Copyright 2017 - Checker Car Club of America, Inc.
The late-1950’s and early-1960’s TV show “Naked City”* always began with the voiceover “There are 8 million stories in the Naked City.” I am willing to bet, however, that just the taxi drivers who showed up in some of the episodes could recite tens of thousands of those stories with room for many more.
This also goes for John McDonagh, a New York City cab driver, who will tell some of them in his new one-man show “Off the Meter, On the Record” at the Irish Repertory Theatre from October 6 to November 5.
John McDonagh after a rehearsal
The show is “a comedic glimpse into 35 years behind the wheel of a New York City yellow taxi [including Checker cabs]. It is a pithy social commentary from New York’s most recognizable cab driver about life spent behind the wheel. John McDonagh, veteran radio host, has condensed thirty-plus years of activism, reality show antics and observation into a love song to the city that never sleeps.
From the plight of the NYC homeless to the crazy demands of Upper East Side matrons, McDonagh brings the audience from laughter to tears and back again faster than the apparition of umbrella dealers on a rainy day. Throw in his tales of brushes with the rich and famous such as driving Stephen Fry to a Queens social club and teaching Top Gear’s Richard Hammond how to drive a cab, and you have Irish storytelling at its best.”
Having served in the US Army during the Vietnam war in Germany, John returned to a near-bankrupt New York City in 1975 with no great prospects for a rewarding job. It was the time when President Gerald Ford refused to bail out the city, powerfully reported by the NY Daily News headline “Ford to NYC: Drop Dead.”
Although John wanted to become a policeman or fireman, this was not to be given the dire financial condition of New York. So, like many others, he got himself a hack license and started to drive a cab out of the Long Island City garage of Midtown Cab.
As one would rightly guess, his cab driving career started out in a Checker taxi. Back then, these cabs had no radio, no air conditioning and no power locks. What John remembers are 12 hour shifts with lots of sweat and soot. On hot summer days, his cab often overheated putting a dent in his ability to make a decent buck. It is true, however, that the passengers preferred the Checkers to any other cab model. As John tells it, a lot of people would let many other cabs go by while holding out for a Checker.
One of John's New York City Hack Licenses
With side-gigs in construction and bar-tending, taxi driving remained his main occupation. Flexibility was the key; John could work when he wanted as a driver and pursue other opportunities as they popped up. That included meeting the love of his life, Cait Mullen, whom he married in the early 1990’s and with whom he raised three lovely daughters. Cait is a legal aid attorney working with the Brooklyn Family Court. He credits her support with his ability to pursue the crazy stuff he has done over the past 30 years.
The “crazy stuff” includes blogging on the internet, organizing cab drivers agains George W. Bush during the 2004 presidential candidacy, offering Bill O’Reilly a free ride to the airport during the 2004 Republican convention in New York City and participating in several reality TV shows including Top Gear. He has been writing and performing at Caroline’s, the Comic Strip, the Huntington Cinema Arts Center, NY Society for Ethical Culture, the Puffin Room SOHO, and Rocky Sullivan’s pub among others.
John is an active member of Irish American Writers and Artists. He was editor of the Irish People newspaper, hosted an Irish radio show in Perth, Australia, works with Veterans for peace, and is the go-to voice of Irish American activism. John was featured in the BBC program "Steven Fry in America". As an Irish American, John is the host of the WBAI Radio Program “Radio Free Eireann” and co-hosts the show “Talk Back - New York, We and Thee Edition” with Malachy McCourt and Corey Kilgallon.
John’s taxi stories came about as a collaboration with Malachy McCourt, brother of the writer Frank McCourt, who runs a writer’s salon where they were originally presented. Based on those individual successes, the stories were taken to several fringe festivals including Nancy Manocherian’s “the Cell”. Ultimately, David Rothenburg of the Fortune Society recommended to Ciaran O’Reilly of the Irish Repertory that the stories be turned into the current one-man show “Off the Meter, On the Record.” Following two years of development, the show is set to go into previews on Friday, October 6 and open on Tuesday, October 17.
Tickets can be purchased at the Irish Rep box office 212.727.2737
Previews: $35 with code PREVIEW (Oct. 6 - 15)
Normal: $50 (Oct. 17 - Nov. 5)
* - My cousin Andy Laszlo was the director of photography for 10 episodes from 1962 to 1963