It went like this for me...
I started the shift at 5 PM at the garage on W. 44th Street. I was given 3G71, an old cab in good condition. The radio had good reception and the cup holder wasn't broken, as they so often are, so I was happy. After cleaning up the car and getting my trip sheet in order, I was ready to pull out and was struck by a feeling I get only on New Year's Eve. It's the feeling of being the pilot of a jet fighter that is heading out for battle. Not that I've ever been a jet pilot. But it must be the same.
There are three things to be careful about on this night. One, the traffic in the Midtown zone where Times Square is located. Two, drunks vomiting in the cab. And three, getting stuck in a the middle of an unruly crowd. (Sometimes known as "a riot".) Happily, I successfully avoided all of them and had a great night.
But I want to brag a bit and tell you this is not a matter of luck. It's a matter of experience. Where to avoid being. Who to avoid taking. And when to leave your meter on so the roof light stays off so people will think there's still a passenger in the cab and thus leave you alone, so you can get on a highway and get the hell out of the badass part of town you didn't want to be in in the first place. That all comes from experience.
In New York City New Year's Eve goes all the way to 5 AM and beyond. And the night can be divided into two distinct parts: before midnight, and after. Before twelve, no one is drunk and everyone is heading out to their party. Interestingly, there is a lull from 11:45 to 12:15 during which time it is impossible to find a fare. Everyone has gotten to their destination and no one is leaving, of course, until after "the ball drops". So instead of roaming the streets without a customer, I took a break and went over to Central Park West, parked the cab and watched the fireworks.
Not a bad way to bring in the year.
Then at 12:15 it starts again and gets busier and wilder as the night presses on. Soon everyone who gets in the cab is somewhat plastered and a cabbie finds himself in taxi driver heaven: dozens of people on every block desperately trying to get his services. It warms the heart, it does.
But, as I said, my night went smoothly. No one was too drunk. No one was particularly obnoxious, and thank God no one threw up. Most of my fares were just cheerful people having a good time. Three of them kind of stood out for me, all of them females.
The first, an elderly black woman, was going on a short ride early in the evening from 118th Street to 116th Street in Harlem to sing in the choir of her Baptist church. She said she does this every year and always has a great time. Her church is one of churches in Harlem where tourists come to hear gospel music and she told me they are sometimes so crowded they have to turn people away. This woman was so wholesome and connected to her community that it made an impression on me.
The second was my last fare of 2006. A young lady, probably not even 30 years old, coming from New York Hospital on the Upper East Side to 79th Street on the West Side just before midnight. She told me she was a doctor who'd been on call at the hospital for the last 15 hours. What kind of a doctor? A psychiatrist, she said. Well, I don't want to offend anyone, but ever since I saw my cousin's life destroyed at the hands of psychiatrists, I am not a fan of the profession. Nevertheless, we had a polite conversation and I asked her the question I always ask psychiatrists who get in my cab. "What's your definition of 'the mind'?" I asked. (I once had a psychiatrist tell me, as if it was a secret just between him and me, that "no one knows what the mind is". Ever since then, my question persists.) She struggled with this for a bit, saying "that's a good question". Finally, she answered. "It's where the intellect resides," she said. Oh, okay, that clears that up. (P.S. Find me one cardiologist anywhere in the world who has difficulty telling you what "the heart" is.)
The third memorable ride of the night was a blonde in her thirties going straight up 1st Avenue from 34th Street to 60th Street at around 1 AM. She said she was feeling ill with a congested nose and other symptoms but had to go to a friend's house for her traditional black-eyed pea soup which she has every year on New Year's Eve for good luck. And now she just wanted to go back home to sleep it off because she has to be in L.A. tomorrow for work. "What kind of work do you do?" I asked. I noticed a sly smile appear on her face in my mirror and I knew this would be good. "I'm an adult film performer," she said. Her name was Houston and she specializes as the middle-aged mother the teenage boys get their hands on. "I can't give blow jobs with my nose stuffed up," she said. "You've got to be able to breathe through your nose!"
When I finally called it a night close to 6 AM I had grossed my highest ever and, just as important since I'm always on the lookout for omens, I had a good feeling about 2007. I'm predicting a good year.