Saturday, July 21, 2007

"Taxi Ray" Kottner's Free Taxi Rides

VANISHED (temporarily?): July 2007

Photo source

Gothamist and the New York Post report that “Taxi Ray” Kottner has had his Checker Cab impounded, taken off the streets where it used to give anyone who hailed it a free ride. Here’s a story about riding with Ray in July of 2005:

We were lucky enough to get into Ray Kottner’s cab the other day at 5th Avenue and 18th Street. The taxi, a 1982 Checker Cab built in the final year the Checker Cab Company manufactured such cars, is outfitted with a row of license plates across an ample front bumper that read RIDES 4 U R FREE. Its roof-top billboard advertises “Bloomberg for President.”

Inside, the backseat is spacious, upholstered in weathered blue velveteen. There was no bulletproof plastic to divide us and no seatbelts to hold us. Unbelted and unobstructed, in the wide-open space of the car, we had the feeling of swimming. The windows were rolled down and the cab had the tired smell of old cars, musty sun-warmed vinyl, a smell you don’t get much anymore and which can bring back memories of other cars, other backseats. A wall clock, hanging where the meter ought to be, had the words dreams and memories written across its face. Parked along the dashboard, a fleet of die-cast toy Checker cabs sat at their own miniature taxi stand, as if waiting for fares.

Photo source

Behind the wheel, wearing a yellow and checkerboard-patterned cap, septuagenarian Ray Kottner slowly guided his rickety vehicle southward, complaining joyfully about the Taxi and Limousine Commission and how they confiscated his cab last year, punishing him for operating independently of their regulations by giving away free rides. Kottner is in the middle of a major lawsuit and he dreams of dismantling the taxi commission completely. “Don’t worry,” he assured us, waving at the impatient new cabs that honked and shoved from all sides, “I’ll get rid of them someday.”

With the breeze riffling the white hairs on his forearm, Ray stuck his hand through the window and pointed out the Orpheum Theatre where Stomp bangs out night after night for the ever-flowing tourist trade. He told us, “I had the owner of that theatre in my cab 20 or 30 years ago. She wanted to do a play about taxi drivers. Who wants to see that? All we do is go around in circles. It’s boring. But I did have a guy murdered in my cab once. Back in the sixties.”

“Two guys were fighting over the cab,” said Ray, “One stabbed the other and dropped him in between two parked cars. What was I going to do about it? I drove home and went to bed. I was glad he didn’t get any blood in my cab.”


Anonymous said...

Taxi Ray passed away this past Saturday, June 14, 2008 - right near his beloved cab. He will be greatly missed by those who knew that beneath the gruff exterior, a wonderful, funny person existed.

Heaven-O - your Hell's Kitchen neighbors will surely miss you - I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

Jeremiah Moss said...

very sad news. thanks anon for the info. glad i got the chance to ride in his cab just once. we've lost another one of the city's great characters.

Anonymous said...

Oh no! I remember stumbling across this very cab a few years ago and now I'm kicking myself for not having taken a ride. RIP Ray.

fred said...

It's too bad the "authorities" took his checker cab. It should be parked somewhere permanently like a memorial. I took the second photo in 2005 after a really nice ride from Farraras to WTC. Thanks Ray. You were an inspration.

Shira Loyer said...

VNY - Thank you for posting this. Taxi Ray just came up in conversation at WNBC about people's favorite NY moments and I wondered how he was doing. Back in 2006, less than a year after moving to the city, I was lucky enough to hail Ray and was schooled with to this day the best introduction to New York. Taxi Ray, you are greatly missed.
Enclosing pics from our meet up here: