Usually when I write a post I'm trying to make some kind of a point - choosing certain people or incidents which illustrate a theme - but I'm falling short of points to make right now, so here are some notes about some of the more memorable passengers who were in my cab last Saturday night, on March 10th.
Just some sketches, not complete portraits.
6:30 pm, from Grand Central Station to Hope Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn: a 40-something man tells me the address he's going to in Brooklyn is a house his father bought in 1952 and that he's lived in all his life. I immediately think how wonderful it must be to never have to worry about paying rent or a mortgage because about a third of the money I make goes to that cause, but I don't mention this to him. He tells me he is soon going to have the house, an old three-story building, demolished and a new structure with 2.4 times as much square footage built in its place. (2.4 times whatever the square footage is that already exists is the formula the city codes permit for tearing down one building and putting up another one, he told me, an interesting fact about the city that I didn't know.) He's going to put in one-bedroom apartments and rent them at the going rate ($1,500 per month) when it's done. Is he going to live in the building himself when it's rebuilt? He doesn't know. Where will he live while the construction is under way? Again, he doesn't know. He goes on to tell me that there are pitfalls involved in this project, particularly in the area of the funding. That if you're not careful and savy you can really be screwed. I see clearly that my passenger is not one of the sharks that normally swim in these waters - he's a straighforward and unpretentious man - and suggest that he should follow the advice of someone he already knows who may have some experience in this game. A nice guy, I wish him success.
7:04 pm, from Houston and 1st Street to Bleecker and LaGuardia Place: a couple in their 50s, en route to Kenny's Castaways, a honky-tonk bar in the Village. Through conversation I learn that the man is a retired fireman. He left the department in 2002 and was one of the heroic people who spent the month following Sept. 11 digging through the rubble in hope of finding survivors. And now he is paying the price. Polyps were found on his larynx and spots on his lungs. He discusses the treatments he is receiving for his condition and I ask if by any chance he knows a friend of mine who is also a retired fireman, John McCole. And he does! Small world! But he didn't know that John wrote a book, THE SECOND TOWER'S DOWN, about his own experiences at Ground Zero and his path to recovery from the ordeal. So I am able to recommend the book to him. He offers me has hand to shake, a gesture of kindness I find just a bit humbling because I have so much respect for this individual.
8:02 pm, from 43rd and 2nd to 23rd and 7th: a young couple en route to a comedy club. They can't figure it out themselves, so they ask me this question... what does it mean when they advertize the comedy club as having a "no drink minimum"? They are baffled by this. I tell them that a lot of clubs have a one or two drink minimum added on to the price of admission but this place doesn't. Thus, it's a "no drink minimum". Case closed. Smiles return to their faces.
8:54 pm, from 16th and Park to 157th and Riverside Drive. A married couple with their infant daughter. It takes a minute or two to buckle up the baby's car seat (smart move on their part) and we are on our way. They tell me the route they want to take: the FDR Drive to the 155th Street exit! My attention immediately goes onto the humiliation I described in my last post (I needed help from a man from Mexico to navigate the streets at this exit) and, as we head up the Drive, I explain to them what I had written, including the part about how either I was an idiot or the city was unfathomably huge. The young mother, who turns out to be a wiseass and completely on my wavelength, suggests that perhaps it's not a matter of either/or. Perhaps the city is, indeed, unfathomably huge and I am an idiot. To make matters worse, I have forgotten the route that the Mexican showed me and once again I need directions from my passengers. This time, however, I am taking notes. (If you want to see what the route actually is, look at the "comments" section of the last post.) As we approach their destination, I divert their attention from my incompetence by telling them I know the slogans on the license plates of all the states in the union. (Florida - "The Sunshine State", etc.) It's one of the few perks of this job, obtained from year after year of staring at license plates in traffic jams. They test me out with a few tough states and I pass with flying colors. They are delighted and have forgotten about the 155th Street thing. Even the baby seems happy.
10:35 pm, Perry Street and Hudson. I am hailed by a frat boy who then opens the back door and starts talking to his frat boy friends on the sidewalk. I sit there for over a minute before they decide they do not want a cab after all and then close the door without so much as saying a word of apology. I am infuriated and step out of the cab (a no-no) and announce to the group that they need to work on their manners. There is a moment where they were wondering if I was going to take a swing at one of them, but I just get back in the cab and drive away thinking how bad can it get to be my age and still having to put up with this shit.
12:51 am, from 58th and Madison to Van Dam and Varick. How bad can it get? My question is answered as three semi-drunk frat girls get in and demand that I turn my radio to 97.1 (hip-hop) and blast the volume. We get into a disagreement about it that starts to turn nasty before one of them suggests a compromise: turn the radio to one of the stations I like and blast the volume to that. I go along with that idea but still find the seventeen minute ride feels like an hour and a half.
12:57 am, from Van Dam and Varick to Union, New Jersey. My spirits pick up again as two perfectly nice girls jump in and negotiate a price for a ride to Union, NJ. I suggest $40.00 plus the Holland Tunnel toll to which they readily agree and we are off. As we we get through the tunnel, however, I realize why they were so agreeable about the price. I had thought they meant Union City, a much closer destination. Nevertheless, we ironed out what could have been a tense situation very easily, and they agreed to pay $65 for the ride. I am back in the city in just over an hour, so that was good money. I begin to think life ain't so bad after all.
3:05 am, from 6th Avenue and Bleecker to 48th Avenue and Vernon in Long Island City. Four thirty-somethings in the cab, with one of them sitting up front with me. I learn through a circuitous conversation that my front-seat companion and I went to the same high school! (Clarke High School in Westbury, N.Y.) I ask him to tell me the names of some of his teachers, as I'm wondering if any of the ones I had (twenty years earlier) could still have been there during his time. Oddly, though, he could only remember the names of two teachers, neither of whom I had myself. I find this strange because I could easily name twenty or more. Nevertheless, I think this is a wild coincidence.
But it gets me thinking. Earlier in the evening I had a passenger who knows my friend John McCole. And then I got another fare to that 155th Street exit, a destination I had been to a few days earlier and still had my attention on, but before that I hadn't used that exit in, what? -- five or six years. And finally there's this guy who went to my high school. It raises an age-old question: is it coincidence or is it karma?
Could be the subject of a new post...
Click here for Pictures From A Taxi.