Saturday, April 21, 2007


Contact - some would say it's the most basic of human needs, perhaps even more important than food. As a taxi driver I am often witness to the permutations that arise from the attempt to obtain it...

Saturday, April 14th, 4:35 am - my last fare of a long, busy night is a 40ish white male with some kind of a European accent which I could not decipher. He enters my cab at 77th Street and Columbus Avenue with a plastic bag and a newspaper in his hands and tells me to drive him to 39th and 9th. I am immediately put off by his brusque manner and decide this is not someone I want to have a conversation with and, in fact, I want to be rid of as quickly as possible.

So when we get to his destination and he tells me to pull over while he finishes a conversation on his cell phone, I am not pleased. Several minutes go by and, after a couple of nudges from me - "excuse me, are you getting out here?" - he tells me to drive him to an ATM on 38th and 6th. It is late, I am tired, and I have become annoyed with the guy as his behavior has crossed the line into peculiar.

We drive to the ATM. He exits the cab but brings his plastic bag with him. I keep my eye on him all the while as he has been deemed a flight risk in my mind. But he returns and, in the same abrupt manner, orders me to drive to 33rd and 2nd without any explanation of what's going on. He gets back on his cell phone and, now that I am suspicious of the guy, I try to listen to his conversation and am able to pick up only pieces of it. With great seriousness he is describing his physical characteristics to someone on the other end. "I am white, I am thin... yes... yes..."

When we arrive at 33rd and 2nd he once again does not pay me and get out, but instead continues a conversation on his phone. This time he's getting an address and an apartment number from the person on the other end. He says this aloud a few times, the sound of his voice creating a memory of it in his mind. Then, finally, he decides to end the ride. The fare is $15.40. He gives me an additional 60 cent tip. I am so happy to be rid of him and the anxiety he carried with him that I'm not even upset about the cheapskate gratuity. In fact, I expected it.

My night is over, so I drive to the gas station to fill the tank for the next driver. As I clean up the cab, I find that The Village Voice has been left on the back seat and is opened to a large section they have at the end which is a listing ("body work") for prostitutes.

Now I understand.

Tuesday, April 17th, 11:37 pm - a 30ish guy, white skin, about 6 feet tall, jumps in at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 34th Street. Our destination is DeGraw Street in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn. As the ride begins I overhear him say to someone on his cell phone that he just punched someone on a subway platform. A minute later that conversation is over and, unable to resist asking him about it, I do. (Which turned out to be a good thing for him, as he needed to talk to someone.) He told me this story...

He'd been at Yankee Stadium and was on a subway filled with people coming from the game. The Yankees had just played the Indians. He grew up in Cleveland and, although he's lived in New York for ten years, he was wearing an Indians hat. A group of "white, suburban gangster wannabes", all teenagers, decided to harass him due to his hat as they exited the subway car and stepped out onto the platform. This led to an angry exchange of words and one of these kids in particular, showing off to his friends, got in his face.

And that's when my passenger slugged him.

He said they were all in shock and just stood there as he hastily went up the stairs and left the station. He then jogged a couple of blocks and jumped in my cab, thinking about stupid, teenaged punks and lawsuits. So actually it turned out I was his getaway driver.

Interestingly, as he told me about the incident, he was filled with regret and chided himself for losing his cool and hoped maybe it will have taught the kid a lesson. It reminded me of the time another person used my cab as a getaway car after being in a bar fight and thinking he may have just killed someone. (See "The Wrong Guy". )

But this one wasn't as serious. "Worst case scenario, the guy's got a broken nose."

2:42 am - two girls, both in their twenties, one a platinum blond and both of them wearing skimpy clothes, get in at 87th and York. Their appearance translates immediately to the male eye as a neon light flashing "sex" - not quite as obvious it would be if they were street hookers, but it's close. That they are standing on a street in a residential neighborhood where there are no bars around adds an element of curiosity about them to my expert eye.

Their destination is 7th Avenue around 24th Street, but they are not sure of the exact address. When they get on a cell phone and are then told the number of the building, added to the fact that they speak in strong Russian accents, I have no doubt that these are call girls en route to a client. It's something I sometimes suspect with certain female passengers, but it's not often I am so sure about it.

Well, they seem pleasant enough and the way they jabber away to each other in Russian is rather melodic to my ear, so I am thinking whoever is paying for them may be getting his money's worth. But halfway into the ride their phone rings and after a short conversation I am told to please turn around and take them back to where I picked them up. Which I do.

I am thinking about asking them why their customer cancelled out on them but decide that would be pushing it and I just keep my mouth shut. We return to 87th and York, they pay the fare, and disappear into a deli.

4:11 am - my final fare of the night is a dancer/stripper from Flashdancer's. The girls all leave the club at 4:00 and I'm told there are as many as 50 of them working each shift in the joint, so it's a good spot to get one last ride.

Since I work the place often, I've had many conversations with these girls. I find the ratio of conversational to non-conversational to be about 50 per cent. In other words, about half of them do not want to speak with their cab driver. This in itself is interesting to me because, if you think about it, here's someone who has just spent several hours dancing almost naked around a pole and then trying to lure guys into a back room so they can do twenty-dollar "lap dances" for them. It's a come-on dressed up in a heightened degree of "friendliness" (pardon my pun). But then, just minutes later, they are often quite out of communication.

This last passenger fell into that category. It was a long ride out to Queens during which she stared blankly out the window. She seemed to me to be a lonely and unhappy person. And if that's true there's some irony there considering the type of work she does.

One of the permutations of the attempt to make contact, if you will.


Tracey said...

I read your blog religiously and love the way you right. You meet some very interesting characters. Fortunately in my line of work, they tend to be more friendly. Take care. X

G.S. said...

Tracey - wow, religiously! Thank you very much, I am totally flattered. I like your blog, too, btw, and will be reading it.

Anonymous said...

I thorougly enjoyed reading your 4 tales. You writing style is very unique and most enjoyable....easy to follow and very descriptive. Thank you
Handsome Harry

Jackie said...

Come on GS, I'm waiting for more tales.....*wink*

J x

Anonymous said...

You got Cleveland and the Indians in this post I am all for that.