Monday, July 30, 2007
What a great question!
I thought that surely at one time or another there must have been something. Someone with a snake or a hamster or a rabbit or something. And finally after racking my brain over it for a minute or two I did think of a ride where I'd had a woman who was taking home with her the "office parrot". She worked in a law firm and every day brought her parrot in to the office in a nifty little plastic transporting box. The parrot was the beloved mascot of the lawyers.
But other than that, not counting a wide variety of drunks, in 29 years there have never been any animals in my cab other than dogs and cats. Although, come to think of it, I did have a cab for a single shift one night that had cockroaches in it. Does that count?
Anyway, my passenger's question led into a related topic of conversation - the subject of what animals either of us had ever seen on the streets of the city. Now after some contemplation on this, I realized that any such list would have to be divided into two categories:
a) animals that were being controlled by humans, and
b) animals in the wild.
It turns out the list of animals being controlled by humans is long and tremendously varied. On the streets of New York I have seen snakes, lizards, monkeys, horses (around Central Park, of course, a common sight), lots of parrots on people's shoulders, and a parade of circus animals on 34th Street en route to Madison Square Garden (camels, zebras, and elephants). And many years ago there used to be some kind of Peruvian fellow on 6th Avenue who walked a llama around on a leash.
But it's the list of animals running around on their own in the middle of Manhattan that is the most intriguing. Okay, what have we got? Pigeons, sparrows, squirrels, rats, and mice. I have seen raccoons several times very late at night on 5th Avenue and Central Park West, so I guess you'd have to add them to the list, too. And I've been told there are a few hawks nesting on ledges of very tall buildings, although I've never seen one. But that's it, right? I can't think of any other animals that are indigenous to New York City. Except one.
There was that coyote...
Do you remember that story about the coyote that was running around in Central Park in March '06? Nobody knows how he got there, but suddenly one day there was this coyote. It took two days for the police to catch him. Amazingly, I actually saw this animal myself.
I was driving down 5th Avenue, which borders Central Park on the east, at around 3 am one night and suddenly I caught a glimpse of a strange-looking animal walking rapidly on the sidewalk next to the park. The animal was dog-like, but you could tell that it wasn't a dog. I could see that it was in some distress as it had a fearful demeanor and its tail was between its legs. Another cabbie on my right saw it, too, and we both slowed down to about 5 mph as we tried to understand whatever it was that we'd both witnessed.
"Maybe it escaped from the zoo," he called out to me.
That seemed like a good enough answer for whatever the hell it was and I put the matter out of my mind. Then the next day the big news in the city was about this coyote that was running around in Central Park.
Anyway, since having this discussion about animals in the city, I have been taking every opportunity I can find lately to ask my passengers this sure-fire conversation starter:
"What is the most unexpected encounter you've ever had with an animal?"
Isn't that a great question?
And another great question is, "Would you like to click here for Pictures From A Taxi?"
Monday, July 23, 2007
Saturday, July 14, 2007
11:40 pm - I took a young lady from 72nd and Amsterdam to 49th and 2nd who turned out to be someone I think of as being an "uplifting personality". Someone who is so cheerful, so conversational, and so interesting and interested at the same time that you actually feel uplifted after being around her for awhile. We had one of those discussions that travel effortlessly from one subject to another and probably could have gone on for an hour, only to be abruptly ended by arriving at her destination. As she started to pay me she noticed something on the other side of the intersection and said, "Oh, there's one of my billboards!"
She was referring to an illuminated advertisement on the outside of a telephone booth for a reality show called "Top Chef" that airs on the Bravo channel on Wednesdays. It turns out my passenger is a chef who is currently competing with other culinary rivals for a prize of $100,000 and there she was, with the other contestants, in her white chef hat staring out at me from the ad - while also staring out at me from the back seat of my cab. Another unique taxi-driving experience for me! Actually, I've long imagined how wild it would be to have a passenger in the cab who was also the model whose picture happened to be used in the advertisement on top of the cab. I guess this was the next best thing.
Anyway, her name is Sara Nguyen and you see her here posing for me in front of her own picture. I want everyone who reads this to watch the show and root for Sara. Then when she wins she's going to invite us all over to her place and cook us a big meal. (joke)
2:32 am - the streets of Manhattan become relatively empty on a Tuesday after midnight and this is when crafty taxi drivers distinguish themselves from the ones who don't really know what they're doing. You know, driving a cab is a lot like being a fisherman. You have to know where they're biting and where the big ones are. It takes experience.
Anyway, not to brag, but here's how I reeled in a passenger at 2:32 am. Anyone who's ever driven a cab in NYC will appreciate this. I was driving down one of my standard late-night cruising streets in Midtown (no, I will not tell you which one!) and I know that on this particular street there's a building where film post production goes on 24/7 and they do not use "black cars" (car services used by corporations to give their employees a free ride home). So I always have an eye on this place. A woman came out of the building and gave me just enough of a glance to tell me she wanted a cab. I slowed down, hoping she would hail me, but she did not. Instead, she kept walking in the opposite direction from which I was driving. Yet I knew she wanted a cab and I knew the only reason she didn't raise her arm was because I was not driving in the direction she wanted to go.
So, instead of giving up on her, I circled the block and within 30 seconds I was back to the spot where I thought she would be if she hadn't already found another taxi. And she was. And she got into my cab.
And that is how expert fishermen catch fish in NYC.
She was headed out to Forest Hills in Queens, a 20 minute ride. I asked her if she was editing a film. She was. And that led to a conversation that pretty much took up the whole trip. The film is going to be a 90-minute documentary about the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird that was thought to be extinct, but now is thought to be maybe not extinct after all. She told me there have been sightings of the woodpecker in deeply forested and remote areas by reliable "birders" (as they're called), but no one has ever gotten a photograph of it. And that the film is intended for release in movie theaters.
I thought that was interesting, in fact, very interesting, but - come on - how could a movie like this be commercial enough to compete with regular feature films? She told me some amazing statistic about how many birders there are out there. Something like 42 million people. And that to them finding this woodpecker is like the quest for the Holy Grail. It's the ultimate of the ultimates.
Still, she admitted, the thing may wind up on Animal Planet.
Chalk another one up to "the things you learn from driving a cab". Extinct woodpeckers - who knew?
3:15 am - coming back to Manhattan from this ride, I crossed the 59th Street Bridge and was heading west on 63rd Street when, just as I began to go through a green light at 3rd Avenue, I witnessed something you never see except on television - a high speed car chase. Screaming through a red light at 70 miles per hour was a small, white car that, if I'd been two seconds further into the intersection, would have t-boned my cab. About three blocks behind it were about 20 police cars which, to their credit, were making sure the intersections were clear before going through them.
Actually, it looked to me like the runaway car was going to get away. It also looked kind of surreal because this is a scene you never see in the city. But you do see it in cop shows all the time.
As I traveled west toward my usual cruising routes it occurred to me that it was like I'd spent Tuesday night at home and watched TV. I'd seen a sitcom, a food show, an animal show, and an action flick. All that was missing was a talk show. But, then again, my cab is a talk show, so I guess I had that, too.
Monday, July 09, 2007
As a taxi driver you have this fascinating vantage point from which to observe the characteristics of people from all these groups. I hate to generalize, but as experience grows and one observes similar traits from people in these various groups, a certain amount of generalization becomes inevitable. And here's what I have come to expect from the American Aristocracy: