I had a shift like that recently.
First there was a woman who gave me a ten-cent tip on a $7.90 fare. She probably thought she was giving me a $1.10 tip but didn't notice that there is a one dollar surcharge added to the total on the meter during the evening rush hours (in this case, $6.90 + $1.00 = $7.90). That was no big deal but it annoyed me and most likely set me up mentally for the next bad thing.
Which was getting the finger from a pedicab driver. Pedicabs have multiplied like cockroaches in the city, even in the winter, and, although I admire drivers who provide their own horsepower, they are becoming a traffic nuisance. This one particular person was pedaling up 6th Avenue in a moving lane, apparently suffering from the delusion that he was a Chevrolet. So I tapped my horn. The guy, who had a face that looked like it belonged in a penitentiary, flipped me the bird and threatened to fuck me up but good. That was a first. So much for the thought that the pedicab drivers were just a bunch of swell, good-natured college kids.
But these incidents were merely preludes to the ding.
The ding. The dreaded ding. It's an occupational hazard for a cab driver and a big-city quality of life item for anyone who dares to drive a car into Manhattan.
The ding is when the door of one vehicle opens too widely and knocks into the door or fender of another vehicle.
They come in two varieties. One is the ding that happens when the owner of the dinged vehicle is not anywhere around. The other is when he is. In the first instance the handling is to say to yourself, "Oh, damn, that's terrible, gee, I'm sorry that happened". And then drive away. In the second instance you must actually confront and handle an angry human being.
Since I was having a bad taxi karma day it meant, of course, that the owner of the other vehicle was right there. Here's what happened...
I was waiting at a red light on 68th Street, facing Columbus Avenue, with no passengers in the cab. On my right was a black, expensive-looking SUV. A sixty-ish woman appeared from the sidewalk and walked toward me. Like when you can see an accident coming but are helpless to prevent it, I surmised immediately that a spatial problem was at hand. I was too close to the SUV and there was no room to move forward. Unless this woman opened the door of my taxi very carefully the potential existed here for a ding.
As she came closer my apprehension grew. Because I could now see, simply from her facial expression and demeanor, that she was not the open-the-door-very-carefully type. To the contrary, she appeared to be an old-fashioned, quintessential battleaxe. If Oscar the Grouch had a 65 year-old sister, this would be her.
And to add to the tension - considerably - I then noticed that a middle-aged man was sitting in the driver's seat of the SUV and he was watching this woman with the same apprehension that was impinging on me. Like a meteor that has been on a journey of a hundred million miles and is finally turning into a firey ball as it hits the atmosphere, a moment of truth was suddenly at hand.
The woman put her fingers on the handle of the right rear door... she pulled the handle up... the door began to open...
True to her character, she then climbed into the back seat and pretended that nothing had happened. The driver of the SUV - of course - jumped out in great alarm to inspect the damage. But then, acting on an instinct that I didn't really know that I had, I did something that turned out to be a karma-crusher.
I grimaced. And my grimace was noticed by the other driver. It was a facial expression that said, "I could see this coming but there was nothing I could do about it. Nevertheless, even though I have been victimized by the actions of a careless person, it is my responsibility."
My expression of pain actually made him sypathetic to my own plight and gave us both a common enemy. So when he noticed a smudge of yellow paint on his black door - although he could have made an issue of it - he dismissed it as no big deal and let me go on my way. But not before shaking his head and rolling his eyes as if to say, "Too bad you and I both have to live on the same planet with the moron sitting in your back seat."
I could feel the jaws of fate release me, no doubt to go off seeking fresher meat somewhere else. But I still had to deal with the black mass sitting in my back seat.
"What does he expect? I have to get into the taxi!" she barked.
"He expects the person opening the door to be careful not to put a dent in his car," I said with an edge in my voice.
"There was hardly any room!" she protested.
"It's one of the skills," I replied. The implication being as a veteran New Yorker she should know better.
"I have a bad leg! I need room!"
The light turned green and we headed to Central Park West and then uptown toward her destination, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A minute of stony silence was suddenly interrupted by her angry voice propelling itself toward me from the rear.
"Well, why do these people insist on driving their cars into Manhattan? There's no room for their damned cars and they think they're too good to ride the trains!"
I realized by this time that there would be no point in arguing with her (since she was incapable of admitting that she'd done anything even slightly wrong), so I employed the same technique that is used on drunks who go on a rant about politics: I patronized her by agreeing with everything she said. You may say it was the coward's way out, but it was quite effective in getting us to the museum in peace.
I pulled up in front of the Met, where tourists were waiting at the taxi stand for a cab to arrive. She paid the fare and gave me a surprisingly decent tip and then swung the door open to its full length, very nearly knocking down my next passenger.
As I watched her make her way to the stairs that lead into the museum's entrance, it seemed that a storm system had left my cab and was headed into the building where so many of the world's art treasures are stored. I listened to the news the next day to learn how many Van Goghs and Cezannes had been destroyed, but, oddly enough, there wasn't any mention of it at all.
Click here for Pictures From A Taxi.