It’s been a fare to remember.The city’s oldest hack is Johnnie “Spider” Footman, a cigar-munching 92-year-old from Harlem who’s been on the job since Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House.
“I don’t know anything else,” Footman told The Post.
Over his storied career behind the wheel, he’s ferried movie stars such as John Wayne and Rock Hudson, suffered countless bad tippers — and tolerated passengers getting frisky in his back seat. Well, until the new hybrids arrived.
“They had sex in the back in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” he recalled with a twinkle in his eye. “The cabs were a lot bigger then.”
He drives his cab two days a week, and spends another two at 55 Stan taxi company in Long Island City, Queens, where he listens to taxi engines for the slightest sign of trouble.
“I’m more comfortable with him than a lot of other drivers,” said depot co-owner Jerry Nazari. “He has a good, calm personality, good knowledge of the city, and he enjoys what he does.”
Spider — nicknamed after a model of the Harley Davidson he used to ride as a member of a Harlem motorcycle club — mixes the old (he wears a tie every day) with the new (an iPhone in a worn leather case dangles from his neck).
And he has no plan to take his foot off the gas any time soon — his hack license, No. 016337, doesn’t expire until 2014.
Footman came to New York City from Florida in 1937, fleeing the virulent racism of the South.
“My mother told my uncle, ‘Take him away from here, because he’s going to get killed.’ ”
Footman went to work in a cab garage at 45th Street and 11th Avenue, cleaning the cars and “tooling around” with their engines. He quickly fell in love. “I didn’t have to go to work through a back door,” he said.
In 1945 he decided to get his license, first to drive a Checker, then a DeSoto Skyview.
“It cost two dimes to get in my cab,” he said.
He was married for 10 years to a lady named Valerie, and had a son, also named Johnnie. He’s been single ever since, and says he’s always been a hit with the ladies.
“I was never disappointed,” he said. “I think that’s why my wife couldn’t put up with me.”
As taxi fares haves changed, so, too, have the customers who pay them, he said.
“Customers were good early on,” he said. “Now, the cabdriver is like a tool, a wrench. You use it when you feel like it, and then you throw it back in the box when you get tired of it.”
And drivers are different too.
“They do everything the passenger says — and it’s wrong. ‘Make a U-turn here,’ they’ll say. No! It’s wrong! But the driver listens because he’s afraid he’s going to lose his fare, so he takes a chance. Drivers get a lot of tickets on account of that.
“My advice to young drivers? If you know, tell them you know. If you don’t know, tell them you’ll look it up on a map.”
Spider follows his own set of directions.
“My style is listen to me,” he said. “I know quite a bit.”
The nonagenarian ticks off cross streets and avenues with the precision of a fine-tuned engine. Sometimes his encyclopedic knowledge pays off.
“My biggest tip was $20. It’s just how I talk to the passengers,” he said.
He’s also been lucky. “I’ve never been held up,” he said, adding that he always locks the driver-side door just in case. “But sometimes people will get in my cab, jump out, slam the door and then run like a rabbit.”
It wasn’t always that way.
“In the ’40s and ’50s, we trusted each other,” he said. “I’d leave the cab downstairs and take people’s bags upstairs, get paid, and go on with my business.
“Now as soon as you leave the cab, someone breaks in.”
If anyone looks shady, Footman has a strategy for feeling them out. “I stall a lot, get them talking, then I’ll say, ‘I don’t care to go to that neighborhood.’ ” Eventually, the person will get out of the cab.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission said it’s unable to prove that Footman is the oldest driver, but a spokesman couldn’t fathom anyone older than Spider who’s still active.
“The name Johnnie Footman is legendary among taxicab drivers. The history he’s seen from behind the wheel of a New York City cab is the equal of any great archive,” TLC Commissioner David Yassky said.
Just don’t expect to get anywhere quickly when you hop in Spider’s cab.
“I drive more slowly now,” he admitted. “I don’t pass anybody, hardly.”
“He goes about 12 miles per hour,” noted depot co-owner Stan Wissak.
But what if an important passenger is in a rush?
“I tell them they need a faster cabby — this one’s too slow,” Footman said. “I do things my way.”