Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Giving Directions Hall of Fame

Two or three times a night a car will pull up to me at a red light and a stressed-out-looking face will appear from behind an opened window and ask me - sometimes almost beg me - for directions. I like to think of myself as a civilized human being so, of course, I always do my best to help. These are usually pretty mundane occurrences, nothing to write about, but there have been a few that have stayed in my memory as being particularly amusing. A "Hall of Fame" of giving directions, if you will.

1) Man in a Chevrolet at 6th Avenue and 12th Street: "Where is 45th Street?"
Me: "Between 44th and 46th Streets."

2) Woman in a Subaru: "Do you know where the Hilton Hotel is?"
Me: "Yes."

3) Young guy in a Jeep: "What's the best way to get to Wall Street?"
Me: "Go to a good business school."

4) Young guy in a Mercedes: "What's the fastest way to get to the FDR Drive?"
Me: "Helicopter."

5) Man in a VW Rabbit on 3rd Avenue at 85th Street: "How do I get to Canada?"
Me: (seeing that he has an opened map on his lap and is not kidding): "Go straight 'til you hit Vermont, then make a left."

6) Girl in a red Toyota: "How do I get to Saks?"
Me (not sure I heard her): "What?"
Girl (louder): "Where's Saks?"
Me (realizing there's a joke here and now pretending not to hear her): "WHAT?"
Girl (shouting): "WHERE'S SAKS?"
Me (still pretending I'm not sure if I heard her): "You want... SAKS???"
Me: "My place or yours?"

My great regret is that no one has ever pulled up to me and asked this exact question: "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" In case there's anyone in the world who doesn't know the answer, I will tell you now. It's practice, practice, practice. (This was the first joke ever written in the history of jokes, believed to have been authored by Milton Berle's grandfather.) So you see the kind of wise-ass I am. A closet comedian desperately in search of a laugh.

But there's nothing less funny to a cab driver than what happened to me a few days ago. I was sitting at a red light at the intersection of Chrystie and Delancey Streets in the Lower East Side when a police car pulled up next to me on my left. There were two cops in the car, as usual, and the officer sitting in the passenger's side of the cruiser ordered me to lower my window. "Oh shit," I thought, "what the hell do they want?" The possibilities for misery immediately raced through my mind. Do I have a headlight out? Is the stupid light above the rear license plate out? Did I make some kind of illegal turn back there at Rivington Street? Did I run a red light? I couldn't think of anything I'd done wrong, but who knows what they think? Jesus, this could cost me hundreds of dollars and put points on my license. And that could mean my hack license could be suspended and it could raise the cost of my car insurance.

I lowered my window and braced myself. The cop had a sour expression on his face. He looked like maybe he hadn't eaten in a long time, and maybe he'd just had to intervene in somebody else's family crisis, and maybe he'd just been dissed by some thug on the street - and now he was going to take it all out on me. His mouth opened. These words came out:

"Do you know where Monroe Street is?"

That is correct. Perhaps for the first time in the history of taxi-driving, a taxi driver was asked for directions by a cop. I proclaim this to be some kind of vague moral victory not only for myself, but for taxi drivers everywhere.

I looked at the cop. He looked at me. My perception of him and his plight changed instantly. I saw him now not as a menace, but as a modern-day version of Officer Toody from the old sitcom, CAR FIFTY-FOUR, WHERE ARE YOU? I had to like the guy, but I couldn't resist rubbing it in a little.

"So you're asking me for directions," I said with a broad smile. "That's a switch."

"We're from uptown!" he said, the implication being that the Lower East Side might as well be Madrid or Budapest.

"Oh, okay," I replied. "Well, make a left on Delancey and a right on Allen Street. Monroe runs into it in about ten blocks."

"Got it."

I was on a roll. I saw an opening for a parting shot before the light changed, and I took it.

"Listen," I said, addressing both of them with mock seriousness, "I want you to know that there's no need for what just happened here to ever be known to anyone but the three of us. Your secret is safe with me."

"Thanks!" the officer sitting closest to me called out as the light turned green and they made the left onto Delancey.

Okay, so I lied.


CharterJames said...

Good one, it's not a taxicab, it's a mobile tourist and information kiosk.

I've done also the:
Q: "Don't you know where XYZ is?
A: "Yes"

Thing was, I wasn't trying to be smartass. I was just stupid from fatigue and my brain was down to one thought at a time.

I also love it when they pull up, do the window rolldown thing, then just shout a location.

G.S. said...

Yesss, the location shout. I guess they're trying to save time by not asking a complete question. Sometimes I can't resist treating it as if it's an instant word association game. Guy in the car shouts "Radio City Music Hall"... I shout back "Rockettes"!

CharterJames said...

LOL, I haven't had the nerve yet, but I'm tempted, whatever it is they shout, to shout back, "Niagara Falls!"

Forman said...

i had the cops ask me for directions once before too. I'm so bad though, i didn't know where it was either. how embarrassing.