Cabbie – Eric Cecil
July 21, 2012
“Native New Yorkers are crazy. All of them, they all shake their hand like this (makes trembling lance-like motion to punctuate every sentence while he talks).”
Jul 12 (6 days ago)
Conversation with a Cabbie
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
@ approximately 8:00 p.m.
Cabbie: …The Black Panthers used to meet there. They used to be down on Bushwick Avenue, like past Myrtle Avenue. All the way down Bushwick, past Myrtle Avenue. Like all the way down, as you’re going down a ways—down Bushwick Avenue. There used to be a chapter of the Black Panthers. I remember it. My father used to have a lot of customers in the area, y’know.
Me: What kind of business did he have?
C: It was a welding machine shop.
E: So what were his customers like?
C: He had a contract with the MTA, like a… But he had a lot of smaller customers, y’know. Like in different parts of Brooklyn, y’know. He did work for these guys who would, uh… y’know… They would make parts to conveyer belts and things and stuff like that. Used to have a customer who made conveyer belts for a lot of the bottling companies and stuff like that.
C: …And he had a contract to make a part for that conveyer belt. He had a lot of different things. He had different customers and stuff.
E: What about the Black Panthers? Tell me about the Black Panthers.
C: Yeah. They had a big chapter down there. I remember I used to pass it, coming down Bushwick Avenue, when I had some customers all the way down over here. They used to have a meeting, and there’d be a whole bunch of them outside. They were… They were Muslim! That’s the thing. They would wear the Muslim hat.
E: Oh, yeah. Well, they also had afros and shit like that, too, right?
E: Like afros and things like that, as well?
C: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They used to wear like a Muslim-type outfit and stuff like that.
E: Were they violent to white people like yourself?
C: Yeah, yeah. Very radical. Very radical. Real, real radical. They still exist.
E: Sure. But not as prolific as they were back then.
C: They bought a house down there. There’s a bunch of giant houses and you head down there, down Bushwick Avenue. And they bought one of those big houses—or a couple of them or something or other. I remember they would have these meetings outside the house, and you would see a couple hundred of them or something. You would never see that now, y’know.
E: Was it scary to walk by something like that if you were a white person?
C: Back then, no. Not so much. It was common to see stuff like that. A little.
E: Would they fuck with you if you walked by?
C: No, no, no. These people… It was a political thing, y’know. They were after the government more than anything else. Basically, they didn’t mess with the neighborhood, I guess. They had their office there, y’know, so they didn’t mess with the neighborhood because they didn’t cops around…
E: Police attention.
C: It was scary, a little, to see them all like that. You knew who they were. But they didn’t bother nobody. I used to whizz past in the car, and they didn’t bother anybody. I used to see a couple hundred of them outside. They must’ve had a couple houses down there. A least a couple.
E: How long you been drivin’?
C: About fifteen years.
E: You have any fucked-up stories about driving around?
C: Eh, y’know.
E: Surely you’ve dealt with some bullshit, driving around.
C: Yeah, yeah. I never really got robbed or anything like that. Just kids jumpin’ outta the cars and stuff like that.
E: What do you think about the way Manhattan is now, versus the way it was fifteen years ago, or twenty years ago?
C: Oh, yeah, yeah. Much better. Even Harlem – all those areas like, y’know… Harlem was sort of the dividing line. Like 96th, 100th Street. That was it. Harlem was just… Nobody wanted to… The homes were just run-down – abandoned homes. No development at all. And it was all part of Manhattan. It was all Manhattan. In the last ten years or so – at least ten to fifteen years – a lot of people say, “What’s the big deal?” I mean, y’know, the area’s predominately black. It wasn’t really that bad of a neighborhood. There were things going on there, of course, because more than anything there were a lot of housing projects there in that area. It wasn’t really that bad. It’s just that people didn’t want to live in a predominately black neighborhood.
E: A lot of people here complain about the influx of money in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, and then also the Lower East Side. What do you think about that?
C: Good, good.
E: You think it’s good?
C: Oh, yeah.
E: Why do you think it’s good?
C: Because, like I say, those neighborhoods weren’t so good years ago. Bushwick, where you’re going right now – all that wasn’t good. Bushwick wasn’t good period.
E: It was crazy.
C: No part of Bushwick. There were abandoned homes in Bushwick, in this area, too. It wasn’t good. There was a lot of crime. There were shootings and stuff. There was a lot of stuff going on here.
E: A lot of people would argue, though, that the white people are pushing out the black impoverished people. What would you say about that?
C: Y’know what they’re saying is that they’re pushing up the rents.
E: I mean, do you think that’s for the better? You’re a native New Yorker.
C: It’s for the better, yeah. Because…
E: Do you think that eventually New York will just become totally unaffordable?
E: You’re a working man – you’re making a working wage. What do you think is going to happen in, say, ten years?
C: No, no. What’s going to happen, basically… Even if… People coming in, they’ll pay a little bit more rent. They’re going to pay that much rent. They’re going to say, “OK, I can’t afford that either.” Y’know, “I’m struggling myself. I’m not making big money – yet.” So, believe me, they’d love to raise these rents – woosh! – through the roof, if they could.
E: Yeah. I guess that’s my question: Do you think New York will eventually be all rich people?
C: I hope not. I hope not.
E: They way I see it is that artistic and working-class people are moving out to Queens, people who would rather live in Manhattan. What do you think about that? Do you think that’s true?
C: Upper part of Manhattan, maybe. Upper Manhattan is OK, but it’s predominately black, period. Black, period. Very black. I think it’s a little bit racist, but that’s where Al Sharpton has his office – up there. He’s been very good lately. But he was very radical years ago. Very radical. Very.
E: What were racial relations like back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with the Black Panthers…
C: Bad. Bad, bad, bad.
E: How so?
C: There was a dividing line from neighborhood to neighborhood. If blacks came over to a whiter neighborhood, people would start beating on each other. No doubt. It’s happened.
E: Did you experience any of that personally?
C: Not personally, but I was very close to all of it. There were beatings and stuff like that. It just got to the point where a lot of people didn’t want to get hassled with the cops and stuff like that. You’d start chasing kids who came into your neighborhood… What happened now at Harold Beach, which borders East New York. These kids came in, a couple black kids, and they were looking at the cars. They were looking at them. And these white kids saw them looking at these cars, and that’s the reason why they chased them. They called them, y’know, “Yo, nigger!” You know how some white people call other white people “nigger?”
C: Yeah, y’know: “Yo, nigger!” Stuff like that. See, I’m not really prejudiced, but if I say it like that… But they were looking at the cars. They even admitted that they were looking to maybe rob a car or something. But they chased them, and they beat ‘em with brats, and these kids.
E: The black kids beat the white kids?
C: No, the other way around. The white kids beat the black kids. They broke their heads open. He was in a coma and everything. It was very bad. Oh, lord. [Unintelligible.] What are you between, now? What streets?
E: Let me tell you again. Hold on.