Originally published in the New York Times, October 6, 2017
by Jonathan Wolfe
Drive a New York City taxi for 40 years and, man, you’ll see some crazy stuff.
“If I didn’t have proof, you wouldn’t believe me,” said John McDonagh.
Mr. McDonagh, 63, of Middle Village, Queens, has collected some of the livelier moments from his cabby career for his one-man Off Broadway show, “Off the Meter, On the Record,” which opens tonight for previews at the Irish Repertory Theater in Chelsea.
At a rehearsal yesterday, Mr. McDonagh stood on a stage among taxi parts — doors, wheels, partition and hood — salvaged from 55 Stan, a yellow cab company in Long Island City, and reflected on the bad old days of driving in New York.
“When I first started driving, there was a complete fear in me,” he said, noting that back in 1977, there were no cellphones to get a driver out of a tough spot. “I was robbed, I had a gun put to my head and a knife held at my throat.”
After a 12-hour night shift in a checkered cab without air conditioning, he said, “you’d get back to the garage and you’d be rubbing the pollution off your face and arms.”
Over the years he’s shuttled drug users to dealers, women in labor to hospitals and countless drunken, sick and angry passengers to their homes.
While this is Mr. McDonagh’s first Off Broadway show, he’s no stranger to the limelight: He has a radio show on WBAI, and he has dabbled in live storytelling, political activism and reality television.
“I was going to be the Kim Kardashian of driving cabs,” he said, after almost making it on “The Amazing Race” and nearly appearing on “Taxicab Wars.”
He still drives a cab, even though the job has lost some of its charm, he said.
“The conversation between drivers and passengers has virtually ended since the invention of the iPhone,” he said. “Now, people couldn’t care less about you.”
With competition from ride-sharing apps like Uber damaging business, he said these days he would rather talk about cabs than drive them.
But that doesn’t mean this New York cabby is letting his time on stage go to his head.
He recently had to push back against the show’s production staff, who wanted to dress him in a cabdriver “costume” that would be laundered after each show.
“I’m still just a cabby playing an actor,” he said. “I’ll wash my own clothes.”