Well, this should prove interesting, I thought to myself as I hung up my office telephone that spring day in 1983. I had just had a conversation with a deputy District Attorney from the Bronx, N.Y. He was sending me a round trip ticket to fly to the Bronx to testify before a Grand Jury on a matter involving my insurance company.
I was the Vice President of Underwriting for the Bankers and Shippers Insurance Company of New York at the time, with headquarters in Burlington, N. C. I had received a call from him a few days earlier inquiring as to whether our company had ever insured a taxi company based in the Bronx. A search of our records indicated that we had never done so. His investigation revealed that the taxi owner had acquired one of our company’s Proof Of Liability Insurance Cards, and had committed fraud by typing in his company’s name and address, and a false policy number. This small card allowed him to secure a permit from the city to operate a taxi cab.
I later learned that “gypsy cabs” were common in the New York area. A person with a relatively good car would work his day job, then at night put a lighted “Taxi” sign on the top of the car, and drive around the city picking up unwitting passengers. The fare was usually higher, they usually drove the long way to a destination, and cases were reported of the driver refusing to give the passenger his luggage without an “extra” charge. It seems that the DA’s office had “busted” this operator and was facing a grand jury for his illegal activities.
The flight to LaGuardia was uneventful, although the landing strip extended far out in the water and made it appear that we were landing on water, which produced some anxiety on my part. However the interesting aspects of the trip were just beginning.
I took a taxi to the downtown Bronx courthouse. The taxi driver commented to me in broken English that if I were to spend the night near downtown I should not walk around town by myself. “I would just stay locked in my room if I were you”, he advised. Thankfully, this was a one day trip. So, I shrugged off his unusual advice.
After arriving at the courthouse around 11:00 am, I found the office of the assistant district attorney. He was very friendly and talkative, although I had to listen carefully to his words due to his heavy accent. I learned that there was a representative from another insurance company from Atlanta who was to testify before me. The taxi operator had forged one of their insurance cards as well.
I found myself in the witness box facing the grand jury around noon. The attorney asked me about four questions which I answered. It was all over in about five minutes, and I was free to go. Then things got interesting.
Back in the district attorney’s office, along with the gentleman from Atlanta, plans were being made to get both of us back to the airport. “I don’t want you guys just hailing any old cab down there. I am going to call the Yellow Cab Company and request a taxi for you”, he informed us as he was dialing the telephone. After his conversation, he instructed us, “Just go down there on the street corner and wait for cab number 151. Don’t get in any other cab but that one.” That sounded good to me.
Suddenly, he had a change of mind. “I think I will go with both of you and make sure you catch the right cab. Let’s go.” He grabbed his suit coat and escorted us down the elevator and out to the street corner. “Now, another piece of advice – don’t let the driver charge you for this ride. The county will be paying for it. Sometimes they will try to collect twice.” My first thought was that I sure was glad that I did not live there.
In a few minutes we spotted a Yellow Cab headed toward our street corner. “Make sure it is cab 151”, he instructed. It was, and we got in. Then he yelled to the driver, “This fare is being paid for by the county. No further charges are necessary.” Then we were off on a wild ride to the airport.
On the flight back to North Carolina I reflected on the eventful day. I had made a trip to the Bronx, testified to a grand jury, and been told to stay inside the hotel room at night. Then just getting a taxi turned into a major ordeal. I decided that my first trip to the Bronx would also be my last. I think the assistant District Attorney felt that we two southern boys just were not quite sharp enough to handle our situation correctly. He may have been right.
“A VISIT TO THE BRONX”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
P. O. BOX 511
SAN AUGUSTINE, TEXAS 75972