Ok, so I did something very stupid today, and I got lucky.
Getting out of Customs Hall at the JFK airport terminal, I exited into the main waiting area where there were lots of people waiting to pick up passengers. I obviously looked a bit confused, staring up at the overhead signs looking for taxis.
First one guy asked me if I needed a taxi and I said "yes" and he asked where I was going, but when I said Brooklyn he said he was going to Connecticut and they're not the same place.
Then after set my things down and put my passport into my handy-dandy document case in my backpack another guy asked "do you need a taxi?" I said I did, to Brooklyn and he said "this way."
He led me to another guy, said something about Brooklyn to him, and the second guy said to come with him. I followed and asked him "how much?" and he said $45, which okay, in the range of what I expected after checking online and finding there's no fixed formula and the taxis only have a fixed rate between the airports and Manhattan, not any other part of New York City.
He wasn't wearing a uniform or anything, and I didn't really think to ask for ID. Once we got to his minivan he tossed my suitcases in the back, and said to go ahead and get in the front seat (not gruff, friendly, but it's hard to portray that in this...). His car wasn't marked as a taxi in any obvious way.
I did, but there wasn't any obvious sign that it was a taxi, no radio, no meter, no stickers or anything...
I started to worry a little, but as he'd asked for the map Leena had me print out from Bing, I had it out and was keeping a careful eye on the roads we were taking and always he went in the expected direction. And it was reassuring that he did not ask me to reimburse him $3 for the JFK parking lot.
We chit chatted a bit. He seemed pretty friendly. Part way through the drive we were talking about job security, after I mentioned that I didn't choose the job with the highest offer and joked "being competent and underpaid is the perfect job security". He said he knew what I meant, he'd lost his previous job driving a company truck when they kept the lower paid drivers on, and he had no job now, except doing the unofficial taxi driving for a friend, but with that he never knew if he'd earn $2,000 a week, or as little as $100, and if anything happened to his car it was out of his pocket.
In the end, everything worked out, but if it hadn't, I would've only been able to blame myself for not thinking, not paying attention and not acting smart.