You know, one of the truly great things about driving a cab in New York City is that on any given night you will encounter individuals who are from totally opposite ends of the social spectrum. People sort of carry their own worlds around with them, so a taxi driver has this opportunity to get up close and personal with people who are so dissimilar, one from the other, that they might as well be from different planets.
To illustrate my point, I had these two fares a few days ago in the same night...
At 11 pm I was hailed by a blonde at 64th and West End Avenue. She said she wanted to go to a building that was somewhere in the 30s on 1st Avenue, so I went up to 65th Street and we headed across the Central Park transverse to the East Side. She was talking to someone on her cell phone and I wasn't really paying too much attention to her, but then when her conversation ended she suddenly says, "Hey, could you tell me something? How do you spell 'first'?"
"You mean like, first, second, third...?"
"Yeah, is it f-r-i-s-t or f-i-r-s-t?"
"You know, I charge extra for consultations."
"Ha, ha, come on!"
"Okay. It's f-i-r-s-t."
Why she needed to know how to spell a word in the middle of a cab ride I did not know, but I liked her easygoing attitude. No airs here. Just a friendly person who was grammatically challenged. I guess she was a little embarrassed by her inability to spell a simple word because she then admitted that she wasn't the brightest starfish in the sea.
"You weren't cut out to be one of those nerdy kids in a spelling bee, huh?" I said.
"Nah, but I'll tell you something - they may know how to spell but they don't know how to fuck."
Whoa. If she didn't have it already, she now had my full attention. There are only three ways a female would ever say that to a cab driver: 1) she's with two or three other girls and she's showing off by trying to create an effect, 2) she's totally shitfaced, or 3) she's a professional. My passenger was alone and she wasn't drunk, so it had to be number 3.
I was trying to figure out a way of asking her about this, but as it turned out the answer was given to me in the most unlikely of ways. She had found out from the person she was talking to on her cell phone that the building she was going to was on the corner of 33rd and 1st and then for some reason added that this person who lived there made great chicken soup.
33rd and 1st... chicken soup... It rang a bell.
"Hey, wait a minute," I said, "I once picked up a woman coming from that building who told me she had gone there to see her friend because she was sick and her friend made great chicken soup."
"Yeah, it was on New Year's Eve. "
"I wonder if I know her."
"She told me she was an adult film performer," I said, carefully glancing in the mirror to catch her reaction.
"Oh, I must know her!"
"She was in her thirties, I think, with blonde hair. She said she was going to LA to be in a film the next day and had to get better because she couldn't give blow jobs with a stuffed nose."
"Oh, I know who it was! Her name is Houston!"
When she said it, it totally clicked in my mind. That was her name. I had actually written about this person in a post. (Here.)
"So you're in the same business?" I asked.
"Well, kind of," she said with a smile. "I've done some porn but now I'm mostly working on my own."
"You mean, like, as an escort?" An "escort", of course, is another word for "hooker".
"Uh-huhhh..." she replied, the tone of her voice suggesting that now we both shared in her little secret.
Now I'm not an expert on the subject, but I have observed over the years that there seem to be two broad categories of hookers (pun intended). There are the street hookers ("hos") and there are the indoor "call girls" or "escorts". The street hookers, who have almost disappeared from the streets of New York over the last ten years, by the way, are usually drug addicts and are desperate and pathetic. But the call girls, who are frequently ex-strippers, tend to be smart, witty, and charmingly candid about what they do for a living.
So what followed with my passenger was an informative conversation about her life and her profession. She had gone to L.A. after finishing high school in Texas, with the idea of becoming an actress. She wound up working in strip clubs, then did some porno movies, and now is an escort. She travels around the country building up a list of clients using a website (eros.com) and a cell phone. A cell phone which rang several times during our ride together.
One of the calls she ignored. It was from someone she described as a "stalker". Another one was from a steady client from Argentina whom she had to sadly inform that she wasn't available tonight but that tomorrow a little after 1 pm would be good.
"I like foreign men," she confided. "They don't want to talk."
"How many calls do you get per day on the average?" I asked.
"Yeah, but when they find out how much I charge, they're usually not interested."
"How much do you charge?"
"$350 for half an hour."
Which just shows you the relative worth to society of the services I offer compared to the services she offers. Not that her business doesn't have its pitfalls. She told me that screening out crazies is a definite skill. And that there is always the possibility that someone who appears to be a client is actually a police officer. But the solution to that, she said, was to have a good lawyer. "For five thousand dollars the only thing you're found guilty of is jaywalking."
As she departed the cab on 33rd Street, I suddenly realized I had a question that she would surely know the answer to. "What does MILF stand for?" I called out to her. This was an acronym I'd seen on certain websites but I'd never had a definition for it. I knew it had something to do with "older" women.
"Mothers I'd Like to Fuck!" she called back with a smile.
So we were even. I told her how to spell "first" and she told me this. I guess we all have our own areas of expertise.
Now compare her to the passenger I picked up at 2:45 am...
He was a middle-aged man in a business suit, no tie, well-groomed, standing on the corner of 8th Avenue and 55th Street. He had the appearance of someone who is considered to be "successful" in our world. His clothing, haircut, and demeanor all would give the casual observer the impression that here was someone who was a professional at something and was doing well in life.
Now I'm not saying that to lead you into discovering that he actually was not what he seemed to be. He was quite successful, as it turned out. But he was also quite drunk. Not incoherently drunk. But rambling on and on drunk. A happy and very overly talkative drunk.
What I normally do with drunks, once I realize that that's what they are, is to patronize them. I agree with almost anything they say, listen to their tales, and acknowledge them so they know that they have actually been heard. There's no sense in arguing or originating my own ideas to them. Because they are in digression mode.
The first thing we had to handle was where he was going. Did I know the location of such and such a bar, he asked. I did not. Then, after a bit more deliberation, he decided he might as well go home. And he gave me his address, a very prestigious apartment building on Central Park South.
As I headed in that direction, he began his dissertation. It was the kind of thing in which he was going to talk half to me and half to himself or to whomever he mentally conceived might be there with him. But I was free to jump into the conversation at any time. The truth was I wasn't really paying that much attention to exactly what he was saying until he said this...
"...and the call comes through early in the morning and I'm still in my bloody pajamas and they tell me he wants me! So what the hell am I supposed to do, I've got to get up and get my ass out the door, because the man wants me!"
It aroused my curiosity. "Who wanted you?" I asked.
"The president of what?"
He looked at me like I should have understood. "Of the United States!"
It turned out that the inebriated gentleman in the back seat was a deputy Secretary General of the United Nations. President Bush had been in the city that day to address the General Assembly of the U.N. and apparently the protocol calls for a high-ranking official there to act as a host for visiting dignitaries. He said he had served in that capacity on one other occasion for President Bush and it turned out Bush remembered him, liked him, and requested him. So he had spent the day kind of hanging out with the President of the United States.
"So what kind of guy is President Bush?" I asked.
"He's the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with," my passenger said, "but, you know, it's kind of like you're leading a child around."
"Yeah, I think I know what you mean," I chimed in. "I've always thought he was probably a nice guy on a personal level but that when it comes to being the president he's in way over his head."
"Yeah, now take Clinton," he said, "there's a guy who knows what he's doing."
We soon finished the short ride by arriving in front of his building on Central Park South. As he staggered out of the cab he told me what a wonderful cab driver I was, but then he had some trouble finding his money. Finally he yanked some bills out of his pocket and handed them to me and I was on my way. When I got to the traffic light and counted them I found he had neglected to give me a tip on the five dollar fare. But that was all right. It wasn't a mean or a cheap thing, it was a drunk thing.
Later on in the night I reflected on the diversity of these two memorable rides and what different worlds these two people came from. A woman who had spent the day having sex with people for money and a man who had spent the day playing host to the President of the United States.
Why, I wondered, did she get to be the lucky one?
And you can get to be the lucky one, too, by clicking here for Pictures From A Taxi.