Monday, January 07, 2008

Celebrity Stories From My Passengers

There are certain subjects that are common grounds for conversation in a taxicab - the weather, traffic, sports, politics, whatever's in the news, things that you see on the street. Dogs. And celebrities.

New York is a celebrity town. Nonchalant New Yorkers may not gawk at or bother the celebrities they encounter around the city, but just about every New Yorker has a personal list of celebrities they've spotted. And I have found that asking a passenger if they've ever seen a celebrity on the street is an almost foolproof method of starting a conversation with that passenger.

As a taxi driver for many years, I have a very long list of celebrities I've either had in my cab or seen walking around. And I've posted a couple of these stories already. But I've never written about a celebrity story that was told to me by a passenger. In the last couple of weeks, though, I've heard two stories that I thought were exceptional enough to pass them along. So here goes...

A few days before Christmas I was taking a forty-something man across town when the song "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" came floating out of my radio. I mentioned to my passenger that about 25 years ago I had the man who wrote that song in my cab (J. Fred Coots) and I told him about the ride. I like telling that story because it's so exotic. I mean, the celebrities you might expect to see or meet would usually be movie stars, musicians, or TV talking heads. Who would ever expect to run into the author of a popular Christmas song? It was a very unusual category of celebrity.

My passenger, not to be outdone, told me a story of his own. He said he works in the New York Public Library and one day a few years ago a woman came up to his desk who wanted to apply for a library card. She looked familiar, but he wasn't sure who she was until she filled in a form and he read her name.

It was Monica Lewinsky.

Other people in the library had already spotted her and were kind of staring at her through the corners of their eyes, he said, and then she suddenly turned around and addressed them. "Yes," she exclaimed, "it's me!"

Monica Lewinsky - now that is an exotic celebrity sighting. Ms. Lewinsky is the sole occupant of her own particular category of celebrity.

And then last Saturday night there was another one. I picked up a middle-aged man and a younger woman in Midtown and drove them down to Soho. The lady got on her cell phone with her mother and excitedly told her that she'd just come from a restaurant called Cipriani's and had made a celebrity sighting - Tony Bennett. When that conversation ended I mentioned to her that I'd once had Tony Bennett in my cab and told her about what that was like. I then asked her if she'd ever spotted any other celebrities and she thought about it and said, "Well... there was O.J. Simpson..."

There's another celebrity who has a category all to himself. But my passenger hadn't merely spotted him. She actually had an interesting story to tell.

She said she used to be a nanny for a couple of children whose parents lived just down the street from O.J. Simpson's house in Los Angeles. Yes, that house. In fact, she said, the children she was caring for often played with the Simpson's children. And she would see Nicole and O.J. frequently at things like soccer games. And then she said that she had actually seen O.J. Simpson and Nicole Simpson on the night of the murder. Both he and Nicole had attended, separately, a ballet recital that their daughter was participating in. And my passenger had been at that recital.

It reminded me of another story I'd been told by a passenger years ago. He said as a teenager in Dallas, Texas, he had seen John F. Kennedy drive by in his motorcade just minutes before he was assassinated.

Only in retrospect do we realize that the person who had been standing next to you on the street was Fate.

However, no retrospect is needed to click here for Pictures From A Taxi. You could just do it right now.

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