Taxicabs in New York City are allowed by law to carry a maximum of four passengers (five if there's a child). So when a group of five, six, seven, or eight people are traveling together, they will need to take two cabs. And therein lies the possibility for a race.
It happened to me last Saturday night.
Four twenty-somethings jumped in at a red light at West 4th Street and 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village at 2 AM. A guy up front with me and two girls and another guy in the back seat. Three friends of theirs got into a second cab just to my left. The destination for all of us was 36th Street and 3rd Avenue in Murray Hill.
Of course they were all somewhat plastered. And the fellow to my right, since he was the guy sitting next to the cab driver, felt an inner need to entertain his friends at my expense. A moment after telling me where we were going and pointing out that the cab next to us was filled with his friends, he had a brilliant idea.
"Hey, we've gotta beat them there!" he blurted out, loud enough for everyone to hear. I gave him a shrug of my shoulders and a look on my face that indicated I didn't have much interest in racing with another cab. He noticed.
"Come on, man, I know you're the man! I know you can beat that other cabbie! I know you can do it!" His friends in the back seat were all for it, chiming in with words of encouragement.
I sensed a business oportunity opening up. "Oh, yeah?" I asked with a smile. "So what's in it for me?"
He thought about it for a moment and then made what was kind of a grand pronouncement. "You will get kissed by those two beautiful girls back there!" he proclaimed. I looked in the mirror. The girls were smiling, but I wasn't motivated.
"How about some money? Let's name a dollar amount," I said, thinking of something that would actually make me want to race.
He was a shrewd negotiator, however, realizing that if he agreed to this it could hit him where it hurts. Instead, he made a counter-offer.
"Okay," he said, "here's the deal: if we get to 36th Street first, my girlfriend will show you her nipple." I looked again in the mirror. Both girls were still smiling. I looked at my passenger. He looked at me.
"Deal!" I said. Here was something worth racing for. I wanted that nipple.
And we were off.
The light turned green and I headed uptown on 6th Avenue. My first order of business was to figure out my route. No problem, it was obvious - straight up 6th to 23rd Street, right turn, straight across to 3rd Avenue with the great flow of green lights that 23rd Street has, and then a left up to 36th Street. I was hoping the other driver would choose another route, but he was an experienced cabbie and went the same way I did. He knew it was the best way to go.
6th Avenue, like all the one-way avenues in Manhattan, has the lights synchronized in a "wave". If you go about 27 miles per hour with no other cars in the way, the lights will turn green as you approach them and you will never hit a red. So this other cab and myself were traveling neck and neck up to 23rd Street, not stopping for a single light. My passengers, particularly the guys, became my cheering section.
When we finally did catch a red on 23rd Street at 5th Avenue, it was break time. Unfortunately, the guy in the back seat got on his cell phone and informed his friends in the other cab that we were in a race to see who would get to 36th Street first. This notched the excitement level up to a new level. Now there was not only a nipple at stake, there was pride.
The light turned green on 5th Avenue, and the race continued. Both myself and the other cabbie knew we would get greens at Madison, Park, and Lexington Avenues and then we'd have a red at 3rd. So it was a matter of jockeying for position so that one of us would be in front of the other at that 3rd Avenue red light. I was in the lead the whole way, and then the moment of truth arrived: just as we approached 3rd Avenue, he tried to cut in front of me. I held my ground and sped up enough to close the small gap between my cab and the car in front of me, and he was forced to pull in behind me. It was the critical move of the race.
When the light turned green at 3rd Avenue, we both made left turns and went one block to a new red light on 24th Street. Other vehicles were already at the "line" except for one open spot on the left which I grabbed. This meant that when the light turned green I would have no one in front of me and could zip all the way up 3rd Avenue. My competition would be stuck behind other cars.
And that's exactly what happened. I coasted up 3rd Avenue to victory at 36th Street, bringing the cab to a halt on the far right corner of the intersection. And now it was time for my reward.
I turned to look back at the girls in the rear. Both doors had been opened and one girl and the guy were already outside and the other girl was moving toward the exit.
I looked at the guy sitting on my right. "So... where's that nipple?" I asked. A man has a right to collect what is owed to him.
With what might be called a shit-eating smile on his face, he called out to his girlfriend - "Hey, Jess..."
But Jess was already out the door.
"I'm not that drunk!" was her reply.
I looked again at the guy. He shrugged his shoulders and had an expression on his face as if to say he wished he could help but was powerless to do so under the circumstances.
"Some pimp you turned out to be!" I said in mock distress.
The fare was $8.60. He gave me $11, a bit more than the usual $10 for that ride. But I wasn't placated.
I wanted that damned nipple.
"Pictures From A Taxi" - click here