New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman spoke at a District government conference on job creation and workforce development today. Mayor Vince Gray, enamored of one of Friedman’s books, invited the foreign policy guru to talk. The author gave a pretty standard speech, basically a summary of his most recent book. What wasn’t standard was the price: Friedman speeches usually cost about $75,000. This one was free. (According to a 2009 column by then-Times public editor Clark Hoyt, Times staffers are only allowed to accept fees from educational and nonprofit groups. Friedman drew fire in 2009 for accepting his standard rate from an Oakland government agency. He later returned the money. Government agencies, take note: Tom Friedman lectures are free for you. So ask for as many as you like.)
But we were more interested in a subject close to Friedman’s heart: taxis.
Friedman’s tendency to use cabbies and other service-sector workers around the world as fonts of wisdom to embellish his columns has long been noted by readers—and by Friedman, who mocked the convention a few years ago. Someone even wrote the seeds of a musical all about it. (Another great Friedman parody mocks his pattern of answering young women’s questions, but alas, he stayed away from that terrain today.)
And although Friedman proudly told the audience at the conference today that he did not have a Twitter account and planned on keeping it that way onto his death bed, someone launched a parody account for him last year, calling it @TaxiWisdom. So we thought Friedman might have some thoughts about impending changes to the D.C. taxi force.
We caught up with him—quite literally—after his speech. Once the subject turned to cabs, though, Friedman, instead of growing excited at the prospect of addressing his favorite topic, quickened his pace and looked flustered. He said he didn’t know anything about proposals to make taxis’ colors uniform or to launch a medallion system for cabbies: “I can tell you more about the cabs in Cairo.”
As he wrapped up the talk, Friedman excused himself, explaining that he needed to go to the office to write his column for tomorrow’s paper. We wonder if he took a cab there.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons