Ever been riding in a taxi and gotten into a discussion about politics with the driver? Did he happen to be a politician himself? You could have that experience in Boston, where Phil Scapicchio, a member of the city council, has taken to driving a cab.

Scapicchio helped pay his way through Tufts University back in the 1980s by hacking, but now he's borrowing a friend's taxi for a couple of days each month in order to learn more about his city and its residents from a vantage point he can't get from inside city hall. "Nobody knows who you are," Scapicchio says, turning the normal lament of local politicians into a plus. "You're almost invisible as a cab driver. You get to hear what people are thinking."

Lots of his fares have been concerned about the logistical impact of the city hosting this month's Democratic National Convention and, of course, the fate of the Red Sox. Scapicchio has chaired the council's transportation committee for six years but says moonlighting behind the wheel has given him a more vivid picture of specific congestion problems than any agency report ever could.

David Bragdon, the president of the metro council in Portland, Oregon, says he also gained insight into infrastructure by driving a cab on weekends a few years ago. To his surprise, however, people were more eager to talk about sports or the weather--or even their most intimate personal problems--than the issues of the day. "To me, it was living proof of public disengagement from the political process," he says.