I remember sitting at my kitchen table last year, on the morning of February 5, sipping a cup of coffee, catching up on some emails and browsing Facebook. The memory is strangely vivid; it’s one of those moments that becomes permanently etched in your brain.
Then the phone rang… It was a reporter from The New York Post. She wanted to know if I had anything to say about what happened to Doug Schifter.
It seemed like an odd question. A bunch of thoughts flashed through my mind in that instant, but my brain wasn’t putting the pieces of the puzzle together in the right order to reveal the grim picture.
Just moments before, I had read a text he’d sent me at 5:25am that said, “Making it count.” I saw the text as I had been jumping between emails and Facebook, just after noticing he’d written a long FB post. It was an angry one, not unlike a lot of the writing he did for Black Car News. It was still pretty early, and I hadn’t finished my first cup of coffee yet. I figured I’d get back to Doug’s post later and comment on it. I assumed the text was referring to the FB post.
A couple days before we’d spoken on the phone. He’d been in a bad way. He was deep in debt and kept having setbacks with his health; he was going to lose his house. I offered to try and find him work as a limo driver in Florida, near where he’d been staying with his brother, George. I told him I knew a few people down there, and sent him some company names, and offered to talk to some old friends on his behalf. He politely declined.
He’d brought up his old columns, said he thought I should re-run them. I told him we should talk after the weekend, go through some of the old columns together, and maybe even update them. I was hoping to get him engaged in something that could take his mind off his problems, perhaps find some emotional relief in venting his anger and frustration. Writing can be therapeutic, I told him. He seemed so tired, I dropped the subject.
All of these thoughts sped through my mind in the matter of an instant.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said to the Post reporter. “What happened to Doug?”
I assume you know the rest. If not, just ask a professional driver in New York City. Everyone knows. You might also watch this short documentary from Filmmaker/Video Journalist, Shako Liu (www.shakoliu.com): https://youtu.be/tYYB3nglHRc. Paul Schifter, another one of Doug’s brothers, is among those interviewed, along with me.
It’s terrible what happened, what continues to happen to drivers struggling in the New York City transportation industry. Doug wasn’t the only driver to take his own life since the industry began to unravel. Between November 2017 and November 2018, we lost eight NYC drivers: Alfredo Perez, Livery driver; Danilo Corporan Castillo, Livery driver; Douglas Schifter: Black Car driver; Nicanor Ochisor, Taxi driver; Yu Mein “Kenny” Chow, Taxi driver; Abdul Saleh, Taxi driver; Fausto Luna, Uber driver and Roy Kim, Taxi driver.
On the anniversary of my friend, Doug Schifter’s passing, we remember them all, and hope for better times ahead.