I had a passenger the other day who asked me if I'd ever had an animal in my cab other than a dog or a cat.
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?"