A young lady was standing just off the curb in front of the Skyline Hotel on 10th Avenue between 49th and 50th on a recent Sunday night at around 1:30 a.m. She sure looked like she wanted a cab, but she didn't raise her hand up.
I stopped anyway.
She paused momentarily, looking around. Then she reached for the handle, opened the door, and got in. It gave me that feeling you get when your instinct in your area of expertise is validated. I knew she wanted a cab, even if she didn't say so, and now I had the reward of a passenger sitting in the back seat. I applauded myself mentally.
I pulled out onto 10th, a one-way avenue that runs uptown.
"So, where are you heading?" I asked, when her destination was not forthcoming.
There was a further pause, and then, "Just keep driving on this, please," meaning 10th Avenue.
That's the kind of thing people say when they know they're headed in the right direction but aren't sure of exactly where their point of departure will be. But then she added this: "Could you drive slowly, please?"
That's the kind of thing people say when they're a vomit candidate. But I could see that she was alert and looking out the window, and that's definitely not the way people carry themselves when they're holding back an urge to regurge. So I was relieved, but I knew something was going on.
Finally she told me she was going to the Upper East Side, but didn't say exactly where. Then - suddenly - she asked me to make a right turn just as we approached 60th Street, then another right turn onto 9th Avenue. We were now headed downtown, the opposite direction from her stated destination. We hit the automatic red at 59th and then, when it turned green, there were further instructions.
"Could you stay on the right side of the avenue, please?" she asked, kind of meekly.
"And could you drive slowly, please?"
"I am driving slowly."
"I know, I mean, if you could continue to drive slowly, please."
"Sure," I replied, thinking how easy it is to get me to do almost anything if the word "please" is used.
We drove down 9th for a few blocks, her eyes searching intently at people on the sidewalks.
"What street did you pick me up at?" she asked as were approaching 51st Street.
"Could you take me back to where you picked me up, and then drive across 50th Street?"
In a few moments we were back where we'd started. I made the right onto 50th as she'd requested, heading east. I drove even slower than I'd been driving on 9th Avenue and, as before, she continued to look carefully at anyone who happened to be walking in the area. Whomever she was looking for was not to be found on 50th between 10th and 9th, so we continued to 8th Avenue, but she still didn't find what she was looking for. I decided to play an experienced hunch.
"This is about some guy, isn't it?" I asked.
Her smile told me I was right. "Yeah," she replied softly and with just a touch of self-deprecation.
"You had a fight with your boyfriend?" I asked. You have to be careful as a taxi driver when you decide to pry into a passenger's world. But with her I had a sense that she would welcome having someone to talk to at this particular time.
"No..." she said, "it's not that." She paused, wondering if she should tell me the whole story. I waited quietly for her reply, giving her the space she needed to make up her own mind. Then she dove right into it.
What had happened had been that she'd been sitting at the bar in the Skyline Hotel and had struck up a conversation with a man who'd also been in there. This man had been part of a group of people who were with a well-known actor, Paul Rudd, who was also in the bar. He was professionally associated with Paul Rudd in some way, perhaps his agent or manager, she wasn't sure. They had sat at the bar talking for a little while and then his party was leaving and it was time for him to go. They said goodbye and he rejoined his group, which soon left the place. She saw them disperse and watched him walk away, perhaps heading east on 50th Street, or maybe walking uptown on 10th Avenue, she wasn't sure. She didn't know his name. He didn't know hers. They had not exchanged phone numbers.
A few moments later she also left the bar. Not being sure what to do, but thinking she should probably catch a cab and go home, she walked out onto 10th Avenue. She stood there looking like she wanted a cab, but she had this man on her mind and she wasn't sure what to do and so she didn't raise her hand to hail a taxi that was coming up the avenue. But the taxi stopped anyway. And she got in.
And so now we were searching the streets for this man.
We went up 8th Avenue until we reached Columbus Circle at 59th Street, but we both knew he couldn't have gotten that far in that amount of time. So we turned around and went back down 9th and zig-zagged several blocks in the fifties, to no avail. She was about ready to admit defeat and head home, but decided to give it one more try and go down Broadway into Times Square - maybe he'd decided to walk a few blocks and catch a subway over there. It was a long shot but worth a try, she thought, so we drove up 8th again to 57th Street and then down Broadway toward 50th.
"So what's so special about this guy?" I asked. By this time we were teammates and I felt no sense of inappropriateness in posing this kind of question to her. She confided that it was the feeling she had when she was talking with him. In her words, she just felt comfortable being with him. It felt "right". And then she made this comment:
"You have to understand," she confessed sadly, "I don't like anyone!"
But she liked him.
But by my own analysis, after over thirty years of studying Homo sapiens, what she was really saying was this: this fellow had passed through an internal, kind of genetic, filter. The qualities she was searching for in a mate, consciously and unconsciously, he possessed. His physical appearance, his smile, the way he looked at her, the way he tilted his head when he reached for his drink, her perception of his kindness, his confidence, his hands, his strength, the hair on his arms... these and other nuances had passed through the filter. He just possibly might be "the one". And she had let him slip away.
Men and women are clearly different in this regard. Due to the biological clock, females tend to be much more serious and even businesslike about locating, corralling, and branding (marrying) their potential mates than are their male counterparts. They may say it's something else, but what's really going on here is the mysterious and somewhat magnificent imperative to procreate the species. It's serious business. A few years ago I had a guy and a girl in my cab who'd just been out on their first date. The young man got out first, giving her a polite kiss and a non-specific suggestion that they should get together again soon. "The search goes on," she said to me with some resignation as we drove away. There would be no second date. He had not made it through the filter.
After scrutinizing the relatively empty streets of Times Square for a bit longer, my passenger had finally had enough and I was directed to head back uptown to the Upper East Side. I tried to cheer her up by pointing out that there was still a way she might be able to find this guy. Her window of opportunity was that she knew he was associated with Paul Rudd. What she had to do, I said, was find out where Paul Rudd was located, show up there, and find him.
"Wouldn't that be like stalking him?" she wondered.
"It would only be stalking him if he didn't want you to be there," I said. "What I'm talking about is being true to your own reality and following the dictates of your heart."
Well, those words of wisdom may or may not have made an impression on her. She did seem to be considering it, but most of the rest of our time together was spent chit-chatting about other, more mundane, things. When we finally arrived at her destination, what should have been a ten-minute cab ride had stretched out into twenty-six minutes, and what should have been a ten-dollar fare had turned into twenty-eight, including the tip.
As I watched her walk up the steps of her brownstone and look through her bag for her keys, I had one of those time-progression visions that you get sometimes. I could see her in my mind's eye as a much older woman, long since settled in with whatever her searching may have ultimately brought her, reminiscing with a perhaps wistful smile about the things she had done for love.
Her name was Gina.
She lived at 341 East 85th Street.
And I'd like to think that one of the things she did was to click here for Pictures From A Taxi.