Monday, 28 July 2014 12:55

The Tao of the Taxicab with Melissa Plaut

Written by  Kyle Austin
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Melissa Plaut Melissa Plaut PHOTO: Julia Gillard

An Evening with Melissa Plaut
Grand Rapids Public Library – Main Branch

Aug. 21, 7 p.m., (616) 988- 5400

Melissa Plaut remembers the first time she ever wrote about driving a New York City taxicab. It was 5 a.m. one morning in 2005, and she’d just returned home from her shift. The stream-of-consciousness recounting of the night’s events that poured out of her was unlike anything she’d ever written, certainly unlike anything she’d ever written in her previous job, writing copy for one of the Big Apple’s innumerable advertising agencies. In that moment, a woman who could never quite figure out what to do with her life became one who would do anything to make sure she got the most out of it.


“There’s a lot of pressure,” she said of life after college. “You have to pick one thing, you have to love it, and if you don’t, then that sucks for you. If you do change, it’s a mid-life crisis thing and you only get to change once.”


Becoming a taxi driver, however, was Plaut’s way of resisting that engrained mindset. At first, she declared herself finished with writing and resisted her friends’ insistence that she mine her unusual and exciting experiences for material.


“At that time, I was really valuing experience over feeling productive, just sort of gathering my own experiences,” she said. “I live in a very artistic community and all of my friends are artist and writers and what have you, so there’s that constant pressure to feel like you’re producing, and I decided to just let go of that.”


She soon found her experiences to be so fascinating and visceral that she couldn’t contain them any longer. That first piece would mark the beginning of "New York Hack," a blog Plaut started, anonymously at first, to give the world a unique window into the daily grind of one of America’s most enigmatic professions.


“It’s what got me interested in driving a cab to begin with,” Plaut said. “What happens? It’s such a mystery. What do these people see? And my expectations were very different from the reality, but it still sort of gave people just a tiny peek into what does happen behind the wheel of a taxi while everybody else is asleep.”


Behind that wheel, Plaut bore witness to a whole spectrum of humanity – the drunken, whispering phone calls of helpless romantics at closing time, the stoic resignation of overworked businessmen, the trusting confessions of particularly lonely passengers, and the unpredictable wildness of the city at night that the average person rarely caught a glimpse of.


This new world fascinated Plaut, and in sending her observations and musings through cyberspace, she managed to fascinate hordes of readers as well, with the popularity of "New York Hack" growing exponentially by the day. By 2008, Plaut had enough material to entice a publisher into giving her a book deal, and she began to process of weaving her blog entries into a narrative structure that became Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab.


The book enjoyed healthy success, but instead of rushing straight into another, Plaut took a consulting job in the taxi industry, where she remains today, but not forever. Her greatest story, it seems, will always be the ever-evolving narrative of her life.


“The way I think about it is, it’s a commitment for a year or two,” she said of her latest adventure. “That’s what anything can be. It’s not the rest of my life.”


Other Literary Events

Grand Rapids Region Writers Group
Ucello’s – East Beltline, Grand Rapids

Aug. 9, noon

The purpose of Grand Rapids Region Writers Group is to promote excellence in fiction, to help writers become published and establish careers in their writing field, and to provide continuing support for writers within the publishing industry. The group meets on the second Saturday of each month.


Author Signing – Dr. Jan Pol
Barnes and Noble – Grand Rapids

Aug. 14, 7 p.m., (616) 940-0820

Meet Dr. Jan Pol, star of National Geographic’s hit show, “The Incredible Dr. Pol,” at this special signing event. From growing up in the Netherlands surrounded by animals to moving to Michigan to start his own practice, Dr. Pol has amassed a wealth of amazing stories about the unique bond between animal and man.


Into the Wind Dance and Poetry Performance
Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center – Muskegon
Aug. 22 and 23, 7 p.m., (231) 722-4371

Michigan poet Keith Taylor joins the Ann Arbor Dance Works for a special presentation that will explore the potential transformation of Muskegon, Mich., from a once-thriving manufacturing community to one that is working to regain economic prosperity by exploring alternative energy industries.

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