Are you a people-watcher? Do you ever look at people walking by on the street and wonder what they've been doing all day? In New York, with its endless stream of humanity shuffling by, this is a popular activity. Most people appear to be pretty much the same as each other, but what do they actually DO?
One of the great things about taxi-driving is that people plop themselves in your car and you have a chance of turning this idle daydream into a tour of someone's reality. And sometimes, once you know it, you think, "Who in the world could ever have guessed THAT?"
I had one of these the other day.
I was cruising up 1st Avenue, looking for my next fare, when I saw two people, a man and a woman, hailing me in front of New York University Hospital at 32nd Street. At first I thought they were together but as I approached them I could see that they were standing a bit of a distance apart and were actually in competition with each other for possession of my taxi. In these situations I will try to position the cab so that the rear door is an equal distance between them when I stop and then let them settle it (or fight for it) between themselves. I don't know who's been standing there the longest and I don't want to appear to be favoring one over the other.
Anyway, the man, a thirty-something, got in. And right away he had something to say about the woman he'd left behind. "Man, I hate that. She thinks because she's a woman that she has some kind of a right to the cab. She knew damn well I was out there first and she walked right in front of me."
"Oh, you were out there first? I couldn't tell."
This outburst led to a conversation about the etiquette of taxi hailing, which is basically an uncodified sector of human conduct. You can often see what someone's made of when he or she is trying to catch a cab because there are no social consequences involved. The assumption is that the other person is someone you will never see again. It's a situation that can bring out the worst in people.
My passenger was a veteran taxi-hailer and understood but didn't excuse the every-man-(or woman)-for-himself attitude that some New Yorkers display in the catching a cab crunch time. "Everybody's in a rush," he said, "but after being in surgery for six hours I'm not gonna stand there a let someone shove me aside."
"Oh, you're a surgeon?"
"What's your specialty?"
Well, that was interesting, so I delved. I asked him some questions about what kind of surgery he'd been doing for six hours, thinking he'd probably tell me he'd been removing kidney stones or something. Instead, he told me this story...
My passenger had operated on a young man who'd had a twisted testicle. I immediately thought of some joke which I won't embarrass myself by repeating here, but my passenger would have none of it. He explained what the situation had been in a straightforward, professional manner.
The testicle had become twisted around itself in the scrotum and, because its supply of blood had been cut off, was in danger of dying unless corrected within a matter of hours. So this was actually an emergency. To make matters worse, the (female) anaesthesiologist, although aware of the situation, had decided to take a meal break, thus delaying the surgery and adding considerable tension to the matter. When she finally did show up, my passenger had words with her and told me he intended to report her. (Looks like he was having a bad female-karma day.)
The surgery, which consisted of untwisting the testicle and sewing it to the inner wall of the scrotum, was performed successfully. And my concern that here was yet another thing I needed to worry about was pacified by learning that the poor guy's runaway testicle was an unusual, genetic disorder.
Now I imagine myself sitting in a sidewalk cafe with a friend, watching the people who are strolling by. We amuse ourselves by guessing what these people may have been doing all day.
A muscular, young man wearing a hard hat walks by.
"Oh, he must have been working at a construction site," we say.
A woman with two small children at her side walks by.
"Oh, she must have been caring for the children," we say.
My passenger walks by.
"Oh, he must have been untwisting someone's testicle," we say.
The things you learn driving a taxicab.