Magazine article The New Yorker

Fast and Furious

Magazine article The New Yorker

Fast and Furious

Article excerpt

How long does it take to drive around Manhattan? About twenty-six minutes, if traffic's light and you ignore the posted speed limit. Earlier this year, a group of street racers drove from the Staten Island Ferry up the F.D.R. and back down the West Side Highway to Battery Park. They posted a video on YouTube and declared their time--26:03--to be a record. Some local experts were unimpressed. "I am an NYC cab driver," a commenter wrote. "I promise I could beat this record in my Crown Victoria. Simple factors that are unaware to the civilian driver the cabby knows. This cabby knows to drive Sunday night when there's no construction work being done, this cabby knows what speed to maintain to time the lights on the West Side Highway."

"This cabby" was Max Cohen, a twenty-seven-year-old aspiring screenwriter from Brooklyn. "I want to see the cabbie do it," another commenter wrote. "Go for it cabbie!!!" Cohen pulled up to the start line on a recent Sunday night wearing Rivers Cuomo glasses, a Vancouver Grizzlies cap, and a black T-shirt from a Brooklyn strip club. Inclement weather had cancelled two previous attempts, but tonight the roads were clear and dry. "Perfect conditions," he said. "Just give me a twin-turbo inline-6 BMW M3, with a six-speed clutch and a police radar, and I can beat it."

Unfortunately, his cab, a Toyota minivan, was outfitted for handicapped access, not speed. Cohen stepped on the gas. Under the Manhattan Bridge in ninety seconds, under the Williamsburg half a minute later. He was already off pace: the record-setters had topped out at a hundred and eleven miles per hour, while Cohen kept his speedometer in the high fifties. He had reason for caution. In February, he had been pulled over, just west of Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, with twenty-five pounds of marijuana in his back seat. (He had been hired to drive the drugs, valued at a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, from a medical-marijuana dispensary in California to a hospice in New Jersey.) Cohen was charged with felony possession and released on probation. "One of my friends called and told me, 'Dude, they're talking about you all over the Phish message boards,' " he said.

The F.D.R. was empty as he sped by the United Nations (4:55), so Cohen let his mind wander to other projects. …

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