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Melissa Plaut Interview at Inside ontheinside.info

Melissa Plaut Interview

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Three years ago, Melissa Plaut left the corporate world to earn a living driving a New York taxi cab. Her first book Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab about her experience as a cabbie is out today, August 28th. Melissa also writes a popular blog, New York Hack, at http://newyorkhack.blogspot.com.

Questions with Melissa Plaut:

ontheinside.info: What were you doing before driving a taxi?

MP: I basically was working in advertising, even like the shittiest form of it which was copy writing for the websites of large companies. I hated it the whole time I was there but of course, you know, I was very comfortable, the money was really good.

ontheinside.info: Did you pursue advertising?

MP: No, not at all. I promised myself I would never work in advertising. I worked at a magazine for a little while. I even worked at Miramax films—that was my first job, I was the concierge. I worked at weird websites. I worked at some part-time job as a chat room moderator for some weird sex, non-sex site. You know like I was just doing a job making twenty bucks an hour and being pretty irresponsible and having fun. And somebody came along—a friend of a friend was like “Oh yeah, you should come work for the company I work at, it’s totally great”. I didn’t know what it was or what it meant. I went in and didn’t realize it was an interview.

ontheinside.info: So that was the copy writing job?

MP: I think the initial offer was half-writer, half-something else. And it was double what I had been making at the magazine. But I still said no, because I didn’t want to do it. It just seemed really weird and I thought I could do other things. And then they got a budget to have a full writer, like a second writer and for more money. So when they emailed me again, I was like “Oh yes, I need to just try and erase the air of desperation, I need a job—everything is going away, there’s no more dot com boom”.

ontheinside.info: How long did you end up working there?

MP: I worked there for three years. I was reduced to part-time after a year and a half cause they weren’t doing so well. And that was awesome, cause I made a good salary, three days a week, I made full benefits, you know? I never wanted to leave, but I was also disappointed in what I was going in and doing every day. Ultimately there wasn’t enough work in the end. They were suffering too much and laid me off. And then I collected my unemployment benefits. I love my unemployment benefits, I’ll never say no to that (laughs). And then I was like, “Fuck it, I don’t want a career, I’m not getting anywhere and I’m not happy”. So instead of going straight for another ad job, which would have been maybe the easier thing to do, I decided to go from one thing to the other to the other and do whatever the hell I wanted.

ontheinside.info: And so you started to drive a cab?

MP: Well that was the first adventure on the list. It’s something I thought about, even the previous time I had been unemployed. And when I thought about it then, it wasn’t even a real thought, you know, just like “Oh! I’ll be a cab driver, ha!” This time I was like, “Wouldn’t that be cool? I’m going to make it happen, I got nothing else to do”. And I went ahead. It scared the shit out of me. Because it’s really scary to go and be the only girl who’s doing this, first of all. Well, not the only one but you walk into a room to apply and there’s fifty guys sitting, waiting to turn in their applications, and I’m the only girl there that’s not working there, you know, behind the counter. So, it was scary to just break out into the total unknown, but that was I guess part of the adventure. So that was the first step, that was three years ago. Now, I’m kind of moving, slowly moving on. But I’m not going to probably ever give up driving a cab totally cause there’s something addictive about it.

ontheinside.info: How has driving a cab changed your perception of the city?

MP: I know it a lot better and I’m obsessed with traffic! When I’m not working I’m sort of watching it, just sort of interested, listening to the traffic even though I’m not going to be in a car. You know that channel on cable, City Drive Live, it’s like channel 93 or 91 and it’s just all the traffic cams. Sometimes I put that on and I’m like, “Ahh, Grand Central is so fucked up right now”. It’s really weird, it’s like a fetish at this point, I don’t even know. Maybe it’s just more like a professional interest. I am a terrible backseat driver as well. But I’ve met more people in the city than I would ever meet in the normal course of my life, in any other job. Even as a waiter or waitress, a certain kind of clientele comes into your place, but anybody and everybody takes a cab.

Interview by Thomas Collardeau, photo by Scott Gordon Bleicher for http://ontheinside.info

To check out Melissa Plaut’s profile and favorite NY places at ontheinside.info, click here.

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