Saturday, September 25, 2010

Good Morning, Have A Nice Night

A comment I often hear from passengers just after they learn how long I've been driving a cab is, "Wow, you must have seen it all!" My standard reply is, "Yeah, I have seen it all. Until I see the next thing."

As an example, let's take the crime of robbery. Many years ago two men jumped in my cab in a rush in front of the Hilton Hotel on 6th Avenue. They stayed in the taxi for only about three minutes before ordering me to pull over, then they paid the fare and disappeared into the street. A few moments later I discovered an opened briefcase and an opened piece of luggage lying on the floorboard back there with various items scattered around, which I suspected were the leftovers from a crime. I returned to the hotel, reported the incident, and had my suspicion confirmed - a guest waiting on the check-in line had placed his briefcase and luggage on the floor, had been distracted, and then discovered they were gone. My passengers had used my cab as a getaway car.

"Wow," I thought, "now I've seen it all!"

And that's what I continued to think until a few years later when I had a passenger actually mugged while sitting in the back seat by three slick thieves who approached the cab from the street while we were stopped at a red light in Chinatown.

"Wow," I thought, "now I have seen it all!"

And that's what I continued to think until a few years later when I had a passenger in my cab get robbed by the person sitting next to him in the cab! They were two men who'd emerged from a gay bar in Midtown and were en route to a residential address on the Upper West Side. Suddenly there was commotion in the back seat, the two of them wrestling around. I thought it was groping but what was actually going on was grabbing. The larger man was assaulting the other one and grabbed money from his pocket. He then opened his door, causing me to stop abruptly, and scurried off into the darkness. What had been thought by the victim to be a "pick up" had actually been a "set up".

"Wow," I thought, "now I really have seen it all!"

I'm mentioning this because now I can finally and definitively say that I have indeed seen it all. It wasn't a robbery, it was something else. But this is it, it's official, the book is closed. I have now seen it all...

It happened on the 6th of July of this year, a Tuesday, at exactly 7:55 p.m. I had just dropped off a passenger at the Marriott hotel on 92nd Street between 1st and York, a residential area on the Upper East Side, when I had a bit of good fortune in the form of a new passenger entering the cab as soon as the old one got out. Quick turnovers of passengers are the ingredients of a good money night.

My new passenger was a middle-aged woman, around fifty years old, neatly dressed, who told me she wanted to go uptown to 106th Street and 5th Avenue. I said okay, turned on the meter, and we were on our way. I made a couple of turns, waited at a couple of red lights, and was soon cruising up 1st Avenue. It was simple navigation - a left on 106th, across Spanish Harlem to 5th, and there we would be.

During the ride up to this point my passenger had been talking with someone on her cell phone, which is so common today. When that conversation ended she put aside her phone and spoke directly to me.

"Excuse me, driver," she asked, "do you know what time it is?"

I looked at the digital clock on the dashboard. It was visible from the back seat, so I wondered why she hadn't just looked at it herself. But, no matter, I was glad to accommodate.

"7:55," I said.

Instead of a "thank you", there was a silence. I looked at her in the mirror to see by her facial expression if she had heard me. She had, but she seemed confused. Then she spoke:

"A.M. or P.M.?" she asked.

"P.M., of course!" I replied, laughing.

I looked at her again in the mirror. To my surprise, she wasn't smiling. Her expression was rather grim, as if she'd just received some bad news.

"Are you sure?" she asked, almost pleading.

"Ma'am," I replied, "there are three things I'm certain of. Everything else is debatable , but these three things I am certain of - my name, my address, and whether it is night or day. Yes, I'm sure! It's P.M.!" I laughed again. Clearly, this was hysterical.

"You're really sure?" she asked again, this time with a touch of resignation and sadness in her voice, as if her fate had just been revealed to her.

"I'll tell you what," I said, "if the sun hasn't gone down by nine o'clock, I'll refund you the money for this ride. I'll give you my card, you can call me." This was funny!

"Oh, my god," she muttered, more to herself than to me.

"You thought it was 7:55 in the morning?"

"Yes," she replied, almost in a whisper, seemingly ashamed of herself and going into an introspective spin.

Interestingly, if one were to judge only by the brightness of the sky, it could have been either morning or evening. In July the sun rises at around 6 and sets at around 9. Still, since the invention of the sundial Man has had better ways of knowing what time it is than by just looking up. I realized she was in need of some taxi driver counseling, so I jumped into it.

"Why would you think it was the A.M.?" I asked, with considerable curiosity.

And she told me this story...

Her home and her company are in the midwestern state of Arkansas but she had been living and working in New York on a special project for the last six months as a "systems coordinator" at the Cardinal Spellman Hospital at 106th and 5th Avenue. The Marriott Hotel, where I picked her up, has been her home away from home all these months. At four o'clock, earlier that evening, she finished her day at the hospital, went back to her room in the Marriott, and decided to take a nap before waking at 7:00 to do a bit more on her project. She set her alarm and went to sleep.

When she awoke at 7, she had completely forgotten about the idea of doing more work in her hotel room and thought it was morning. She got out of bed, took a shower, dressed, did her face and her hair and went downstairs to get a cab. When she found one (mine) she was simply on her way to work to start a new day, having no idea it actually was not a new day.

Then her cell phone rang. It was her husband in Arkansas, calling to tell her he was sorry he hadn't called earlier, but he'd just gotten home. This confused her because she thought he should still be in bed asleep (it was 6:55 in Arkansas). He didn't usually get up until 7:30. He told her he'd had to work overtime at his job, that's why he was late getting home. She thought he meant he'd been working all night, and that never had happened before, so she asked him what in the world was so important that they expected him to stay at the job all night. He told her he hadn't been working all night, he'd only been working until 6:30.

"Then why didn't you call me last night?" she'd asked.

"I did call you last night," he'd replied.

"No, you didn't," she'd said, "I went to bed without hearing from you."

He reminded her of what they had talked about and she told him that that wasn't last night, it was two nights ago. Completely confused, it occurred to her that he might be putting her on. So she told her husband she'd call him back in a few minutes and ended the phone call. She knew of a way to find out the truth.

She would just ask her cab driver what time it was.

So there we were, on 106th and 2nd, in a reality free-fall zone.

"Should I take you back to the hotel?" I asked.

"Yes, I guess so," she replied from the haze.

I felt sympathetic toward her and tried to cheer her up. It was an understandable confusion, I said, and from the light of the sky it really could have been either A.M. or P.M. She didn't seem particularly consoled, so I tried to think of something else to tell her, something that would be worse, and I came up with this...

"Listen, if you think this is so terrible, not once, not twice. but three times I've had tourists in my cab who not only did not know the location of the hotel they were staying at, they didn't know the name of the hotel, either. Each time we had to wander around the city trying to locate their hotel by descriptions of landmarks only." (Oddly enough, all three times they were Englishmen. Go figure.)

That may have helped a bit. Looking at her in the mirror, I thought I saw a slight smile back there.

Her ride into the Twilight Zone and back came to $7.90. She paid with a corporate credit card and threw in a $1.50 tip. I thought it was appropriate that her company should pay. Strange city. Too many months away. Taking your work home with you to a place that's not even your home. In the military they have an expression for it:

"Shell shock".


People have also been known to have been shocked by clicking here for Pictures From A Taxi. It could happen to you.