Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Gonna miss you, Vickie...

...from a photographer's notebook

My German friend Susanne, knowing of my fondness for both New York City and the venerable Ford Crown Victoria taxicabs that for years reliably transported their passengers throughout the five boroughs and beyond, recently sent me an article that appeared in early April.

The piece was written by a German visiting New York, who could not help but take note of the sea change on the streets of Manhattan, from the once ubiquitous great yellow fleet of Crown Vics to the new Nissan vehicles that have been decreed as the new NYC Taxicab standard. Meaning, if you want to paint it yellow and get your medallion, it will ultimately have to be a Nissan NV-200 compact van.

The headline included a reference to New Yorkers reacting to these replacement vehicles “mit gemischten Gefühlen” (with mixed feelings).

Funny, I’d not have expected someone from a country where the great majority of taxicabs are Mercedes automobiles to pay all that much attention to the virtues of such “ordinary” Detroit Iron as the Ford Crown Victoria.

But this guy did, at least between the lines, in terms of performance, as he took note of the new taxi in which he was riding “faltering” after stopping at almost every intersection on his trip downtown to Canal Street. Now, when was the last time you experienced such embarrassingly bad automotive manners in a big, solid Crown Vic? I believe the writer also (and mind you, I did have to use some online aids to fully translate the article) made mention of the fact the replacement vehicles did not exactly have much in the way of grunt…

Crown Vic to Crown Vic, as we are about to head downtown from Penn Station in 2013.

Let’s be clear, I’ll never expect Seventh Avenue to be a drag strip, or 42nd St to be the Indy 500 racetrack, but I do like my little car-pleasures, like when my taxi driver pulls out from Penn Station and, by gently brushing his foot against the accelerator, causes that big bulletproof 4.6 liter V8 and heavy duty transmission to move that hefty rear wheel drive machine smartly into the traffic flow and viscerally carry us off downtown. Oh, did I mention no faltering at stoplights along the way?

The visitor from Germany did take note of some of the more contemporary touches in the new taxis, such as the sliding door, more legroom in the rear seats, more headroom for tall passengers, USB connections for charging your phone. Well, thank you, New York, but I never found the Crown Vic confining for my fairly compact frame, and I can wait to recharge my “devices” ‘til I get back to my hotel.

Guess it’s only fair to reserve any further comments on the new  NYC official taxi until I experience same on my next trip, but even the panoramic glass on top – which I know I will enjoy, loving as I do the towers of Manhattan – will not diminish my long-standing nostalgia for my Gold Standard Taxi.

Susanne added in her note that, according to that article, nowadays almost all Crown Vics have disappeared. “So ... the end obviously is more than near,” she wrote in referring to a blog story I’d written during a visit to the Apple a few summers ago.

The impetus for that story was returning to New York, after an absence of too many years and noticing that the appearance of the once-uniform armada of yellow Crown Vics was beginning to be “undermined” by some distinctly unattractive, boxy looking hybrids. Further experiences over the next few days demonstrated that these newcomers were profoundly uncomfortable as well, not coping at all as gracefully with the mean streets of  Manhattan, as the solid, long wheel-based, body-on-frame Crown Vic.

She may have looked a bit scabby, but as I recall she ran like a champ.

It led, upon returning one night to my hotel in a battered but still proud Crown Vic, to my pounding out a story formy blog.

The realization that the days were numbered for the venerable V-8 powered fleet also led to my making a point of photographing Crown Vic taxis in various settings in NYC…and making a sentimental point the following year of hailing – whenever possible – a Crown Vic taxi to get where I was going…even though, even by then, there were less of them in the mix.

She shows us her muscular stance on Duane Street, Tribeca

What I didn’t know at the time was just how numbered the old gal’s days were. So, sadly, I’ll not be adding lots and lots of new New York photos to my image bank featuring the Great Yellow Fleet of Crown Vics. But her graceful and muscular stance, appearance, and performance will live on in my mind’s eye, ear, and gut as a favorite part of the New York experience.

As part of that memory, I thought I'd share my podcast appreciation of the old gal for any other fans of this iconic machine. In listening, please understand that it was produced before the new Nissan fleet (which is gasoline powered, but with smallish engines) was introduced…and at a time when it looked like the gas-electric hybrid was going to be the new direction for the taxi fleet.

Oh, yes, and here’s my idea for decommissioned Crown Vic taxis...

©2016 Steve Ember

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