Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Monster City of the World

I suffered through two humiliations recently, both of them occurring in the same shift.

The first was at the hands of a 14-year-old boy who got in my taxi in the West Village and wanted to go to Montgomery Street in the Lower East Side and then gave me directions for how to get there. The audacity of a teenager assuming that his driver, who's been behind the wheel of a cab for twice as long as he's been alive, doesn't know how to get to his destination!

The second, a few hours later, was from a man from Mexico who instructed me on how to get to where he wanted to go, 155th Street and Lenox Avenue, from the 155th Street exit of the FDR Drive! Where does someone who's probably not even in this country legally find the gall to think that I, a native New Yorker, would not know such a thing?

Let me tell you something. What was humiliating was not that these two individuals would try to give me directions. That would be merely annoying. What was humiliating was that in both cases they were right! I didn't know Montgomery Street and the route from the 155th Street exit of the FDR to 155th and Lenox is quite tricky and I've never mastered it.

How could such a thing happen? How could someone who's been driving a cab for 29 years not know every single street in his own city? There are two possibilities:

1) I am an idiot.

2) New York is so huge it defies comprehension.

For the sake of my own self-esteem, we're going to go with number two.

New York is known by several nicknames - "The Big Apple", "The Melting Pot of the World", "The City That Never Sleeps" (but it does take cat naps, trust me). In a recent post I referred to it as the "City of Infinite Realities". I've got another one for you. It's a title I attach to the city in my own mind whenever I get a ride to the far reaches of one of the boroughs and find myself temporarily lost, as if I'd been swallowed by a whale and was now trying to navigate my way out of its intestinal tract. I call it "The Monster City of the World".

New York is a place that is unfathomably huge. It is so difficult to convey to a visitor the seriousness of this immensity that I usually find myself rattling off my favorite statistics:

- Over 6,000 miles of paved roads. That's the distance from New York to Los Angeles. And back.

- 770 miles of subway tracks. (Now there's a place you can get lost.)

- More than 100 miles of steam pipes under the streets.

- The "Over 200 Club": over 200 hotels, over 200 Starbucks, and over 200 McDonald's in the five boroughs.

- In excess of 17,000 restaurants overall.

- 13,087 yellow taxis. And more than double that number of other types of car service vehicles (limos, community car services, and corporate car services).

- If you took Brooklyn by itself it would be the 4th largest city in the United States. Brooklyn is bigger than Philadelphia.

- The population of New York is over 8 million. Add to that about another million visitors on any given day. The population of Ireland is 4 million. So the population of the city is twice the population of that country. Although I grant you that half the population of Ireland is already in New York, so that stat may be a bit misleading.

You get the idea. New York is huge, massive, gigantic, humungus, immense, enormous, and just staggeringly large. And that's not to mention big, big, BIG! The Monster City of the World. And I admit to taking some pride in knowing as much of it as I do. But do I know every street? No way - not even close. Hell, there are entire sections of the Bronx that I barely know at all. And Staten Island? Forget-abowt-it.

Which is why I will continue to feel a twinge of humility when some kid or a guy from another country assumes correctly that I need help in getting to his destination. Ouch!

Click here for Pictures From A Taxi.


Anonymous said...

wouldnt happen if u were in london, mate. you would have had to pass a test called 'the knowledge' where you have to know the entire routes within a 6-mile radius of charing cross...takes abt 2-3 yrs to pass the knowledge...

Mike S said...

A good dose of occasional humility keeps us well grounded. I've actually had cabbies in Tokyo turn off the meter and admit they didn't want to charge extra just because they were lost.

John said...

Settle down take out your Green White and Orange flag to march on St.Patricks day.
Even I get lost in Dublin 2 milloin.
I let them tell me which wasy to go. Somerimes the twits are following a bus route because thats the only way they know to go.

Jackie said... you know the way to San Jose??


J x

John said...

We have beaten NEW YORK !
More taxis in Dublin than New York.
and we have less than 2 million in the city.
read and weep

Joann said...

jackie--I am in San Jose and though much smaller than NYC I still find that I have had it happen to me too.

The thing with London, not sure never been there, is that it might stay the same. Here in San Jose new roads and buildings are still being added.

I have turned it off and charged less.

NYCHack said...

I tried to take a passenger to 168 and Broadway using the 155th St exit off the FDR. I eventually told her I was turning off the meter and I turned around and got back on the FDR and headed up to the much friendlier 179th St exit.

So what was the best way crosstown from that exit?

G.S. said...

Okay, here it is: you take the 155 St. exit from the FDR and right away there is a traffic light. Make a left and then another immediate left, as if you were going back south on the FDR. But don't get on the FDR, stay on the service road. Go straight until you hit another light. You will be right under an overpass which is the exit ramp of the McCombs Dam Bridge (which becomes 155th Street). Make a left at the light and follow the road to the next light. There's a sign there that says it's legal to make a left turn on a red light, (the only one I know of in NYC other than 39th and 1st) but you make a U-turn. You are now on Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. Proceed straight to 155th Street, another two or three blocks. It is actually still the McCombs Dam Bridge exit ramp (Yankee Stadium is directly to the right), but the sign will say 155th Street. Make a left. The first intersection you will reach is Edgecombe Avenue. The joke really is on the motorist because the 155th Street exit from the FDR does not even vaguely bring you onto 155th Street. It's so ridiculously complicated that it wouldn't be inappropriate for a permanent brass band to be posted at Edgecombe Avenue to greet anyone who has actually successfully navigated the route.