What I Learned from Love & Other Drugs, as Told by NYC’s Finest…(Taxi Drivers) – An Essay by Joyce Chung

Yellow cabs

Disclaimer: The following vignettes are extremely personal and very real. Names and some details have been changed for the privacy of parties involved.  

Someone once told me a poignant thing. She said (paraphrased), “When two people meet, it isn’t just two straight lines meeting at a single point. It is actually the intersection of two three-dimensional planes, which are layers and layers of real substance formed by childhood and culture, past and present relationships, pains and joys. It is essentially the meeting of two people’s life stories.”

This is the point: everybody has a story. The barista behind the counter making your flat white, the homeless woman on Lexington Avenue and 45th crying out for a life-giving encounter, the cab driver shuffling you from your apartment to a bar in the West Village on a Saturday night…

In an effort to comb through and mine the 8 million life stories that exist in NYC alone, I embarked on a personal project to ask taxi drivers the following questions: Why are you who you are? What experiences have informed your character? What has life taught you? This is a small sampling of stories heard and lessons learned. Some are incredibly detailed, some are incredibly short. All are, unsurprisingly, about love, religion or family. Each has significance and purpose.


’s Stance on Family

Why am I who I am? I would say family, over and above culture, environment, school and religion. I was away from my dad for 16 years. Not by choice. He left me when I was 3 years old for America and got stuck here because of issues related to his papers. I was living with the rest of my family in Morocco at the time. We talked over the phone for 16 years. It’s hard to have a real relationship over the phone. Can you imagine being in a long distance relationship with your dad? We reunited when I was 19 years old.

It is very hard to explain, but my relationship with my dad, and his absence for a large part of my life…changed me. I feel like his absence was a great loss for me. It created a new person and a new perspective. I desire more connection with family now. I understand it to be the most important thing in life. When I get married and have a family, I will never leave my kids for more than one day.

What a Cab Driver has Learned about Love while Living in NYC

Love? New Yorkers are too busy for love.

What Another Cab Driver has Learned about Love while Living in NYC

Love is everywhere. NYC is The City of Love. It exists in every corner and crevice of this beautiful city. Even the graffiti and street art scream and show the labor of love. You just have to look, and I mean really look.

What Another Cab Driver has Learned about Love while Living in NYC

Love exists!!! Love is from God, and I believe in God. I pray incessantly and hear from Him clearly. He says Love exists. So it does.  

The Love of His Life

She was incredibly sexy. Slovakian. Out of my league. The love of my life. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful our love is…was. Our sex life…Sorry, is this too revealing? You seem like a lady. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.

She made me feel things that I have never felt before in my heart…(Starts weeping, stops driving.) I’m sorry, I need to pull over. This is very emotional for me…

She…left. Went back to Slovakia. Didn’t believe in life in America.

My heart is still broken. How do you cope when the person that transformed you, changed you, was a part of you, tied to your soul, is no longer there?? I’m still clinging onto a thread of hope that we’ll see each other again. Do you think I’m foolish?

’s First Kiss

I had my first kiss by the beach at age twenty four. A mixture of vodka and sugary prosecco and five inch heels made the moment unromantic. It was a rather blurry, loopy experience: my mind trying to process what was about to transpire while replaying what kisses looked like in the movies (should I tilt my head back right now? maybe giggle a little? close my eyes? tell him I like him? touch his shoulder? caress his arm?), while my body was a wavering reed, swaying back and forth because of said alcohol and said heels. Then it was over.

For as unromantic and unsexy the moment was for me, I desired it over and over again because for that split second, I felt connection. Connected. After that first kiss, I spiraled downward into a string of bad relationships, bad hookups and bad makeouts to fill this void I felt. I was surrounded by a sea of people–hell, I was constantly being pushed and touched by tourists, squashed into subway cars like sardines in a tin can–and yet I felt this deeply piercing loneliness. I thought men could and would fill my emptiness. But they never did. They always failed.

I hate to say religion healed me, because it wasn’t religion, but it was faith and love and God and spirit. What I learned painfully was that the heart matters. Check it. Why are you doing what you’re doing?  It’s most likely a heart thing. Actions are tangible indicators of where your heart is at. Take care of your heart, and your actions will follow through.

Life is So Simple. We All Just Complicate It

This is what I’ve learned from life: life is so simple. Your life depends on your mentality. You decide what kind of life you want to live. Good happens and bad happens. But you choose. If something bad happens, you can’t forget all the good things that are also in your life. Or you can. You choose.

Even if you are going through a rough time, you can still be happy and thankful. Sadness doesn’t help you be or overcome anything. Like I said before, it depends on your mind. If you think positively, then your life becomes positive. If you think negatively, then your life becomes negative. Simple.

I want to be a nice human because life is so short. Nobody knows how many seconds, how many minutes, how many days you have…We just know each other for the fifteen minutes that we are riding together in this Uber. If I am a nice person and extend kindness to you…if by some chance we meet again, that is what you will remember.

I guess that the way I think is partly due to religion. I’m trying to become religious. Everybody is doing religious practice…some do a little less, some do extra. I always ask Allah to help me.

A Taxi Driver’s Ramblings on Everything

Love doesn’t exist. I’m a very optimistic person by the way. I am 63 years old and will be 64 years in November. You’re just like my daughter, hatching from the egg now. The thing is, I think love in general does not exist. It is a tool that is used to do whatever our mind and body expects and requires from our brain. Different people use love as a tool differently to satisfy what your soul and body needs and wants. Food for the soul. We cannot live without each other, we are about connection.

It is an important part of our life and nature. Creating and taking. Nature is a part of life, it is a part of our chemistry to need each other. We need sex or intimacy or imitation or each other. Life will stop if we do not have this feeling. And that’s the secret of being a human, being in this reality. That’s the mystery that we’re trying to answer. Who we are all about, where did we come from, what is life about? We don’t have the answers.

Everybody is a result of the environment. Family, education, friends, work, life. I think I’m an excellent example for my children. I came from Albania and took a risk. I was a journalist by profession. I exchanged my education and title for freedom in America. I came here when I was 29 and got married. I couldn’t speak English, and then I started working. I married and now have three wonderful children. My wife is now unfortunately sick. When she was 36, she had a stroke, a blood clot in the brain. And she’s still suffering, 22 years later. We are all suffering.

But I am satisfied, for what I accomplished and achieved so far in this country. Did I answer your question?

How to Be Happy

The key to happiness, I’ve learned, is gratitude. Gratitude, gratefulness, thankfulness are transformational. Gratitude can elevate your dreary soul. It can make your soul sing. Gratitude has the power to uplift you out of sadness or pain. Do you have a pillow to lay your head on late at night? Do you have clothes on your back? Food to eat? A boss that you are angry at or upset with (that means you have a job)?  

When you carry and operate from a perspective of gratitude, your reality starts to change. You start to recognize what’s beneath the sometimes sh*tty moments. The reality is that there are blessings all around us.

How to Be Happy no. 2

I meet a slew of people every day. New York City is hustle and bustle, hustle and bustle. I have difficult and mean and rude passengers in my cab every day. Yet, I am still grateful. How could I not be? I meet lovely and kind and respectful people in my cab every day too.

You Are Not The Center of The Universe

What I’ve learned is that you are not the center of the universe. One clear indicator is this: people die, and the world moves on despite it.

I’m not trying to be harsh and I definitely believe that you, the individual, can change the world. But you are not the only person in the world.

Don’t Get Hung Up On Your Pain

Do you know how many people have cried in my cab? New York City is energy, diversity, success, adventure and money. For all the glamour however, there is a lot of pain. Brokenhearted people running on alcohol, drugs and art, self-medicating with things and people, therapy and pills. People hung up on their pain, stuck in their history.

Pain won’t propel you into your dreams.


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