I got into one of those convoluted conversations with a passenger a few days ago that somehow led onto the subject of comeback lines. And it got me thinking... what have been the best comeback lines that I've heard in my cab (or at least the ones I could remember)? So I went to the vault, and these are what I found. Interestingly, except for the one of my own, they all came from people who are to some degree celebrities.
*** Sometime in 1987 I picked up an attractive woman and her male companion in Greenwich Village. One of them was carrying a guitar. The lady said in a chipper voice that they wanted to go to 56th Street and 7th Avenue, at the rear of Carnegie Hall. "So what's at Carnegie Hall tonight?" I asked. "I am!" she replied enthusiastically. She was the singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega.
*** Same story, different character: sometime late in the '80s I picked up an elderly gentleman heading for the 92nd Street Y, a New York institution best known for its ongoing series of lectures by prominent writers and artists. Again, I asked, "What's at the Y tonight?" "I am!" he said. He was Harrison Salisbury, a famous New York Times journalist.
***Another one, also from the '80s: I was cruising down Columbus Avenue, looking for a fare, when a distinguished-looking gentleman hailed me for a short run down to Lincoln Center. He spoke in a refined English accent and, although he was certainly overweight, he was the kind of person you would describe as "portly" - not "fat". "Fat" would be a derogatory term and this gentleman's demeanor kind of prohibited its use. He asked if I wouldn't mind taking him to the underground, drive-through entrance to Lincoln Center (no longer in use) at 64th and Amsterdam. It was an entrance from which a person could take an elevator directly up to the theater and thus not have to walk up long flights of stairs. I told him sure, that would be no problem. And then, as a joke, I said this: "Are you conducting tonight?" And he said, "Yes."
It floored me, of course, as I had absolutely no idea who he was. But he did have some kind of a carrier wave about him that communicated "conductor". He told me his name (which I unfortunately failed to write down and have since forgotten) and that his orchestra's performance would be broadcast live on the radio in a couple of hours. So later that night my passengers had a little culture added to their rides.
***One summer day in 1985 I picked up three guys in Midtown who turned out to be players on the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. I drove them out to Shea Stadium where they would be playing against the Mets later that night. I am a big baseball fan (the only sport I care about) and so, of course, I was very impressed that these guys would be in my taxi and I was chattering on and on about baseball this and baseball that. One of the passengers, a pitcher named Rick Rhoden (later a member of the Yankees), threw me a fastball that set me up for a curve. "Hey, driver," he said, "are you married?" I was, at that time, so I said, "Yes." "Doesn't your wife talk to you?" he zinged. (What I should have said: "Sorry, I never date my passengers." But who can think that fast?)
***One day in the winter of 1981 I was driving up Central Park West at 75th Street and there, to my amazement, stood one of my favorite singer/songwriters of all time with her hand up in the air waving at me - Carly Simon. It took me a minute to get over my apprehension at having someone of this stature sitting right behind me there in my cab, but she was so friendly (with that famous smile of hers smiling at me in the rear-view mirror) that I soon felt at ease. In fact, I felt enough at ease that I decided to play a little joke on her. As we approached her destination, a restaurant on the Upper East Side, I took on the persona of "the stupid fan" and said this: "Uhh, you know, I know it's none of my business, and I hope you don't mind me asking you this, but, uh, why did you break up with... (she had recently split up with James Taylor and this was a big item in the news)... Paul?" (i.e., Paul Simon). Without missing a beat, she came back instantly with, "He was too short for me."
***Just a few years ago I was cruising in the East Village one night around midnight when a young guy jumped in at St. Mark's Place. He told me he wanted to go to Columbia Heights, a street in the Brooklyn Heights section of Brooklyn and started to give me directions for how to get there. "Oh, I know where it is," I said, interrupting him. "In fact, you know, there's a famous person who lives on that street. I've had him in my cab twice - Norman Mailer." "Yes, I know," the young man said, "he's my father." My passenger was Stephen Mailer, himself a novelist and an actor - and also a terrifically nice guy.
***Here is one of my own built-in comeback lines that I like to use when I'm in a certain mood. Someone gets in my cab and says, "I want to go to Brooklyn." "You want to go to Brooklyn?" I repeat back at him. "Yes," he says. I pause a couple of seconds to make sure the timing is right (timing is everything in comedy), and then, with a quizzical look on my face... "Why?"
Got any comeback line stories of your own? Please send them here, I'd like to read them!
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