Saturday, July 14, 2007

Chefs, Woodpeckers, and George Costanza

Last Tuesday night was going along like any other night shift...
a ride to Grand Central

people going out for the evening

some guy who took the subway to the wrong stop and now needed a cab because he was running late
an inner city white kid going from the East Village to Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn with whom I discussed in detail the All-Star Game and the plight of the National League...

but as the night wore on the shift somehow acquired a little theme. Within a few hours I had several memorable rides that each had something to do with the world of television...

10:35 pm - I was again discussing baseball's All-Star Game, this time with a male thirty-something going from 33rd and Broadway to Clinton and Grand in the Lower East Side, when the guy tells me that for 7 years he held the exact same job that the George Costanza character played in "Seinfeld" - assistant to the traveling secretary of the NY Yankees. This meant that for 7 years he was the butt of jokes from his friends and even suspected he was being referred to as "Costanza" behind his back. He said he and the staff would meet with Yankee owner George Steinbrenner every day at 10 am for a strategy meeting and I was surprised to hear him say that Steinbrenner is actually quite a nice guy, at least in his opinion. So why did he leave the job? The pay was too low, only 30 grand per year. Okay, but I'm thinking, how cool would it be to have your office in Yankee Stadium?

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)

Go, Sara!

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.

And all you have to do to see the Pictures From A Taxi show is click here.

1 comment:

Paradise Driver said...

Excellent analogy!

I think NYPD vehicles on Manhattan surface streets have a speed limit in emergency situations/responses. I think it is 30mph over the posted limit.