I had such a person in my cab a few days ago.
He was a guy, about 35 years old, whom I picked up in the Upper East Side late last Tuesday night headed to Battery Park City, an upscale apartment complex way downtown in the Financial District. He had curly blond hair that went down almost to his shoulders, eyelids that looked like he was having difficulty keeping opened, and the glazed-over demeanor of someone who'd been doing a lot of drinking. But this is a good late-night fare, so I was glad to have the guy aboard. And what made it better was that although he was obviously a party-animal kind of dude, he was quite talkative and not arrogant or rude as many of these people tend to be. So this was going to be a fun ride.
We whizzed down 5th Avenue without any traffic and there wasn't yet much more than aimless chit-chat between us until we were approaching 33rd Street, just past the Empire State Building. At this point he suddenly had a big idea. He asked me to slow down, make a right turn on 33rd, and stop. His object of attention was a place called "Joy" which was a short distance down the street. He told me if this joint was open he would be getting out right there (a shortened ride and a disappointment to me), but on inspection it was clear that the establishment was shut down for the night.
So what was "Joy", I wanted to know. He told me it was a massage parlour where for a hundred bucks you could get an hour-long massage from an Asian lovely with a "happy ending" if you wanted it. Well, I knew these places were around town but what I found intriguing were two things: 1) that it was on the ground floor with a sign on the front door, and 2) that this guy was ready to go into it on a whim. I mean, a minute ago he was all set to go home to Battery Park City and then, out of the blue it's, hey, let's have some wang with Miss Wong.
This was an action that opened a window into character. Here was a guy who was living on the edge of something. He was not your normal working stiff having a big night out. He was different. I wanted to know more about him, so I delved. And this was his story...
He had been a Wall Street trader for a number of years and had made quite a bit of money. His business had brought him to Brazil several times and he'd even lived there for awhile. During the time he was in that country he discovered something that really appealed to him - that he could live like a king there for relatively little money. So he had recently decided to move to Brazil. He bought a house on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, hired two servants, and all it costs him is a thousand dollars a month, total.
But my passenger didn't make this move to set up a business or pursue some kind of inner calling. He made the move to party. He'd had enough of the Wall Street game. Now it was time to get down. He hadn't taken the trouble to learn the language (Portuguese). He had no involvement in the community of his adopted country. This was going to be an endless run of sex, drugs, and the Samba.
But they didn't arrest him and haul him down to the police station. They let him get on his cell phone with his lawyer and conducted a thinly-veiled extortion in which a price (several thousand dollars) was agreed upon to have the charges dropped. They then accompanied him to his house to get their money, but he only had enough cash for part of amount they demanded. So they gave him a bank account number and directed him to deposit the rest of the money into it the next day, which he agreed to do. And then they left.
However, when he tried to make the cash transfer the next day, for reasons he did not understand, the bank account number he was given was said to be invalid. Very shortly after that, he left Brazil and came back to the USA. But my passenger, who told me he thought at the time that these cops might take his money and then just kill him, knows they're still back there and are expecting to get more out of him.
"Well," I said, "so much for the Brazil experiment." (Thinking there was no way in the world he would ever return there).
"Oh, no," he said, "I'm going back next week."
"You mean to sell your house?"
"No, I'm not leavin' there."
"But what about these guys? They know where you live!"
He just shrugged his shoulders and made an expression on his face as if to say, "Whatever will be, will be."
I was amazed by his response, but before I had a chance to ask him why he would decide to return to living in such a dangerous environment when he didn't have to, we had arrived at his destination and the only other thing I had the time to say was, "Good luck."
I thought quite a bit about what his reasons for returning to Brazil could be as I drove around Manhattan that night, but after awhile I realized that whatever he would have said would certainly not have been the truth.
Because he couldn't see it himself even though it was so glaringly obvious to me.
This guy had a character flaw - his only purpose for living was to get laid and to get high. And the lure of that lifestyle and the grip that it had on him made his confront of his environment too low to observe that he was a sitting duck for predators who, like snakes moving in on an easy kill, could put the bite on him at any time.
The truth is, my passenger was in a dwindling spiral that was doing about 100 miles per hour in the slow speed zone. And if you listen carefully you will soon hear the inevitable sound of him crashing into a wall.
Nothing dangerous about clicking here for Pictures From A Taxi, however.