After 62 years and 2 million miles on New York streets, 82-year-old "Jack the Hack" Dym has parked his cab for the last time.
Fresh out of the U.S. Army, he began driving a cab in 1947, following his father and three brothers into the business.
It was an era of hulking DeSoto, Packard and Checker cabs, a lush Manhattan street life, and cheap gas. His own cab, a Packard, became his entrée to people of every station and to improbable friendships.
"I am friendly and I love people," he said. "That’s it in a nutshell. But I decided to leave because I have been in the industry, you know, since 1947."
In his early days, "hacking" was decidedly low-tech. The only GPS was a cabby’s steel- trap mind, and Dym liked it that way.
He is no fan of the partitions separating driver from passenger either, preferring an unencumbered connection to his passengers. To his kids’ consternation, he feels the same about seat belts.
While other cabbies moved on to new careers, Dym kept driving. He and his late wife Harriet were like so many others after World War II: A house in the suburban Howard Beach, a commitment to education, a warm family life.
He married relatively late, and the couple had their first child in the early 1960s and then three others in quick succession.
Financial success was the missing piece in the suburban idyll. "I struggled," he admits. "I was always in trouble financially. But I have four diamond kids, and I am the richest guy in the world."
He did work for a time as a dispatcher, a chauffeur and co-owner of a taxi fleet. But he always seemed to end up back behind the wheel of a taxi.
Over his six decades of driving, accidents were few and far between. "I can count on my hands the little incidents that I had over all those years," Dym said. "I never drove fast. I always drove safely. I used to get comments from my clients about this."
When his kids began reaching college age around 1980, he sold the major investment of his life. It was his cab medallion, the official New York emblem granting the right to operate a cab. It brought in about $65,000, and he used much of the money to send his kids to college. It could be worth as much as $700,000 today, he said.
He says his children haven’t forgotten him today and support him financially.
One consolation of his life on the streets was a view of New York available to few others. He gave rides to celebrities like Jack Lemmon and Sharon Stone. Jacqueline Onassis rode in his cab a number of times.
He developed friendships with business executives, and every now and then one would offer him a job as a driver.
The media seem to know he was close to the Manhattan’s heartbeat. At least one documentary filmmaker has tapped into his wealth of knowledge. And the late Dennis Duggan, a Pulitzer Prize winning Newsday writer, once built a column around interesting people who had traveled with him.
His daughter Ilene gave a trip with "Jack the Hack" a special cachet during the 1970s. An art student, she began decorating the back seat of his cab with her drawings of flowers, and suggested that he give copies to his passengers as a way of brightening their day.
She also created a sign saying "Sit back and relax and enjoy a safe, pleasant ride with my dad, Jack the Hack."
On one occasion, his daughter’s art may have kept Dym from being robbed. As he dropped two passengers off on a secluded street, they admitted to him that they had been thinking about robbing him. But they were dissuaded by Ilene’s flowers and warm message.
As it was, they simply left without paying him. 'Lock your doors and get out of the neighborhood before we change our minds," one told him.
After financing his own children’s education, Dym finally got the opportunity to attend his own high school graduation -- more than five decades after being drafted right out of high school to help meet urgent manpower needs late in World War II.
"My mother was beside herself," since his three brothers were already in the military, Dym said. "I had two months to graduation." She had been hoping that his slight build would keep him out of the service. "She used to say, ‘You’re so skinny, you stand sideways, you look like an umbrella."
But seven years ago, Dym wrote to his old high school in Brooklyn, explained his situation, and asked to attend their next graduation. Officials agreed, and he even capped off the experience in 2002 by attending the prom with his wife Harriet
She died several years ago, and he now spends much of his time on local Masonic activities.
Since the 1960s, he has helped his lodge expand a relationship with a counterpart in Idaho – the only Masonic Grand Lodge in the U.S. to publicly decry Hitler and the Holocaust in the 1940s, Dym said.
As a result, he has developed friendships with ranchers and potato farmers in that state, and visits every year. He also dances and practices yoga at a Queens senior center.
At his retirement, New York City honored him with the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s Lifetime Achievement Award, saying he represented "the living history of the taxi industry."
Dym still drives a 1994 Toyota and doesn’t plan to give it up any time soon.
"I haven’t been on a train or bus for years," he said. "If I don’t have wheels under me, I feel like a guy who doesn’t have feet under him."