Friday, May 16, 2008

How To Insult A Taxi Driver

Taxi drivers become pretty much immune to the unintended insults of passengers. Someone from out of town gives you a twenty-cent tip on a $5.80 fare and then tells you to "have a good night". Okay, he doesn't know about tipping. No big deal, it sails right over your shoulder.

Or a guy and a girl and go beyond the socially acceptable sitting close together while looking affectionately into each other's eyes and break out into a lip-locking, saliva-exchanging embrace, as if there wasn't another human being sitting right there in front of them. You chalk it up to crazy kids in love (with alcohol) and it flies out the window.

Or something as common as a person getting in the cab and barking out the destination without saying "please". Humph, well, okay, not gonna condemn a person in the imaginary Court of Intolerable Behavior just because of that. We'll give the guy another chance.

But there is one thing I find particularly difficult to endure. One thing that sets off a spark that gets an immediate reaction unless I practically gag myself to stop bullets from shooting out of my mouth. And I'll bet you wouldn't guess what it is.

Being told to drive faster? Or slower?

Being accused of going the wrong way?

Being asked why a smart person like yourself is driving a taxicab?

Being told how competent the cab drivers in London are?

No, it's none of these things, although the one about London cab drivers hints of it. Here's what it is: being given directions to a destination that anyone would know unless you were a complete moron. For example, a person gets in and says he's going to Penn Station. Then he tells you how to get there. He doesn't ask you if you know where Penn Station is, although that would be almost as bad. He just tells you how to get there, assuming you don't already know.

This drives me over the edge. And it happened a few nights ago.

A twenty-something guy and girl jumped in the cab at around midnight at 6th Avenue and 36th Street. In a heavily-accented voice, the young man told me they were going to 75th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. Now, this is easy navigation. Really easy. All a cabbie would have to know in order to carry out this assignment would be a) where is Columbus Avenue and in what direction does it run, b) where is Amsterdam Avenue and in what direction does that run, c) where is Central Park West and in what direction does that run, and d) in what direction does 75th Street run?

All right, there might be one other thing: where is 75th Street? The answer to that is that it's the one after 74th Street. The answers to the other questions are that Columbus is the same as 9th Avenue and runs downtown, Amsterdam is the same as 10th and runs uptown, Central Park West is the same as 8th Avenue and runs both uptown and downtown, and 75th Street, like almost all odd-numbered streets in Manhattan, runs west. I grant you that if you knew absolutely nothing about Manhattan, you would not know these things. However, if you were a taxi driver, you would have mastered these basics literally on your first day or two behind the wheel. Certainly within a week.

Unless you were a complete, utter, and hopeless moron.

So I rolled uptown with the green lights all the way up 6th Avenue until we reached the point where it ends at Central Park South (another name for 59th Street) and then I turned left, heading west toward 7th Avenue. My passengers were chatting quietly to each other and had not engaged me in conversation and I had paid no special attention to them, being content to listen to the oldies station that was playing softly on the radio. But then the guy began his massive faux pas by leaning forward and starting to speak.

"Take Central Park West to 75th Street and make a left," he said.

I bristled. This is like telling a hot dog vendor how to put mustard on a frankfurter. But it got worse.

"Central Park West," he explained, "is two-ways, so you can go uptown on it. 75th Street runs west - you can make a left turn onto it."

That was the end. This was the equivalent of telling the hot dog vendor why people like to put mustard on their frankfurters. I had to retaliate.

"Where are you from?" I asked him.

"Italy," he replied.

"I drive a taxi for 30 years," I said, "and then some guy from Italy gets in my cab and tells me how to get to 75th Street! That's like me telling you where Naples is... please... I'm going to shoot myself!"

Now even though my response was gift-wrapped in sarcasm, it was intended to point out the guy's insensitivity with some humor and get a laugh. I said the same thing once to a fellow from Sweden and he took it well. But the giovanotto (that's "young man" in Italian) did not. He sat there as cold as spumoni and didn't say a word. Clearly, I had offended him.

So what we suddenly had here was a) he unintentionally insulted me, b) I tried to retain my professional pride and unintentionally insulted him, and c) I realized the vibe in the cab was now uncomfortably hostile so, always assuming that more communication is better than less, I tried to lighten things up by making small talk.

"By the way, what's the name of the body of water that adjoins Naples?" I asked. It was just something to say.

I was ignored.

Now I was offended again. I was damned if I was going to sit there and be insulted and then be insulted again by being ignored. I raised my voice slightly and put an edge on it. "Excuse me," I repeated, "what's the name of the body of water that adjoins Naples?"

"The Tyrrhenian Sea," the girl replied in her own pleasantly accented voice.

"Thank you."

And that was it on the peace-making. The remaining 60 seconds of the ride were spent in a silent chilliness that could be likened to the Arctic Ocean at midnight, with a supercheap tip at the end and a brief, two-way staring fight between myself in the cab and the guy as he ascended the steps to his brownstone.

I felt bad that what should have been a pleasant ride home for these people had instead wound up in a whirlpool of hostility.

But not as bad as I would have felt if I'd let the insult go by unchallenged.


And also not as bad as a I would have felt if I'd neglected to mention that you can click here for Pictures From A Taxi.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I have been tagged by my cyber buddy Jodester, author of the never-fails-to-bring-a-smile blog, DON'T PANIC, and now I am charged with the responsibility of writing six "random things" about myself, and further charged with the task of tagging six other bloggers. And not only that, there was an implication that it would be rude not to participate.

Oh god, the burden of these social commitments! Now I know how Henry Kissinger must feel!

My approach to my own blog has been that it's more about them, not so much about me. Or maybe I should say it's about me commenting about them. My view is that it's more virtuous to be interested than it is to be interesting. (Not to say that there's anything wrong with being interesting, too, of course.) So having said that and therefore washed away any guilt about becoming self-indulgent, okay, Jodester, here are six random things...

1. I am a creature of habit. I eat almost the same exact meals every day of the week.

2. When I was 19 I was a student in Kenya for half a year and narrowly escaped encounters with a rhinoceros, an elephant, and a swarm of killer bees.

3. I was at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, where Dylan "went electric".

4. I grew up in Levittown, Long Island, the world's first sprawling suburban housing development. (The house I grew up in, the 1951 model, cost my parents $8,000 and came with a television built into the living room wall.)

5. My oldest and closest childhood friend was Bill O'Reilly.

6. In 30 years of taxi driving, I have never hit a pedestrian. Every time you think you've got one, somehow they slip out of the way!

Okay, I am now tagging the following bloggers:

1. Lucky 327 at NYC Taxi. A fellow NYC taxi driver, writer, and photographer.

2. Fee at Five Corners at Claonairigh. She writes about family life at a Scottish B&B. (No, I can't pronounce it, either.)

3. Angela at Pondring. Perhaps the world's greatest Dave Matthews fan.

4. John at Dublin Taxi. Dublin taxi driver who claims there are more taxis in Dublin than in NYC. Can this be true???

5. Bob at Taxi Tales. Insightful taxi driver in a place called Furness, Cumbria, in the U.K.

6. Mike at Mike's Mixed Memories. A retired Maine-er with a wealth of knowledge.

The rules, if you want to play, are:

- link to the person who tagged you (me)

- post the rules on your blog

- write six random things about yourself in a blog post

- tag six people you know in your post

- let each person know they are tagged by writing a comment on their blog

- let the tagger know your post has been published.

And one other thing. Just click here for Pictures From A Taxi!