Humans of New York - October 1, 2021

“The war in Iraq had just started. Thousands of people were dying; for nonsense. For oil. And every time I walked outside—I’d see these buses and trucks just idling on the curb. Burning oil. It was like a stick in the eye. To make things worse-- my brother was battling lung cancer. And diesel is a known carcinogenic. So a lot of my buttons were being pressed. One night I spotted a white limousine idling in front of a restaurant. I could see the driver inside, grooving to music. And I thought: ‘Now’s the time.’ I rapped on the window and asked him to turn off his engine. And you what? He turned it off. That was the day the earth moved. I saw that I could modify people’s behavior. And after that it became a mission for me. I learned there was a law against idling, but it wasn’t being enforced. I happen to have a hard shell because I used to have a stutter, so I was the perfect person for the job. For six months I rapped on windows. I kept a spreadsheet of every encounter: type of car, location of car, description of driver. I logged all of their comments: ‘Go suck on my tailpipe,’ stuff like that. I’m not a data scientist. I sell mortgages. But this was Masters’ thesis kinda stuff. The city council heard what I was doing and called me in to testify. I brought all my spreadsheets. I made a 12-page PowerPoint. But none of it was necessary. The councilwoman told me: ‘You had us at page one.’ And six months later Bill 717a was presented on the steps of city hall. New York became the only city in the nation to let civilians enforce the idling law. In the five years since I’ve written over 700 tickets. It takes a certain level of sophistication. You have to film for four minutes. Then afterwards you take a picture of the license plate, all without getting seen. It’s a $350 fine. And the citizen gets 25 percent of that. We’re not hitting the normal person. It’s commercial vehicles only. Right now there’s 2000 New Yorkers doing this work. We’ve written over 10,000 tickets. And there’s no reason it can’t be done in every big city in America. We’re stinging polluters in the pocketbook. Nobody likes it, but gosh darn it— next time they’ll turn off their engine.”