QUICK INTERVIEWS x "HACK" AUTHOR MELISSA PLAUT
I'm still one of those people who like to go to the local book store and buy actual books, so when I came across Melissa Plaut's memoir Hack, the ball-sy, bad-ass subtitle captured my attention.
|Melissa P. | imagery: gridskipper.com|
In her late twenties and after a series of unsatisfying office jobs, Plaut decided she was going to stop worrying about what to do with the rest of her life and focus on what she was going to do next. Her first adventure: becoming a taxi driver. Undeterred by the fact that 99 percent of cabbies in the city were men, she went to taxi school, got her hack license, and hit the streets of Manhattan and the outlying boroughs. I'm glad to report that Hack is a fantastic ride—so much of a good read that I had to reach out to the author while in New York for fashion week back in September.
Quick: I first noticed your book in 2011, four years after it was published, during a time when I was fed up with my job and looking to move the hell on. I knew Hack would be the perfect way to live vicariously through someone who’d actually taken the leap of faith and moved on. With a struggling economy and people taking jobs to pay the bills, have you noticed a resurgence of people reading Hack and being inspired to pursue a job that is more fulfilling?MP: It's hard to tell. I stopped checking my Amazon ranking shortly after the book came out because it's too anxiety-producing. I have definitely seen an uptick in emails from new readers, but it's hard to say if that's related to the economy. I started driving a cab in 2004, during a mini-recession, and what I've noticed since the newer, bigger recession is that more and more people from the white-collar world are turning to the taxi industry for a job. In fact, just the other day I met a middle-aged white lady in head-to-toe Brooks Brothers, a former hedge fund manager, and where was she? Behind the wheel of a yellow cab. I don't know if there's a better indicator that times are tough!Quick: One of the major story lines was your relationship with a fellow cab driver who was introduced as Harvey, but became Helen. Do you two still keep in touch?MP: I definitely owe Helen a call. We haven't talked in a while, but that's just one of those New York things where the intention is there, and the sentiment of friendship still very much exists, but everyone's so busy that you just never seem to find the time to see the person. She's still doing the tour bus thing and I highly recommend doing a tour with her.
Quick: The ending of Hack finds you ready for your next adventure. What have you been up to, and are there any chances that we will get to read about your life adventures again?
MP: I wish it was as cut and dry as the subtitle suggests -- but unfortunately I never did stop worrying about what to do with my life. Does anyone ever? But over the past few years, I've managed to get a few interesting adventures under my belt. I took a course that teaches women how to do the "blue collar" trades, like carpentry and electrical stuff, and I was all set to start training as an elevator repair person -- just 'cause it seemed cool and hard and would expose me to the inner workings of tall New York City buildings -- but I couldn't break in to the union, so it never went anywhere. I've also learned Krav Maga, a super-intense and aggressive self-defense system developed by the Israeli military. And I've stayed close to the NYC taxi industry. I'm currently working with a company called Hailo, which is bringing a smartphone app to NYC that will allow people to hail a taxi by tapping a button on their smartphones. This is something that I really think can change the taxi industry for the better, because it gives drivers really awesome tools they can use to make the job better and more efficient. And through it all I've continued to write. I have two big works in progress -- one is about cults, and the other is kinda sorta about the Holocaust. They're both semi-autobiographical.Quick: I love this book so much that I can see it being adapted for a movie. Is that something that you’ve been pitched or even considered?MP: Thanks! That's so nice to hear. Both film and TV have been considered. And I even co-wrote a screenplay adaptation with the screenwriter and TV writer, Ariel Schrag (who is also a good friend of mine). But, I don't know -- my relationship with Hollywood has been really dysfunctional, to say the least. We keep breaking up and getting back together again. It's just much more difficult to navigate than the New York publishing industry. So, while I'd deeply enjoy seeing a film portrayal of Hack, I try to keep my expectations realistically low.
Quick: We could not end the interview without asking a tourist question. What’s your favorite place in New York that everyone should visit?
MP: Oh man, this question always stumps me because there are so many. It's kinda dorky and obvious, but one of my favorite places is still Grand Central Terminal. New Yorkers pride themselves, weirdly, on being immune to certain things -- but I don't care how long you've lived in this city, if you pass through that building without being the slightest bit awed by that ceiling, you're not human. Every single time I walk through there, I'm filled with a sense of wonder. It's like a commuter cathedral. And what I especially love is that, after they cleaned the ceiling in 1998, they left one little patch of dirt, just to show how disgusting it once was. If you're there, you gotta look for it -- it's a tiny rectangle in the northwest corner.
I also really like to hang out at criminal court at 100 Centre Street. My dad used to take my mom on dates there in the '60s, and I guess I've followed in his footsteps. I'll usually go at night (they're open 'til 1am) and watch the arraignments from arrests that happened the day before. It's often a funny, tragic, or downright absurd x-ray into the underbelly of New York.