Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 12/07/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/07/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

>Iva Pekárková


LIKE MOST NEW YORKERS, IVA PEKARKOVA has a war story or two about the city's cabbies. "I was in a taxi recently and got into an argument with the driver about the best way to go somewhere. He started to shout at me until I told him I drove a cab, too—that shut him up!"

The man might have been even more dumbfounded had Pekárková, 29, told him the rest of her story. Not only is she one of only about 200 female cabbies in the Big Apple (out of 400,000 licensees), she is probably the only one who is a veteran of an Austrian refugee camp and a published novelist.

Once a biology student in Prague, Pekárková (pronounced Pek-ARKO-va) decided to boll for freedom while on a trip to Yugoslavia in 1985. "Instead of coming home, I went to Italy and then applied for asylum in Austria," she relates. "The refugee camp was so bad I can hardly think about it now. There were eight women crammed into a single room. You could not keep personal belongings from being stolen. With refugees Iron) about 25 different nations, communication was difficult, so I started keeping a diary."

Thus a writer was born. After 11 months in the camp, Pekárková came to Boston and wrote Truck Stop Rainbows in Czech in longhand during her difficult first year here. She then moved to New York City, where, in 1990, she received her livery license. Quickly tiring of answering curious questions, she dashed off and began selling to passengers a $1 pamphlet she called The Book of Iva. ("My name is Iva, pronounced Eeva.... No, I am not afraid, being a woman, to drive a cab at night.... I've learned about other cab drivers' lives and desires, and I know how to say motherf—— in 16 languages.") Writing while the sun shines, Pekárková is currently turning her refugee diary into a second novel and has been back to her homeland twice since the Communist government collapsed. ("You can speak on the streets about am thing. What a difference from before!")

The recession has hurt the taxi business, and on a slow night recently Pekárková hovered around a downtown brothel in search of customers. "A lot of the women who work here go home to New Jersey—that's a good fare." Nonetheless, life is not without what Iva calls "funny little incidents," including two robberies. "One time," she says, "someone insisted that I pull between parked cars and then held a knife at my neck. But before taking any money, he asked, 'As a young woman, aren't you afraid to drive a cab at night?' He wanted to start a conversation!"

From Our Partners