sometimes a woman has no man, and she tells me, I like you, I'll give you my number. It's a free ride. I call her the next day, we'll have sex in a hotel. Look, you're young, you need to enjoy it. I mean, you're beautiful. I've been single two years. I don't have nobody, what are you going to do? Stay single all your life?"
[We arrived at the destination, Greenpoint and Manhattan Ave.]
Him: "If you like me, we can be friends, I don't mind. If you say no, I respect that. I don't touch you, I don't bother you. Unless you say okay. Sometimes, girls are touching me while I'm driving. I don't get mad because she's drunk. I wouldn't yell at her or scream at her. It's normal. It's natural. I love women. I'll tell you the truth. They don't tell you what happens. Most people, it's not like that."
He tried to ask me out. I exited onto the street after politely denying his request.
Pickup: Greenpoint Ave. and Manhattan Ave.
Dropoff: Greene Ave. and Patchen Ave.
Years Driving Cab: 17
My last ride of the night is with a driver who is eager to tell me stories about the evils of Uber as opposed to sex. My previous journey had worn me out, so instead I talk to my driver for a long time about the financial corruption of Uber. We commiserated over how it is unnecessary and silly. The details from our sex conversation are interesting because he brought up a point I hadn't thought of before: Perhaps people aren't having sex in cabs anymore because they have the TV and GPS to distract them:
"A long time ago, in 2005 or 2006, it used to happen then. Not anymore. Because they put the TV here. In 2007, they had no GPS, that's when they could do anything here, that's just because they had nothing else to do. I've been a cab driver for seventeen years. My friend told me, a long time ago, he drove a minivan. He had two people having sex in the backseat because they had no GPS. He's driving still when the girl's leg comes up here." He motioned to the partition gap into the front seat.
"I've never seen anything like that in my cab. I would kick them out. Someone driving, I am not driving. I would stop the car, and kick them out. It's illegal. You can kiss inside, that's okay. But sex is a no-no. It's part of the law."
I returned home and vowed to pick up the experiment again the next night.
Pickup: Grand St. and Leonard St.
Dropoff: Greene Ave. and Patchen Ave.
Fare: $13 (cash, tip included)
Years Driving Cab: 19
In his 19 years as a driver, my cabbie said he'd only seen sex in his cab once or twice, maybe. (Later he told me he tends to drive in the daytime.) Like several others, he saw the act as disrespectful and very distracting:
"Once or twice, I've seen it. I'm looking at what they're doing, their activity. They're jumping, you know. I was going to Queens once, and I was all the way around Woodside, so if I kicked them out, I know they weren't going to pay me. The fare was around thirty dollars and I would lose that fare. I told them you can't do that in my cab, but they didn't respond to me. They just kept going."
"Would you only kick people out if you weren't going to lose a big fare?'
"If it's a big fare or not, I would kick them out. I told them it's against the law, not to do it in my cab. Go find a hotel or a motel! I see them but I can't see what they're doing in the back because I'm focusing on the front, if I look in the back then I will hurt somebody. It's really distracting. My friend told me that they were doing sex behind him, and they kicked them out, but he was in the city, so he didn't feel comfortable when they were doing this behind him."
His take on Uber, disregarding the passenger ratings, was connected to the partition. If the partition isn't there, people are less likely to misbehave, he claimed.
"In Uber, there is no partition. If they do something, a driver can turn around and look. They're taking advantage of the partition. If people have sex in my cab, they're not losing anything, but I'm losing something because they won't pay the fare."
The following week I was in the back of a yellow cab with a friend. It was around 1:30 a.m. after a night of dancing on a Sunday night, unusual for us both. We were drowsily recounting our evening in the backseat. The streets outside were quiet and calm, the cocoon of the car was warm and welcoming; it felt intimate. For a brief second, I tried to imagine what would happen if we started going at it, two party animals on a Sunday night in the half-closed half-open quarters of a yellow taxicab. But how even? Where even? There was so little space! And every sound reverberated so clearly, the possibility of either being discovered or feeling uncomfortable and exposed was very present.
Admittedly, that's probably the point for some people. One of the quotes from the Times story on cab fucking was from a Ms. Rachel Rabbit White: "There's a feeling you can do whatever you want," she says. "Would you rather have sex in a seedy motel room or a really luxe hotel room? Which elicits the hotter affair?" How you answer that question probably indicates your level of desire for yellow-cab sex.
Are people still having sex in cabs? Yes, when they are drunk enough and feel like throwing caution (and respect for our city's workers) to the wind. Is the golden age of Uber creating less spontaneous but more good-mannered passengers? Maybe. Probably. But when the space reserved for these illicit affairs is twice as cramped as the average New Yorker's bedroom, for the sake of everyone, the inevitable romp is probably worth the wait.
[Illustration by Jim Cooke]