A sunny yellow cab darts and weaves amid an armada of glum, black utility vehicles, catching my eye. As I stand on a street in the very heart of Manhattan, I can see it coming a mile away, which is the point, after all. Its bright, snappy exterior makes the vehicle pop. The use of yellow as a distinguishing mark is a fairly recent phenomenon, mandated by New York’s municipal authorities only in 1967; previously, cabs came in many hues, red and lavender among them. Although there’s something to be said about an abundance of color on Gotham’s thoroughfares, the sprightly yellow seems just right, in sync with the city, the visual equivalent of its vibrant, untrammeled spirit. And more. Thanks to the presence of this brightly colored car-for-hire, yellow—an Old World symbol of confinement ever since the Middle Ages—acquired a new, more beneficent meaning in the New: an expression of mobility, of getting from here to there.
The next time you’re up and about on the city’s streets, take a good look at a taxi as it speeds by, for its days are numbered, or so The New York Times recently observed.
The once-ubiquitous vehicle has increasingly ceded pride of place to Uber and Lyft. Accustomed to flailing their arms to summon a cab, New Yorkers now prefer to use their thumbs in lieu of their limbs: tap, tap, tap. “It won’t be long before this is an Uber town, instead of a yellow-cab town,” predicts one New Yorker. Confirms another, “I don’t remember the last time I took a yellow cab. My son had a bar mitzvah every single weekend for six months. I never took a cab. I either took Via or Uber to take him there and to pick him up.”
Those of us who place a premium on convenience and ease are not apt to mourn the yellow cab’s diminished role in our lives. The same holds true for those who go with the flow and comfortably accommodate change, be it vehicular or political. But for the rest of us, especially those with a keen sense of history, the yellow cab’s impending exit brings to a close a moment in time when its fortunes were closely aligned with those of New York’s Jewish residents.
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