Monday, March 26, 2007
Traveling with me recently from Hell's Kitchen to the Upper West Side were Peanut, a long-haired chihuahua, and owner Eric (getting kissed), along with Eric's friend (whose name I didn't get - sorry!).
I had not known that there was such a thing as a long-haired chihuahua, so this was that day's "thing you learn every day" for me. Eric said Peanut had been abandoned in Astoria and wound up in the Humane Society's shelter. There were many people wanting to adopt him and the staff were careful to place him with someone who would provide a safe and loving home. And that was Eric.
Peanut turns out to be not just another pretty face who is mellow and doesn't bark much. He does tricks. He will howl, play dead, sit, and roll over on command. Plus he's got great fashion sense - check out that jacket!
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Sunday night, 3:48 am, 49th and Broadway. A twenty-something, good-looking female comes out of the Playwrights Tavern, gets in the cab, and we are headed for 79th between West End and Riverside. She has a nice, friendly space about her and it would be easy to have a conversation with her, but, as is the case so often these days, she is preoccupied with a cell phone conversation that was already in progress before she got in the taxi. Some kind of a late-night emergency is underway and she asks me in a polite way to get her there as quickly as possible.
There is virtually no traffic at this time of the night and I know where the green lights are, so within four minutes we have shot up the Henry Hudson Parkway to the 79th Street exit and have arrived at her desintation. But she directs me not to turn off the meter - another passenger is going to join us and then we will be proceeding to 88th Street between Columbus and Central Park West. Within a minute her friend, another twenty-something female, comes running out of an apartment building, crosses 79th Street, and jumps in the taxi.
Of course my curiosity has been aroused and I am wondering what the emergency is all about. I'm thinking it's most likely a romantic problem. The second girl is probably having boyfriend troubles and needs a shoulder to cry on. Or maybe it's a family crisis. Maybe she just got a phone call from her mother in San Diego and learned that her brother was in a car accident. Or maybe her dog is sick and she needs to get him to a vet. No, that couldn't be it - she doesn't have a dog with her. Maybe she realized she doesn't have any decent clothes to wear to work the next day and she wants to borrow something from her friend. No, who the hell would do that at 3:48 in the morning?
I find myself in full fly-on-the-wall mode with the radio off and my ears straining to hear what they're talking about (also known as "eavesdropping"). I have a feeling this is going to be a good one. And it is. The second girl, it turns out, was awakened from a deep sleep by something moving under her pillow and now is afraid to stay in her own apartment. So she's going over to her friend's place to spend the rest of the night. What was under her pillow?
She goes on to say that she's not sure if there's one mouse or more than one mouse but her attempts to kill it, or them, with mouse traps coated with peanut butter and chocolate syrup have failed. And now she's too freaked out to stay there.
When we arrive at 88th Street I tell them I couldn't help overhearing their conversation (which was fine with them) and I make the obvious suggestion: get a cat! The second girl says that, in fact, she is planning on "borrowing" the cat of another friend of hers. Which gets me thinking this could be a brilliant business idea - "Rent-A-Cat". Hmmm....
Monday night, 11:15 pm, Empire State Building. two young guys come out of the Empire State Building on 33rd and 5th, jump in the cab, and we are off to Greenwich Village. They turn out to be from Sweden and are in search of a bar I had never heard of, The Spotted Pig, at Greenwich Avenue and 11th Street. They tell me it was recommended to them by a customs agent at the airport which sounded like a weird source of information to me so I joke that it's probably a set-up for a drug bust. They wonder if I'm familiar with a band that's supposed to be playing there but I tell them my usual answer to the subject of popular music which is that I haven't been aware of anything new since the Beatles broke up. And, in fact, I'm still waiting for the Beatles to get back together again.
Well, I said the magic words. They are Beatles fans, big time. One of them is actually wearing a Beatles t-shirt and the other has a very cool Beatles belt on. AND they are members of a rock band called Like A John Needs A Yoko! I am blown away. How refreshing it is to meet a couple of guys who are about 30 years younger than I am and who know more about Beatles music than I do!
Their names are Jon (on the left) and Andy. You can hear some of their music if you click onto their link, above. I tell them my John Lennon stories (click on the "John Lennon" label below to read it) and a May Pang story I happen to have and they are truly a receptive audience.
It's too bad these guys are over twenty-one. I want to adopt them.
Tuesday night, 9:35 pm, 52nd and Broadway. Two thirty-something fellows and a sixty-ish woman, all from the U.K., squeeze into the back seat and are en route to the Marriott hotel in Brooklyn Heights. One of the gentlemen is the stage manager of a Shakespeare company that is performing The Taming of the Shrew at B.A.M. (the Brooklyn Academy of Music). We engage in a lively conversation about the show, his job, and the Bard, but it is something that the lady says that amazes me.
She mentions that she is from Wales but has never been to London.
I have been to London. Twice. And she has been to New York. But never to London. I didn't delve into how that could be - it seems incredible to me - but I found it to be fascinating. And it reminded me of another fare I had many years ago.
In 1986 I picked up a woman who was in her thirties who was accompanied by her mother, who was probably close to seventy. The daughter lived and worked in the city and was playing tour guide hostess for her mom, who was seeing New York for the very first time. What amazed me was that Mom was from New Hampshire, only a five or six hour drive away.
How could someone live their entire life so close to the greatest American city, the center of the universe, so to speak, and never think it worthwhile enough to come see it? I asked her why she had decided to come now.
"To see Liberace!" she said.
Indeed, the great showman was playing at Radio City Music Hall at the time. And it turned out to be his last appearance in New York, as he died a year later.
Timing is everything.
Click here for Pictures From A Taxi.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from one of the shows staff, the friendly and efficient Jessica Yeo, which informed me what the show is all about. They were planning to do an episode about taxi drivers and, in doing their research, they found me.
I corresponded via emails with Jessica, who told me in advance what the questions they would be asking me would be and set up a time for an online conference using webcams. Now, pardon me if I don't yet take this in stride. It may have become business as usual for many of us to be able to see and hear people on the other side of the world, but I still think it's a miracle. Or some kind of black magic voodoo.
But unfortunately the voodoo wasn't working quite right that day as we ran into some transmission problems. First there was trouble getting a video connection and then, once that was straigtened out, the audio wasn't good enough for use in a tv broadcast. So what they did was take some video footage of me from which they later used a still image when they taped the show. Then they did the interview on the telephone and used the tape of my voice, after it was edited, on the program.
Overall the whole process was fun and really quite flattering. That they would find me and my blog worthy of being spotlighted did serve as a nice validation for what I do and I appreciated that very much.
Click here to watch the show. My interview is in Segment 3. The other two segments are about taxi drivers and taxi passengers in Singapore, and I think they're worth watching, too. It may take a minute or so to download. Click here to hear the unedited version of my conversation. (And to see my less-than-flattering picture.)
Hope you enjoy it!
And don't forget to click here for Pictures From A Taxi.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Just some sketches, not complete portraits.
6:30 pm, from Grand Central Station to Hope Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn: a 40-something man tells me the address he's going to in Brooklyn is a house his father bought in 1952 and that he's lived in all his life. I immediately think how wonderful it must be to never have to worry about paying rent or a mortgage because about a third of the money I make goes to that cause, but I don't mention this to him. He tells me he is soon going to have the house, an old three-story building, demolished and a new structure with 2.4 times as much square footage built in its place. (2.4 times whatever the square footage is that already exists is the formula the city codes permit for tearing down one building and putting up another one, he told me, an interesting fact about the city that I didn't know.) He's going to put in one-bedroom apartments and rent them at the going rate ($1,500 per month) when it's done. Is he going to live in the building himself when it's rebuilt? He doesn't know. Where will he live while the construction is under way? Again, he doesn't know. He goes on to tell me that there are pitfalls involved in this project, particularly in the area of the funding. That if you're not careful and savy you can really be screwed. I see clearly that my passenger is not one of the sharks that normally swim in these waters - he's a straighforward and unpretentious man - and suggest that he should follow the advice of someone he already knows who may have some experience in this game. A nice guy, I wish him success.
7:04 pm, from Houston and 1st Street to Bleecker and LaGuardia Place: a couple in their 50s, en route to Kenny's Castaways, a honky-tonk bar in the Village. Through conversation I learn that the man is a retired fireman. He left the department in 2002 and was one of the heroic people who spent the month following Sept. 11 digging through the rubble in hope of finding survivors. And now he is paying the price. Polyps were found on his larynx and spots on his lungs. He discusses the treatments he is receiving for his condition and I ask if by any chance he knows a friend of mine who is also a retired fireman, John McCole. And he does! Small world! But he didn't know that John wrote a book, THE SECOND TOWER'S DOWN, about his own experiences at Ground Zero and his path to recovery from the ordeal. So I am able to recommend the book to him. He offers me has hand to shake, a gesture of kindness I find just a bit humbling because I have so much respect for this individual.
8:02 pm, from 43rd and 2nd to 23rd and 7th: a young couple en route to a comedy club. They can't figure it out themselves, so they ask me this question... what does it mean when they advertize the comedy club as having a "no drink minimum"? They are baffled by this. I tell them that a lot of clubs have a one or two drink minimum added on to the price of admission but this place doesn't. Thus, it's a "no drink minimum". Case closed. Smiles return to their faces.
8:54 pm, from 16th and Park to 157th and Riverside Drive. A married couple with their infant daughter. It takes a minute or two to buckle up the baby's car seat (smart move on their part) and we are on our way. They tell me the route they want to take: the FDR Drive to the 155th Street exit! My attention immediately goes onto the humiliation I described in my last post (I needed help from a man from Mexico to navigate the streets at this exit) and, as we head up the Drive, I explain to them what I had written, including the part about how either I was an idiot or the city was unfathomably huge. The young mother, who turns out to be a wiseass and completely on my wavelength, suggests that perhaps it's not a matter of either/or. Perhaps the city is, indeed, unfathomably huge and I am an idiot. To make matters worse, I have forgotten the route that the Mexican showed me and once again I need directions from my passengers. This time, however, I am taking notes. (If you want to see what the route actually is, look at the "comments" section of the last post.) As we approach their destination, I divert their attention from my incompetence by telling them I know the slogans on the license plates of all the states in the union. (Florida - "The Sunshine State", etc.) It's one of the few perks of this job, obtained from year after year of staring at license plates in traffic jams. They test me out with a few tough states and I pass with flying colors. They are delighted and have forgotten about the 155th Street thing. Even the baby seems happy.
10:35 pm, Perry Street and Hudson. I am hailed by a frat boy who then opens the back door and starts talking to his frat boy friends on the sidewalk. I sit there for over a minute before they decide they do not want a cab after all and then close the door without so much as saying a word of apology. I am infuriated and step out of the cab (a no-no) and announce to the group that they need to work on their manners. There is a moment where they were wondering if I was going to take a swing at one of them, but I just get back in the cab and drive away thinking how bad can it get to be my age and still having to put up with this shit.
12:51 am, from 58th and Madison to Van Dam and Varick. How bad can it get? My question is answered as three semi-drunk frat girls get in and demand that I turn my radio to 97.1 (hip-hop) and blast the volume. We get into a disagreement about it that starts to turn nasty before one of them suggests a compromise: turn the radio to one of the stations I like and blast the volume to that. I go along with that idea but still find the seventeen minute ride feels like an hour and a half.
12:57 am, from Van Dam and Varick to Union, New Jersey. My spirits pick up again as two perfectly nice girls jump in and negotiate a price for a ride to Union, NJ. I suggest $40.00 plus the Holland Tunnel toll to which they readily agree and we are off. As we we get through the tunnel, however, I realize why they were so agreeable about the price. I had thought they meant Union City, a much closer destination. Nevertheless, we ironed out what could have been a tense situation very easily, and they agreed to pay $65 for the ride. I am back in the city in just over an hour, so that was good money. I begin to think life ain't so bad after all.
3:05 am, from 6th Avenue and Bleecker to 48th Avenue and Vernon in Long Island City. Four thirty-somethings in the cab, with one of them sitting up front with me. I learn through a circuitous conversation that my front-seat companion and I went to the same high school! (Clarke High School in Westbury, N.Y.) I ask him to tell me the names of some of his teachers, as I'm wondering if any of the ones I had (twenty years earlier) could still have been there during his time. Oddly, though, he could only remember the names of two teachers, neither of whom I had myself. I find this strange because I could easily name twenty or more. Nevertheless, I think this is a wild coincidence.
But it gets me thinking. Earlier in the evening I had a passenger who knows my friend John McCole. And then I got another fare to that 155th Street exit, a destination I had been to a few days earlier and still had my attention on, but before that I hadn't used that exit in, what? -- five or six years. And finally there's this guy who went to my high school. It raises an age-old question: is it coincidence or is it karma?
Could be the subject of a new post...
Click here for Pictures From A Taxi.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
The first was at the hands of a 14-year-old boy who got in my taxi in the West Village and wanted to go to Montgomery Street in the Lower East Side and then gave me directions for how to get there. The audacity of a teenager assuming that his driver, who's been behind the wheel of a cab for twice as long as he's been alive, doesn't know how to get to his destination!
The second, a few hours later, was from a man from Mexico who instructed me on how to get to where he wanted to go, 155th Street and Lenox Avenue, from the 155th Street exit of the FDR Drive! Where does someone who's probably not even in this country legally find the gall to think that I, a native New Yorker, would not know such a thing?
Let me tell you something. What was humiliating was not that these two individuals would try to give me directions. That would be merely annoying. What was humiliating was that in both cases they were right! I didn't know Montgomery Street and the route from the 155th Street exit of the FDR to 155th and Lenox is quite tricky and I've never mastered it.
How could such a thing happen? How could someone who's been driving a cab for 29 years not know every single street in his own city? There are two possibilities:
1) I am an idiot.
2) New York is so huge it defies comprehension.
For the sake of my own self-esteem, we're going to go with number two.
New York is known by several nicknames - "The Big Apple", "The Melting Pot of the World", "The City That Never Sleeps" (but it does take cat naps, trust me). In a recent post I referred to it as the "City of Infinite Realities". I've got another one for you. It's a title I attach to the city in my own mind whenever I get a ride to the far reaches of one of the boroughs and find myself temporarily lost, as if I'd been swallowed by a whale and was now trying to navigate my way out of its intestinal tract. I call it "The Monster City of the World".
New York is a place that is unfathomably huge. It is so difficult to convey to a visitor the seriousness of this immensity that I usually find myself rattling off my favorite statistics:
- Over 6,000 miles of paved roads. That's the distance from New York to Los Angeles. And back.
- 770 miles of subway tracks. (Now there's a place you can get lost.)
- More than 100 miles of steam pipes under the streets.
- The "Over 200 Club": over 200 hotels, over 200 Starbucks, and over 200 McDonald's in the five boroughs.
- In excess of 17,000 restaurants overall.
- 13,087 yellow taxis. And more than double that number of other types of car service vehicles (limos, community car services, and corporate car services).
- If you took Brooklyn by itself it would be the 4th largest city in the United States. Brooklyn is bigger than Philadelphia.
- The population of New York is over 8 million. Add to that about another million visitors on any given day. The population of Ireland is 4 million. So the population of the city is twice the population of that country. Although I grant you that half the population of Ireland is already in New York, so that stat may be a bit misleading.
You get the idea. New York is huge, massive, gigantic, humungus, immense, enormous, and just staggeringly large. And that's not to mention big, big, BIG! The Monster City of the World. And I admit to taking some pride in knowing as much of it as I do. But do I know every street? No way - not even close. Hell, there are entire sections of the Bronx that I barely know at all. And Staten Island? Forget-abowt-it.
Which is why I will continue to feel a twinge of humility when some kid or a guy from another country assumes correctly that I need help in getting to his destination. Ouch!
Click here for Pictures From A Taxi.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Scuba is a Pug who's having his second birthday on March 6th. Doria and Klery are planning a big bash for him and all his friends and are hoping it will be as big a hit as last year's party in which not one, but two, doggie birthday cakes were served and then devoured by the furry guests. (No, not the guys with the goatees - the dogs. Apparently there is a place that makes cakes for canines. Who knew?)
As I've said before, it seems that every dog that gets in my cab has, or does, some kind of special thing. Scuba's special thing is that he takes showers with Doria and Klery (now there's a taxicab confession for you!). In fact, he has his own shampoo in the bathtub. He just loves being in the water.
And that's how he got his name.
Happy birthday, Scuba!
Click here for Pictures From A Taxi.