From Wall Street To NYC Cabbie: What I Learned On The Way Down

Jack Alvo, cab driver"Let's take a look at your numbers." It was only days after 9/11, when he'd narrowly escaped his World Trade Center office, and this comment from his manager made Jack Alvo snap. He quit his six-figure job at Morgan Stanley and began a decade-long career path that would end in an unlikely spot: As a New York cabbie.

Alvo, 50, who spent years working in finance, earning as much as $250,000-a-year, never expected to drive a cab. But it's brought some unexpected joys. He says that he doesn't envy the finance guys whom he drives around all day, six days a week, from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. In fact, it's given the cabbie a new outlook. "I don't want to go back to that lifestyle," of working on Wall Street, he says. "It's grueling, grueling."

Looking back, the cab driver's career really changed the morning of 9/11, when Alvo escaped from his 73rd floor office of the South Tower. Fresh from this trauma, Alvo says that couldn't handle the single-minded profit focus of certain Morgan Stanley managers. He did a couple other jobs, in commercial real estate and metal trading, but was laid off in 2009.

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In the midst of the financial crisis, he bumped around for a year, unable to find work, scraping by with his wife and two kids in their rent-stabilized apartment. So he decided to start driving a cab. "I needed to bring in cash," he said, and he knew the city streets well.

The same skills apply

Alvo says that he turned out to be a great cabbie. His aptitude for figures, honed through years of financial trading, worked well in a job where time is truly money. "I break it down literally to -- I'm a numbers guy -- to every 15 minutes," he said. By 7 o'clock in the morning, he claims that he can predict his end-of-day income. "I'll usually be within $20," he adds.

Alvo's many years as a taxi passenger also helps him relate to his clientele. When finance guys jump in the back, they're often surprised how well-versed their driver is in the fits and starts of the bond market.

"It's fishing," he said about his new career. "If you don't know what you're doing, you'll never catch a fish. But if you know what you're doing, you'll have dinner every night."

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You Can Always Be An Entrepreneur

Driving a cab might not seem like it provides much opportunity for innovation. But Alvo says that he has always been an entrepreneur in spirit, and since around 200 people a week took a ride in his car, the chances were that at least someone, he thought, if they knew his credentials, would have a job lead. So Alvo installed a magazine rack in the back of the car, and placed his resume on it, along with the sign: "Driver's resume: If you have someone who can help in your network, I'm all ears."

The offers started coming: something in fashion, in health care, in networking marketing. "In my '20s or '30s I would have jumped at those positions pretty quickly," he said. But "as time went on, I wasn't so motivated to just jump at anything."

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Realizing You Never Wanted In Anyway

Alvo also had interviews with major financial firms like Citigroup and Bank of America. He says that he finally got close to his years-long goal of returning to finance, and its six-figure salary. But yet, he just couldn't get excited about any of it. "I'm growing out of it," he thought.

Alvo is no longer looking for just a job; he wants a completely new career. "You have to be completely creative, think outside the box," he said about unemployed or underemployed people like himself. Right now, Alvo's interested in helping a startup develop, writing a book, and possibly pitching a TV show. (He says that he's already turned down a reality TV offer.)

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Rolling With The Punches

And until he finds the right fit, Alvo's happy to go on savoring the freedom of his current life, driving the streets of New York, blasting opera, and meeting dozens of different people a day. Yes, his family has settled into a life with less -- no dinners out, no elaborate vacations -- and he works 12-hour shifts, six days a week.

"It's a constant and consistent hustle," he says of the cabbie lifestyle. "You start off $200 in the hole everyday, and you gotta make up that and your own income."

But somehow, the whole ordeal has brought his family a little closer, he says. It's also given him a zen-like attitude to life: the knocks it can throw at you, and the possibilities.

"Why is a guy with this kind of resume also behind the wheel of a taxi?" a guy recently asked him. Alvo wasn't offended. He didn't feel the need to explain. "A young guy doesn't get it," said Alvo. "An old guy gets it."

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I wonder what his wife's been doing while he's working those 12 hour days, 6 days a week. He may be in for an unpleasant surprise if he keeps this schedule up...

March 27 2013 at 10:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The gentleman not only mentioned the long hours , he mentioned them twice , 12 hours a day , 6 days a week

March 04 2013 at 10:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

LOL...So he went from making $250K and the afticle didn't mention how long he made that kind of money to living in a rent controlled apartment with his family because he thought being a white collar criminal was "Grueling"? Haha...Driving a cab sucks stressful as hell especially in manhattan. Even more grueling are the jobs behind the scenese that people don't often see. Blue collar guys breaking their backs day and night and this guy's turning down six figure jobs while living in a rent controlled place? What a tool...

March 04 2013 at 3:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

He was perfect for the job since he was already experienced in taking customer for a ride in his former occupation.

March 04 2013 at 2:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good advice for those in the Middle class that lose their jobs ,and have done nothing but complained ,now is your chance but better hurry ,your choices are limited to ,Mc Donald ,Burger King ,Wendy's ,the rest of the Industry is Run and owned by Indians ,including All the Hotels And Motels !or you can drive a taxi mostly is tax free .

March 03 2013 at 10:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Debbie L. Garrison

why not become an accountant? must be the figures or sitting behind a desk all day. being a cabby brings in the numbers $$$$$ with a higher risk of getting mugged. od well glad to know either way hes found something he likes to do.

March 03 2013 at 10:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jon paul 65

Now this is MY kind of guy! I ask God's choicest blessings for him and his family.

March 03 2013 at 10:39 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Dude, I thought was woody allen!!!

March 03 2013 at 10:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

save money over the years and now become cabbie driver with out any stress !

March 03 2013 at 8:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I guest from your perspective, your comment helped to make this world a better place. His decision transition his life, by his choice.
Yes, there are immigrants in this country the most of us are, except for the native americans.... Learn the history of this country and why Europe sent its undesirable to the new world. After the Indians saved the pilgrams and taught them how to live off nature, the army killed and slaughter thousand to take the land that we now live on.
We live in the United States, many low paying jobs westerns would not do, so somebody has to do them. Have you stayed at a Hyatt or Merriott lately? Housekeeping staff mainly are immigrants.
Look at your professional sport teams, many are children of immigrants.
Can we respect each other and live to make this country/world a better place without pointing out our few differences..... (speech, appearances)
Hope that you have a great week.

March 03 2013 at 7:49 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sqizin's comment

You're quite right, SQIZIN. I applaud your comment. I was born in 1949 and families were all mostly descendants of immigrants. They were the hardest working people ever with their goals set on providing responsibly for their families and making a decent life. Many of our grandparents and great grandparents fled tyranny somewhere and came here to enjoy freedom and opportunity, things our country has begun to falter in severely. Thanks for your contribution.

March 03 2013 at 8:22 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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