He may be on his cell phone with a BBC reporter
when you flag him down. He'll give you the skinny on New York
en route to The Plaza. And he'll swing by Coney Island on the
way to LaGuardia, just so you can see it. This is one cab
driver you wish you'd land.
Nancy Branka – SkyGuide GO – 02/01/03
Franklin has been driving a cab in New York City for 30 years.
For the last 15 years, he's also been a radio personality on
400 stations and networks in 71 countries. For just about as
long, he's run a colorful tour company. And he has something
to say to travelers who think a cab driver is just a schmuck
trying to rip them off.
Franklin's radio career began
one day in the mid-'80s when he stopped to pick up a fare near
Wall Street. A BBC World Service journalist hopped in and
asked for an interview, explaining he wanted to talk with a
"typical" cab driver. Franklin's tell-it-like-it-is response:
"I'm not typical—I speak English." The "Gabby Cabby" was born.
On the day we spoke, the Gabby Cabby's docket included
12 interviews— beginning at 6:30 a.m. with the BBC Cleveland
in the U.K., and ending at 10:00 p.m. with KMOX in St. Louis.
(And don't forget the 3 p.m. to 5 a.m. gig driving the taxi.)
Franklin will take radio calls from wherever he is at the
time—at a little league game, in the cab...anywhere.
The broadcasts are all unrehearsed and are tailored to
the station. On his Web site, Franklin posts a list of stories
he's "up" for during the current week. Journalists look at the
list and pick one or more topics that may interest their
listeners. The journalist calls Franklin at a pre-arranged
time, and they just talk.
The day in November that we
spoke, he said he'd picked up two hookers who'd knocked off
work early the previous night (election day), and were looking
for a ride to the polls. "Now, this is not a story for every
station because it may offend," admits Franklin.
stories open for discussion that week included why New Yorkers
on the street were actually unhappy about the city being
selected to host the Olympic Games. Or his spotting of
Christina Aguilera at a swanky night-spot.
says the taxi work is essential—besides putting the food on
the table, it's where he harvests stories worthy of airtime.
"I never make anything up," he says. Truth is stranger than
The weeks following September 11, 2001 were
very different for Franklin. He conducted more than 300 live
broadcasts in those early days after the tragedy, relaying New
Yorkers' stories to his "family" of listeners around the
world. And he admits it was strange moving away from the
"funny guy" persona he adopts on normal broadcasts, to that of
a more traditional reporter. Franklin and his wife received
hundreds of e-mails from listeners who had followed his radio
show before 9/11, wanting to know if he and his family were
The radio work doesn't pay, but Franklin clearly
enjoys the notoriety and uses the publicity to market his tour
business. "[The radio] is a lot of fun, but I figured out
early in the game how I can get something out of it," he
explains. The exposure from the radio pulls in business for
his tour company, like the two elderly Canadian ladies whom
he'd just shown around the city—they couldn't visit New York
without meeting the Gabby Cabby.
Franklin will take a
party of two to six people on an eight-hour insider's tour of
New York. (Book a tour or get details at http://www.gabby.com/.) "I like to get
people on the first day they're in New York," he says. "That
way I can teach them how to use the subway and advise them on
the rest of their trip."
Tours are completely tailored
to interests of the individuals. If you mention your favorite
TV show is Seinfeld, he makes sure the group grabs a hamburger
at the Seinfeld restaurant. If your grandmother lived in the
Bronx, he suggests detouring to track down the house she grew
up in. If you're interested in ceramics, the tour stops in
Harlem to see a woman creating ceramics in her studio.
And then there's the payoff for the Gabby Cabby:
"Nothing thrills me more than getting the hugs and kisses at
the end of the tour."
After 30 years in the driver's seat,
Peter Franklin has some tips for taxi passengers.
Know the city. In other words, buy a map. "Chances are,
when you get into a cab, the driver is a decent, hard-working
person," says Franklin. "The problem is that he may not know
New York City." (Most are new immigrants, according to
Franklin.) Even tourists need to take the trip into their own
hands. For example, it may be faster to walk the final couple
of blocks of a ride but your cab driver may not tell you. Take
charge, and tell him you want to get out. Or your destination
may be much easier to get close to than to hit exactly
(usually because of one-way streets or traffic impediments).
Be prepared to suggest a "close enough" route and walk.
- Be patient with the driver. Remember that he
may only make $250 a week. "Be a nice guy," says Franklin. Tip
fairly, and sometimes with generosity. Franklin gets irked
when he drives a little old lady to Bloomingdale's—someone
obviously ready to spend some serious money—and she leaves a
- Allow plenty of time. Franklin
says he always does his best to get there fast—especially to
airports—but passengers have to do their part by avoiding a
rush. He says a couple of times he's had a passenger who is
late to a job interview. He's called the personnel office from
his cell phone and said, "So-and-so is in my cab, and I'm
doing the best I can to get him there, but I wanted to let you
know that he'll be late." While the strategy may have
embarrassed the candidates, the personnel people get a chuckle
out of it and are forgiving.
- Consider public
transportation. Especially in New York, the quickest route
between points A and B may be the subway. Worried about your
image? "There are plenty of rich people who take the subway,"
- Be careful when using a car
service. Because there is no meter, it's a very good idea
to find out beforehand how much your trip will cost.