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New York’s Taxi Drivers are Calendar Pin-ups, Tongue-in-cheek
(All Photos: Shannon Kirkman)They are the drivers of the yellow chariot, New York’s original road warriors. They are some of the nicest, most helpful guys in New York who get you from Point A to Point B – and now they are also calendar pinups! In a just released calendar for 2017 you see New York cabbies Ali, Hassan and Zaib posing for the pleasure of New Yorkers as the street-smart swashbuckling men that they are. They are the taxiwallahs who can take on the horrors of mid-town traffic and congestion and get you to your meeting on time, and honestly return you your wallet left behind in their cab.
Cabbies, especially south Asian cabbies, are part of the folklore of the city where they have fought off violent assailants, traveled to dicey places and ventured far to return passengers their forgotten packages or passports. Each immigrant cabbie has a story to tell, and many are the dreams they’ve put on hold as they eke out a living and fend for their families. If you ever get into the cab of a Punjabi or a Sikh, you will hear many a story about the loved homeland, or at least some bhangra beats on their radio. They are happy to gup-shup in Hindi or Punjabi – languages which have been lying silent on their tongues the whole day. You happen to be from the same hometown? They almost refuse to take the fare!Looking for desi food? Ask your South Asian cabbie – they know all the best places to get some street food. In fact, ‘taxiwalla hotals’ on Lexington Avenue are the best place to get pakore, spicy haleem or chole bathure. While a major part of New York’s cabbie force is originally from the Indian sub-continent, there are drivers with colorful stories from everywhere – Latin America to Senegal to the Dominican Republic. Taxi drivers always know how to get around the city fast – and how to find ethnic fast food fast!
So seeing these familiar faces and their familiar ‘peela payas’ on a flashy calendar is quite a surprise! The calendar is the creation of Shannon and Phil Kirkman. Phil who left a career in finance to pursue the creative and comedic path, decided to spotlight yellow cab drivers due to their iconic status yet relative lack of visibility or appreciation. All the cabbies have been photographed by Shannon. The City of New York was their hunting ground and they came up with cabbies of many nationalities including Hasan and Ali from Bangladesh and Zaib from Pakistan. This is their fourth annual calendar and the very first one featured an Indian cabbie who had wanted to be pictured incognito – so the couple designed the cover in such a way that his face didn’t show.So how do the cabbies go from being hack drivers to hotshot models? Says Phillip: “All of the drivers that have posed for the calendar have been prepped prior to the shoot so they know what they’re getting into, when they arrive. We’re also very conscious of making sure each driver is comfortable so we give them full authority to put limits on the shoot – for instance, whether or not to take off their shirt.”
Have there been any amusing or surprising anecdotes connected with drivers from South Asia? “For Hassan’s shoot, he had to handle ice for about an hour and a half which was challenging,” recalls Philip. “He shivered for the first 15 minutes or so and then his body got used to it. As a side note, Hassan was on last year’s cover and is awesome – one of the nicest people Shannon and I have met.”The idea seems to have been to make a calendar that is funny rather than sexy – why was that? Says Philip, “I actually think funny is sexy! Put simply, we both enjoy making people laugh. Also, sexy is typically portrayed in a stereotypical fashion – by the way you look – but I think that’s a real disservice to other traits that can be sexy – compassion, confidence, and humor.”
It has to also be remembered that the cabbies did this calendar for a good cause – the NYC Taxi Drivers Calendar is a charitable, tongue-in-cheek take on traditional pin-ups and the 2017 calendar features a diverse mix of 12 drivers in a variety of saucy poses throughout New York City. For the month of June, taxi hunk Joe appears alongside Lucy, the sexy provocateur puppet, and actress Elizabeth Ann Berg from the Tony Award winning musical, Avenue Q.The calendar is available for $14.99 at www.nyctaxicalendar.com and a portion of each calendar sale will go to the non-profit University Settlement, which is America’s oldest settlement house (1886) and serves over 30,000 immigrant and working individuals and families every year with basic services like education, housing, and literacy programs. To date, sales of the calendar have resulted in nearly $55,000 in charitable donations.
Finally, what did the calendar shoot teach them about New York cabbies? “For one thing, they are nicer than how they are stereotyped in TV or the movies,” says Philip Kirkman. “Also, having done this for four years now, we find a lot of the drivers we’ve interacted with are selfless, driven people trying to better the lives of their families. That is the American Dream.”