In my opinion, neither Merrill Lynch nor the high-rolling investors it seeks to attract are as much "a breed apart" as America's biggest group of entrepreneurs: cabbies. In fact they should probably be described as "breeds apart," since their main common denominator, aside from occupation, is individuality.

Given a chance--such as a ride of more than two minutes' duration--they are also about the only people in cities such as New York and Washington who start chatting with strangers. And this proclivity has provided me with a lot of amusement over the years.

I remember the cabby who told me that, compared with the taxi rates in New York, those in Chicago, Boston and other big cities were "double, triple, even fourple."

Another highlight occurred when I instructed a Manhattan cabby to take me to the Hilton. With global-minded panache he asked, "Which one?"

The last time my wife and I went to New York, we took only four lengthy cab rides, but they proved once again that this form of travel is broadening indeed.

The least talkative of our drivers managed to show us some interesting byways simply by getting lost.

A cabby with a pronounced Hispanic accent gathered that it had been a long time since we had seen lower Manhattan and proceeded to give us an amazingly literate and fascinating travelogue en route.

Lastly, the cab driver who dropped me at Grand Central (to go on to a business seminar) and then took my wife to LaGuardia asked her such coy questions about our separate departures that she almost felt as though she'd had the illicit rendezvous that he obviously suspected.

Sometimes you can glean insights as well as entertainment in a cab.

I knew beforehand that Eisenhower would defeat Stevenson, not from pundits or polls, but from hearing a cabby-Democrat proclaim heatedly that 20 years is too long for any party to remain in power. And I've gained as much perspective on The Post from Washington cabbies as I have from editors and friends.

In both business and private life, we tend to travel in rather limited and homogeneous circles. So, personally, I find it refreshing to travel in taxis as well.