Last week was no different:
I was outraged. It was an insult, and an unprovoked insult, at that. I had done absolutely nothing to antagonize these guys. This was pure thug-ism, I'm-bigger-than-you-ism, civilization versus barbar-ism. It was so bad I felt it was worth it to do something retrospect might call stupid, something that it says in the "Road Rage Manual" that you must never do.
I got out of my car.
Never, never, never get out of your car unless there's an accident. It's an unwritten rule acquired by the wise. But I did. I walked over toward the guy who'd been driving the truck and commenced shouting at him, pointing out that he could have let me go through the green light, among other things.
His response: "Shut up and let me do my job." A bit of irony there, considering the circumstances.
Needing to get in the last word, I shouted back "HURRY UP!" at him as I returned to the cab, knowing quite well that being ordered to do something by a cabbie would drive him crazy. He replied that, okay, now he was going to go as slow as possible. I didn't really care. It was no longer so much about time lost. It was about pride.
He and his co-worker finished hauling the plastic garbage bags into the truck in about two minutes, actually faster than I'd expected. They then started to move the truck forward through the green light and went about half-way across 3rd Avenue. I steered my cab around the right of it and into the intersection, thinking that hopefully they would turn left onto the avenue and be on their way. But I had a feeling this thing wasn't over. Thugs in big trucks have a habit of using their vehicles as weapons when they have found a way to justify acting out their destructive impulses.
Seeing that I was trying to make a left turn around him, the driver kept moving forward to block me. Then he stopped the truck completely. I stopped as well, waiting for him to move. But instead of seeing the truck go back into motion, I saw the driver coming toward me on foot with a truly crazed look in his eye, shouting obscenities. It was about to become physical.
I had three seconds to make a decision. Either stay put and get into some kind of altercation with a lunatic sanitation worker or drive away.
I drove away.
It meant continuing straight on 56th Street toward 2nd Avenue and then taking a detour to 1st Avenue in order to get to the bridge to Queens. And it meant swallowing a little bit of pride in order to avoid a situation that was right on the brink of getting not only ugly but dangerous, both in a physical and legal sense. Jail sentences and funerals are often conceived in situations just like this.
My passenger, meanwhile, had sat through the ordeal somewhat in shock, I think, and it led to a friendly debate about the pros and cons of taking a stand. Her opinion was that it wasn't worth it to get so fired up, that these guys were jerks, and "that's why they're garbage men"; my opinion was that there are instances when turning the other cheek causes more stress internally than the feeling of moral superiority is worth. At the end of the ride our conversation resulted in a very above-average tip and a cheerful wave goodbye from the sidewalk after she exited the taxi.
Which made the incident all the more memorable.
Tuesday, 4:30 a.m.
I was looking for one more short ride at the end of my shift when I spotted a man and a woman emerging from the Brill Building at Broadway and 49th Street who were looking for a cab. Two things were remarkable about this sighting: