I had three memorable rides last night (Saturday).
The first was a woman who didn't know left from right - literally. She was an attractive, thirty-something with two small children taking a short trip up 8th Avenue from 34th to 47th. When I got within a couple of blocks of the destination I asked, as I always do, if she'd like to be dropped off on the left or the right side of the one-way road.
"Which side is the right?" she asked.
I looked at her in the mirror. She had a puzzled look on her face and she was making motions with her hands as she tried to figure out which was left and which was right. I thought she might be joking around with me and was about to laugh out loud but then I observed that she was quite sincere in her effort to solve this problem.
I pointed to the right side of the avenue and told her that unless something had drastically changed since the morning, that was the right side. She indicated that that was the side she wanted and I immediately pulled the cab over to the curb.
"Thank you," she said as she paid me $7.00 for the $4.90 fare. "Sorry." And with that she carefully ushered the two children onto the sidewalk and was on her way.
Now what I found remarkable here was that this was not a translation problem - English was her natural language - and she conducted herself as a normally intelligent person in all other ways. It was just that for some reason I will never know she had not mastered "left" and "right".
This must have been the person they had in mind when they invented GPS.
The second memorable ride was a teenager in a Yankee shirt whom I took to 75th Street and Roosevelt Avenue in the Jackson Heights section of Queens. This kid had been to the Yankee game earlier in the day and had caught a foul ball which he held in his hand. He told me the ball had been hit by a player on the Kansas City Royals in the second inning and it occurred to me that, since I had been watching the beginning of the game on TV before starting my work day, I must have seen this very ball on my own television. He gave it to me to hold for a minute and so it was as if the baseball had come through the screen and wound up in my own hand, like they do in animation or computerized graphics. Very cool!
It was the third ride of the night, however, that was the most remarkable. At 10:15 I picked up four middle-aged tourists from Huntsville, Texas, and drove them over to Rockefeller Center. They were in good spirits and doing the usual tourist things, this being their first time in New York City. A particularly jovial fellow sat up front with me who seemed to have a permanent smile on his face.
They, too, had been to Yankee Stadium that day and our conversation was mostly about that. This was the game where Alex Rodriguez ("A-Rod") had finally hit his historic 500th home run, an achievement that is, of course, a very big deal in the world of baseball. My passengers told me they had been sitting only two rows away from the spot where the home run ball landed and were actually in the swarm of maniacs trying to get it.
So, having come so close to catching the ball, they decided after the game to stop by one of the shops in the stadium and purchase a couple of souvenir baseballs. But they were told as they came up to the counter that the shop's entire stock of baseballs had been sold out. However, as fate would have it, at that moment an announcement was made in the shop that the bases that had been used in the game were now going on sale. And so the man sitting next to me in my cab on a total impulse had decided to buy third base.
At first I didn't really understand what he meant. "You mean they sell the bases that were actually used in the game?" I asked incredulously. I had never heard of such a thing.
"Yup. That's right."
"How do you know it's really not some other base?"
"Because they have an official major league insignia on it."
"Do you have the base with you?"
"No, they send it in the mail."
"And they only sold the three bases?"
"Yeah, I took third because that's the position A-Rod plays."
"How much did you pay for this?"
My passenger hesitated a bit before answering. I sensed some embarrassment here. "Uh... two thousand dollars."
"What!" I exclaimed, "you paid two thousand dollars for... a base!"
He laughed and said, "Yeah, I know, there's a sucker born every minute, right?"
And then one of the wives chimed in that not only that, they had also bought "Rolex" watches on the street earlier in the day and did I think they were real?
Oh my god! These people were from some movie where country bumpkins arrive in the big metropolis and within an hour have had their pockets picked clean by quick-talking, city-slicker con men. I decided to try a sales pitch of my own.
"Did you know," I asked, "that the city council has approved a plan to sell shares in the Brooklyn Bridge? It's going to be like a condominium. It will be owned by private investors who then will be able to charge a toll for crossing it and the profits will go to the shareholders."
"Yeah, and they have authorized certain veteran cab drivers to accept application fees. If you give me your names and mailing addresses, along with the fee of a hundred dollars, I will see that the forms are sent to you. So... do you want to buy a piece of the Brooklyn Bridge?"
There was what is called in the theater a "pregnant pause".
They looked at me. I looked at them. And then told them that I was kidding. Of course!
Not that they really believed me anyway. They weren't that stupid. In fact, they may not have been stupid at all. The man on my right went on to tell me that his two grand also bought A-Rod's actual signature on the base, a hologram on the base that is the same hologram that was used to identify the ball that was hit by A-Rod for the 500th homer, and a certificate from Major League Baseball that verifies that this was the base used in that particular game. In the crazy world of baseball memorabilia, the damned thing may already be worth more than he paid for it.
Maybe that's why the man who bought third base never stopped smiling.
I've heard a rumor that if you click here for Pictures From A Taxi you may never stop smiling, too.