Readying for his first television interview, Alex Wang gazes at his reflection in the back window of his yellow cab. Wiping his windswept mane behind the ear, he adjusts his red Shanghai Tang jacket and takes a swig of steaming tea.
“Ahh,” he pauses emphatically, “warms your whole body.”
Wang opens the front door and reaches deep inside, revealing a glossy 2018 calendar. On the cover is a shirtless male model, sprawled on his belly atop a yellow taxicab trunk, licking a spiral rainbow-colored lollipop the size of his face.
“It’s me!” he laughs, self-deprecatingly, pointing to his photo. “So ugly, you are!”
The 68-year-old Wang, an 18-year taxicab veteran, self-proclaimed “karaoke king” and “bit of a comedian” from China, flips through the months, each featuring a New York taxi driver. Most are foreign-born, representing seven different countries, and many are middle-aged, reflecting the key demographics of the city’s yellow cab fleet: 96 percent immigrant, median age 46.
WATCH: Is It Hot in Here, or Is It New York's 2018 Taxicab Models?
The NYC Taxi Drivers Calendar’s co-creators, Philip and Shannon Kirkman, came up with the idea five years ago as a tongue-in-cheek alternative to the famous chisel-chested firefighter pin-up — a steamy parody with the dual-function of celebrating the city’s diversity, while also giving back.
To date, the couple has donated more than $60,000 worth of proceeds to University Settlement, a nonprofit that serves immigrant and low-income families with education, housing, and health services.
Turning taxi drivers into models
Shannon, the calendar’s photographer, describes the end product’s humor as uniting.
“Particularly when the news is tough, it’s something that you can kind of take a step back, and relax and celebrate with,” Shannon said. “We laugh a lot during the shoots.”
Philip, the calendar’s creative director, explains that the process of turning a taxi driver into a model, during a two-hour shoot, can prove challenging.
“I always think about how courageous it is for these drivers, because it is an open set,” Philip said. “We literally park the cab in front of a fire hydrant in most cases, and there’s people walking by and looking and taking pictures.”
Among the fearless models are pucker-lipped Dan — who sports a bow-tie, cuffs, and not much else before a vintage late 60s-era checker taxicab — and Hassan, who seductively watches you as he eats a messy slice of birthday cake decorated with his own smiling portrait.
Of the year’s 12 participants, only one is a woman, indicative of a male-dominated industry in which 99 percent of New York City yellow cab drivers are men.
Bangladeshi-native Nipa, featured in both the inside cover and October, is the third woman ever to be included in the calendar. Her depiction as a strongwoman was intentional.
“It’s been a tough year for women,” Shannon said. “We felt like we really wanted to put Nipa in a position of power, in a position of strength.”
‘A little’ fame
Come winter, cover model Wang can be seen enthusiastically squirting a bottle of baby oil across the hood of his vehicle, in his official December photo.
Wang, who started his life in the U.S. as a restaurant deliveryman 37 years ago, says being a taxi driver has been the most rewarding job and career for him.
“Every [time a] passenger comes in ... I practice my English,” Wang says. “I see lots of beautiful places, lots of landmarks of New York.”
Everywhere he drives, Wang proudly displays his roots, but there is no place he would rather call home. And now that he has found “a little” fame, he plans to make sure everyone knows about it.
“I will show all the passengers,” he says. “I was in a taxi calendar, and [I was] the cover man. Alex Wang!”