Plaut, Melissa 1975–

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Plaut, Melissa 1975–

PERSONAL:

Born 1975; daughter of Susan Lifschutz (a speech pathologist) and Steven Plaut (New York City school principal). Education: Attended State University of New York at Buffalo, University of East Anglia, and University of New Mexico.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Brooklyn, NY. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Author. Has worked at a series of jobs, including positions at Dunkin Donuts, concierge for Miramax, advertising copywriter, and yellow cab driver, beginning 2004.

WRITINGS:

Hack: How I Stopped Worrying about What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab, Villard (New York, NY), 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

Melissa Plaut's Hack: How I Stopped Worrying about What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab is partly the story of an adventurous New York woman seeking a meaningful career, and partly a depiction of the people who live (and ride) in the city. The book began life as Plaut's own blog, a work in its own right that receives up to 140,000 hits each month. It explains how Plaut lost her corporate job and, after running through all her unemployment compensation, found solace in a taxi driver's profession. "The job market was looking bleak, and I didn't think I would survive another office job," she stated in the Gothamist, "so I took the plunge and went through the process of getting my hack license. This involved many steps, but my favorite part of it was going to taxi school. It was both educational and highly entertaining. The teachers were brilliant and hilarious, and the students were from all over the world, with all different backgrounds. I thought I knew a lot about this city before, but in taxi school, I learned more about New York than I thought was possible." But, according to Whitney Scott in Booklist, "the real learning came strictly on the job, as Plaut's sad, funny, enjoyable account reports."

Plaut's blog was in some ways a reaction to the kind of people she kept on meeting during her late-night shifts. While trapped in "a smelly, battered vehicle with 30 or 40 strangers," explained a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "she met lawyers and bankers, hipsters, yuppies, druggies and crazies, big tippers and fare beaters, backseat-driving louts and backseat-lubricious lovers." "The odds [were] stacked against her as one of the 1% of cab drivers who are female—and that's on top of the other headaches," stated Lauren Sommer in Boldtype, "including traffic, no-tippers, and an endless parade of drunken, surly, or just plain crazy passengers." "‘I only started writing this blog because I was so bored with myself telling all these stories,’ she says one evening a few weeks back," wrote Michael Powell in the Washington Post, "poking at a matzo ball soup at the Hollywood Diner on the Avenue of the Americas (where, outside, as Plaut can't help but note, the traffic is flowing pretty well and quite a few shoppers are looking for taxis). ‘The blog means you're not just having brain-numbing conversation; it's material,’ she says. ‘I started sending it to my best friends and asked: "Guys, is this really stupid?" They were like, "Good. More words."’"

In a way, Hack is as much about Plaut's internal journey as it is about her shooting around the streets of the Big Apple. Jennifer Zarr wrote in Library Journal that the book is "an existential, life-changing journey. She navigates the city streets searching as much for meaning and direction in her young life as for passengers." A couple that she picked up early in her career proved to be headed for Ground Zero, the former site of the World Trade Center, on the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks. "When they got out of the cab, they thanked me warmly," Plaut said in an All Things Considered commentary broadcast on National Public Radio. "It was a 10-minute ride over two tiny miles in Manhattan, but as I watched them walk away, I felt like I had given something back to the city somehow, by driving that taxi on that day." In the end, concluded a Publishers Weekly reviewer, Plaut remains "ready to continue circling the streets looking for fares. Her storytelling technique may be uneven in this debut, but it shows promise."

Plaut told CA: "I was always interested in writing but, by the time I reached my early twenties, I'd given up on the idea of making it into a ‘career.’ That's when I started driving a cab, and it was this pure thing that I was simply experiencing without any plans to write about it. Eventually, however, I found myself more and more excited and inspired by what was going on in my life—and in my cab—and I found myself writing out my experiences after each shift at 5:00 in the morning. It was this organic evolution that ultimately brought me back to writing.

"I started a blog, which helped me build discipline, and also helped me shed a certain amount of self-consciousness about what I was writing and how I was writing it. I would write so late at night, after each cab shift, at which point I was too exhausted to question myself or be insecure. Eventually, when I was writing Hack, I would write every single morning, immediately after waking. This is when I feel I'm the most free and creative.

"The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is that it never gets easier! But it's as rewarding as it is difficult, if not more so."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Plaut, Melissa, Hack: How I Stopped Worrying about What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab, Villard (New York, NY), 2007.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, July 1, 2007, Whitney Scott, review of Hack, p. 23.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2007, review of Hack.

Library Journal, June 15, 2007, Jennifer Zarr, review of Hack, p. 78.

Publishers Weekly, May 21, 2007, review of Hack, p. 43.

Washington Post, February 26, 2006, Michael Powell, "What Drives a New York Cabbie? The Stories."

ONLINE

All Things Considered,http://allthingsconsidered.org/ (September 11, 2007), "New Cabbie's First Shift Takes Her to Ground Zero," radio transcript.

Boldtype,http://www.boldtype.com/ (April 24, 2008), Lauren Sommer, review of Hack.

Gothamist,http://gothamist.com/ (April 24, 2008), "Melissa Plaut, Yellow Cab Driver."