Monday, December 29, 2008

modi operandus (मोदी ओपेरंदुस)


Before and after the snowfall on the far west side of Manhattan.

JFK pigeons have more character than LGA, but get less attention.

East 14th at crack of dawn. Silhouette of Con Ed power plant?

Cabs on Queens Plaza by 21 Jump Street. Island of money on the horizon.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

METONYMIC QUANDARIES

Last Friday some schmuck in a suit jumped in at Hudson and Duane. "33 Maiden Lane as fast as you can please", he begged with puppy dog eyes. This as I was attempting to fit a cup, brimming with blazing coffee, into a stiff holder. It squirted and spilled in every direction as I focused on playing hardball with the 1.2 mile stretch on behalf of my passenger. Upon arrival he blurted out, "you did a real nice thing for a really shitty person", which left me scratching my head. Maybe it had to do with his destination: the federal reserve?

Six bland fares later Lisa Foti, the owner/designer of a womens boutique jumped in on her way to work. She's suffering from dwindling patronitis, even though her prices are reasonable and her fashions optimal. She deserves to stay afloat.

Four easily forgettable fares later an offensively opulent, mid aged woman takes her sweet time getting in, covered in gold and diamonds, and smothered in shopping bags. The kind that tips the least of anyone. Just as we take off, an alluringly scabrous woman with a hefty rucksack who looks like she's with National Geographic stands on the roadside hailing the next cab. I should have known it would pay off to turn a blind eye on the name dropper in order to come across the swashbuckler. So for five Soho blocks I was trying hard not to forget that this indeed is a human being, who perhaps got lobotomized by top secret purveyors of greed, thereby having no recollection of her humanitarian nature. Upon turning unto southbound Lafayette we coast alongside a trio of double parked mack trucks. Suddenly she blurts out: "stop here, stop here!" With my tongue already chewed on and clenched, my response came out ruder than it ever had: "I can't triple park here BUDDY!" A nicer tone would have been, "I like to go out of my way to not be in the way.

Many of the cabs at my garage have blemished transmissions or delayed mechanisms. The accelerator doesn't respond at first, and when you bring the pedal further down towards the metal it jerks into action, thereby jolting the entire vehicle forward in one violent thrust. Not only must I endure this when a red light changes green, but also every single time traffic slows and speeds up. On days like this I have to explain to every passenger that I'm not having epileptic seizures, nor am I suffering from perpetual jackrabbit syndrome. A lot of times they don't even know what I'm talking about because they're totally accustomed to cabbies driving in this manner out of habit. No wonder half of the cabs are always on the verge of breaking down. We've forgotten it's a virtue to treat things as if they were ours, even if we're only borrowing them. I understand the spite felt towards acquisitive garage owners and dispatchers, but taking it out on the taxi hurts your fellow yellow colleagues the most. Oh right, we never had any camaraderie either. You steal my fare. I'll steal the next one's. It makes our roof cones look like dorsal fins. And our minds like that of a malnourished shark. And a City Harvest
truck rolls by with a very fitting ad: "34% of New Yorkers have to choose between food and rent."

The holding lot at JFK has recently come under great scrutiny by many cabdrivers, due to it's new rule allowing wheelchair accessible taxi vans the privilege of going first, while everyone else sits in line for hours. It already was an almost abortive idea to stick around for a return fare after bringing someone to the airport, but now it's just preposterous. The city wants to become handicap friendlier by giving these van cabbies an incentive. But now the lane designated strictly for accessible taxi vans has become everlastingly packed with them and the dispatchers keep that line flowing interminably, while nearly 500 other cabs rot in deliquescence. So the last time I was at the Kennedy taxi hold might have very well been the last indeed. A crowd of us were standing near the management office, debating the situation. After a while two drivers proceeded to ask the head of dispatch how much longer they were going to keep us idle on behalf of the vans. One of them was Ethiopian and the other Nepalese. But both of them lifted up their shoes and pretended to aim at the management, which made everyone break into a roar of laughter and compliments for Bush over his sharp reflexes. Over 4 hours later I was released into Terminal 5, only to take this teenager home to South Ozone Park, literally 11 blocks away and a dime tip. I couldn't use my shorty pass because my mother's best friend needed a free ride from Midtown East to Newark Airport so I had to get back on time. You can imagine how substandard my income was that day.

Speaking of low wages, the other day, around noon, I picked up two ladies from the Port Authority. The daily lease and gas had taken 6 hours to pay off that morning and I had just broken even. We sat at a red light on 41st and Eleventh Avenue. When it turned green I drove forward slowly for a left turn. A textile merchant on his cell phone hadn't realized it was his turn to stop. His SUV entered the intersection at about 10 MPH. I braked and began blowing my horn. Inches away he noticed what was going on and slammed on his brakes, but still managed to put a big dent above my front right tire. It turns out he speaks Hebrew like me, but with a thick Persian accent. He begged me not to call the police and promised to work out a deal with my garage. I had no part in the fault, yet my net profit that shift was nearly zero. At least I didn't lose $800 in damages. I simply had to return the cab to Queens and go home for the day. Beware of New Jersey plates as they make their way towards the Lincoln Tunnel.

A payroll investigator by day. Macy's employee by night. She had me rush her between jobs extra fast in order to change into an all-black outfit. I almost told her that in the summertime a lot of teenagers change into their uniforms in the backseat, on their way from school to flipping burgers. She was definitely one of my more hardcore passengers, but probably wouldn't feel comfortable with that. Later on that evening I took the manager of a
lounge home. We had a lively chat about our mutual love of ethno-mesh and he promised to let me in free whenever. At some point I was refueling on the corner of Metropolitan and Bushwick, when a Chinese trio behind me asked the clerk if any tire shops were still open. I ended up switching out their flat and they forced me to take a twenty bill. It did take nearly twenty minutes anyhow. From there I gave Daniel St. George a ride up to his studio in L.I.C.. Then a Bolivian bartender who moved here when he was 5 y/o (like me) home to the Bronx. Then Almanzo the Greco-Cuban ABC soap opera actor from Sheridan Square to Jersey City. Then an Asian-Australian Londoner to dinner with her friends. All these ethnic mixtures had the gamma waves of my prefrontal cortex buzzing all night. But the psyche of a cabdriver can shift quickly from carefree endorphin rushes to fight or flight adrenaline gushes.

I had just parked along the taxi relief stand on Ninth and 42nd. I was about to cross the street for a snack when a shiny new BMW reversed with maniacal force into the empty space in front of my cab, where I happened to be standing. He stopped just shy of sending my kneecaps into oblivion. Another yellow cab was trying to park in that same spot, designated by law as one of the only places in the city where taxis can park free of all hassle in order to piss, poop, eat, sip, and stretch out their cramped bodies. The cabbie honked incessantly, like a calf witnessing the slaughtering of his mother, but the BMW wouldn't surrender. I ran around to the driver's window and pointed at the official D.O.T. sign while explaining loud enough for him to hear through all the commotion and glass. By now the bums from the local homeless shelter were in on the riot and several bystanders were watching, including other (more browbeaten) cabdrivers.

The wealthy old suburban white guy (NJ plates) left his embellished wife in the car and got in my face, threatening to hit me if I uttered another word, which I did. He made a fist and swung his scrawny little arm at my mouth, causing my jagged teeth to slice a slit in my gum. All I could do is just keep repeating, "you're not allowed to park here because it's reserved for taxicabs who wish to go on break". He got back inside and peeled off. One homeless woman commended me for not punching him back. That's how much I love my hack license.

As if one unusual taxi tale per week weren't enough, here's another. I picked up this short Puerto Rican dude on Houston and Allen the other night. With slurred speech he said "150th and Amsterdam". During our entire ride up the FDR he kept asking if I wanted a ticket for not illuminating my name and picture on the partition. The bulb was simply drooping off to the side. He also accused me off trying to take a longer route because I'd made a U-turn on Houston in order to head towards the Joe DiMaggio, which I agree on hindsight was less than the best option (2nd only to the FDR). But I wasn't doing anything on purpose, and I turned back around to the east upon request. He kept piling on other offenses I was guilty of and assured me I was going to get written up. I was dumbfounded and he was looking more and more like an undercover TLC cop with each passing moment.

He called someone to meet him at the destination and mentioned my violations. Was this a prank that would eventually turn into a mafia hold up? At the end he said, "sit tight", and stepped outside. I immediately got out too and demanded my $25.00. He was on the phone again and actually directed a real life New York State Police car over to our corner. The officer got out and wanted to know WTF was going on. He clearly resembled my passenger, who kept pointing at the partition, demanding I get a ticket. I mentioned he had not paid the fare yet. The cop pulled out his wallet and handed me exact cash, and told me to get lost. Then he grabbed what seemed like his younger cousin or sibling and dragged him away, referring to him by his first name, and visibly embarrassed about the whole scene. No ticket. No robbery. And I even found a fare headed back downtown.


Quick note to fellow cabdrivers:
I've decided to post technical taxi/traffic information on a separate
blog.

Figured I'd spare the rest of my readers the irrelevant advise. However, if you drive in NYC otherwise, you may find it useful too. Not that I have any sympathy for private motorists. I wish only buses, bicycles, delivery trucks, and taxicabs were allowed in Manhattan. Either that or DMV requiring a special license to drive inside the island, attainable only if you display a heightened sense of consideration for everything around you, the ability to merge smoothly/alternately, and a commitment to make full use of every square inch and be alert 110% of the time. Obviously a lot of so called cabbies would lose their jobs too. A, this ain't for everyone b.



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NOMENCLATURE OF FEASIBILITIES


Cabdrivers never quite know where along a random route someone might appear with their hand in the air, and where they might want to go. It's fascinating to come home after a long shift and use one's list of all the passengers who occupied the back seat to create an intricate map. It's like GPS tracking at the TLC, only more colorful. For example, the map on the uppermost center of the collage uses brown lines to depict when the taxi's meter was engaged and blue for the vacant moments. That was a busy day, apparently.

I had my first 'double shift' ever on Monday. That means I got to keep the cab for 24 hours instead of the usual 'twelve'. Carl Scorza was one of my 42 passengers that night/day/night, and one my favorites ever. We were talking about how heartbreaking it is to think of all the people twice and thrice our age who were slumbering in the 7 deadly degrees of wind chill. Somehow we got around to the topic of art. He paints panoramas of our city for a living. I told him about my collage journals and he agreed that some of these galleries wouldn't mind displaying blown up versions of my illustrated taxi routes on their walls. It's only a matter of style pattern proliferation and some self marketing. But whatever. I'm not quite the business mind. I don't scheme or contemplate things too well. I'm more of a doer. A determined donkey with a limited arsenal of unharnessed will power, geographic savant syndrome, and the kind of innate bounteousness that would take a bullet for you.

The least likable fare of that shift was this conservative German Jew who entered the cab around Turtle Bay at 15:30 and said, "I live near JFK so get on the QMT." He engaged in an avalanche of emotional discussions on his cellular the entire 90 minutes aboard, and even shut the partition on my face when I tried to communicate. From what I gathered, his wife was in the hospital, both daughters at home with a fever, and his father-in-law was not satisfied with the $5,000 donation he had made to their synagogue that morning. He interlaced his English with some Yiddish and even French at one point. It turns out his destination was Cedarhurst, a tiny suburb just on the Nassau side of the border. I wasn't entitled to have refused him, but he had known just how to manipulate me anyhow. He proceeded to pay with a credit card, but somehow brought the transaction around 180 degrees while I was paying attention to his disconcerted spiel, and printed a cash receipt. I found out at the end of the night. I'd been cheated out of almost 60 dollars.

The fare that followed him nearly made up for it. From Long Island I'd gone straight to the central holding lot at Kennedy. There must have been 400 cabs ahead of me, yet I was out on terminal 3D with a Korean Los Angelino in under half an hour. A hotel in Teaneck (NJ) was his destination and his googlemap printout said to take the Whitestone to the Cross Bronx (perhaps the most congested 'express'way in NYC). My radio was scraping in and out of clarity so I'd have to do without the reports. I took the GCP over the RFK, up the HRD, and across the GWB. Miraculously smooth in spite of the afternoon rush. That fare came out to 98 after his generous tip. I turned in at 23:00 that night. Could have stayed out until 5 am. Oh well.

Friday, December 5, 2008

VESTIBULE OF LOLLIGAGGERS

Every so often a cabdriver will run out of change because an unbroken succession of passengers pay with 20 dollar bills. Other times a cabbie might have accumulated a thick wad of singles, fives, and tens... to the point it don't even fit in the crevices of the cockpit or shirt pocket anymore. But when all you have is large bills, you can't pick up another passenger until you've parked and gone inside an establishment to break a Jackson or two, or maybe even a Grant. The hot dog and donut carts are quite often unwilling and it can take forever to find legal parking. So my instinct is always to jump out of my cab at a red light and bum rush every taxi on the block, which usually works after the fourth or so try.

What I've discovered though, is that the nicest cabbies in New York are the ones from Tibet. Without fail, they're always ready to help. May their unique language and culture survive the onslaught of now almost 6 decades of foreign occupation. In this city there is a united nations of taxi driving. There are very few countries I haven't seen represented. I have close friendships with a Guinean, a Turk, an Uzbek, a Paraguayan, a Belorussian, an Algerian, an Honduran, and an Afro-Chinese American. We'll periodically call each other to warn of new police traps and bustling taxi stands. Or we run into each other at the airport holding lots.

If it were up to me, I'd be backpacking around the world right now. And that has been the plan ever since I graduated from high school. But no one on my mother's side of the family had completed college yet, so she badly wanted me to not waste time. I spent 5 years earning a degree and another 3 working odd jobs to pay off the loans. And now that the coast is clear, the economy is nearing collapse and my immediate family needs my financial assistance. So instead of using the taxi income to save for travel, I'm having to give every bit of it to my parents, so they don't go bankrupt. They can barely keep up with their debts and I feel as if I'm repaying them for having provided me with such a fantastic childhood. Meanwhile, my little sister is almost half way through college and plans to be the next Jean-Paul Gaultier or Vivienne Westwood. And she wants to utilize her fortune on improving the lives of others (including us), if only those filthy rich with a fashion sense still exist after she graduates.

Last week a Haitian woman who lives in the Pacific Northwest jumped into my cab at Kennedy airport. As we approached the Van Wyck Expressway I saw the total traffic standstill that awaited us up ahead. So I let her know that I taking the Conduit as an alternate. While trying to hear what 1010 am had to say about the L.I.E. and the BQE, so I could then choose between Woodhaven and Atlantic, she interjected with what would become a long metaphysical rant about using mind to manipulate matter. She more or less blamed my lack of spiritual strength for every thickening of cars we'd encounter. I do understand that our thoughts have more power than we give them credit for. Having studied Kabbalah for years, the concept of mind over matter isn't alien to me. But this woman seemed to lack a sense of humility about it all. She was almost conceded in her mannerisms, no matter how much I tried to not pass judgment. She instructed me to check out Ramtha and read up on the double slit experiment. Here's a cartoon video demonstration that effectively blew me away.

A couple days ago I was idling on Madison Avenue in the mid 40s. I always remain in the same spot when a passenger leaves. I jot down worthwhile observations or read a few lines for a minute, to advance in my book, and then glance at each mirror and window for prospective fares. If no one shows up within 60 seconds I'll merge back into the flow of everlasting fiberglass. But often enough someone does get in during that short span. In fact it's usually a better tactic than to instantaneously jackrabbit back into the continuum like most cabbies do.

This particular time four suits from Chicago knocked on the shell. I popped the trunk and walked back to load their luggage. All four of them were so happy-go-lucky and wide eyed, but started scratching their foreheads when I reached for their bags. In such a routine operation, I hadn't noticed that I'd forgotten about some cargo of my own. Two dusty old chairs that I'd salvaged from a dumpster were occupying the large tub of usually empty space. As I set them out unto the sidewalk to re abandon them, these lovely Illinoisians suggested that I place the chairs on top of the luggage. "But they're dirty!?!" They consulted each other for an instant consensus. I was going to end up keeping the chairs that I needed for the table I 'd found weeks ago in Queens. You see my mother had donated much of our furniture to the college kids who moved into our old apartment in Brooklyn. So we had to re scavenge the curbs.

Jill, an investment manager, got into the cab by where the viaduct sucks Park Avenue up into the Helmsley building. She was headed to a doctor's appointment precisely where the viaduct ends on the south side. We crawled above Vanderbilt and 42nd for almost 10 minutes to go the 4 blocks. She said something on the phone, so nonchalant and ruthless that it reverberates in my head. "....so did we get Margaret laid off yet? We've got to that a.s.a.p. if we want to remain...." No remorse. No human being on the receiving end, on the verge of losing what we, in this society, base our self worth on. Don't take me for a hopeless altruist or even a bleeding heart. I am one of those who believes that our economy has been based on air. On speculation and debt, as opposed to something more substantial, like resources and brow sweat. Perhaps it will take a total meltdown for us to rethink our roles and our purpose in life. Speaking of learning to appreciate what you have, Chop Shop is the best film I've watched this month. It's about this homeless kid in Queens who makes it work by being really resourceful and he even helps his older sister out.

The other day I was waiting at the garage to be assigned a taxi. It was around 2:30 am and there were about 4 other drivers sitting in the lounge alongside me, hoping to get a head start on their day shift. I started chatting with an older guy from Bangladesh, who was enthusiastic to teach me everything he knew about the history of his country. The catchiest thing about his lecture was his repeated use of the number 3,500. That is how many miles lie between Pakistan and Bangladesh if you go by sea, which is what they used to do when it was one country, because India was enemy territory. 3,500 is also the amount of princes in the Saudi government and the amount of nukes possessed by India, if I understood him correctly. Back when his country was known as East Pakistan, he served in the Pakistani air force. But one day they put him in a concentration camp on suspicion of being a spy. Long story short, we all were assigned cabs that morning and went on to toil and compete for customers on the streets of NY for more consecutive hours than your average human being can handle.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

cartophilic cabbie(s)

A few who read my blog tell me that it's fragmented to a fault. Spits and chunks of thoughts splattered across loosely knit amalgams (paragraphs). Pardon me if this style of writing is less than articulate to sift through, but I don't plan on modifying it. And frankly, there happens to be a common thread if you sit in my boxers while you read. Letting you in on the world through my eyes. So let me sit in your boxers for a change. Write an update on your life and share it. I would like to read it. I have a harrowing handful of friends who have fallen off the face of my planet.

above picture from mdcassano's photostream


Wooster is my favorite street to jostle and clatter down. It's one of the bumpiest stretches in all of Manhattan. Got that 3rd world charm. Barranquilla in the heart of SoHo. A mixed moonscape of parched cobblestone, half replaced with lumps of asphalt, and further degenerated into clusters of bottomless potholes. But when the other streets get too plain and polished, I must look elsewhere for that besmirched inspiration to give me another electrifying reminder to live fully.

If I had to pick one luminary, it would be Sarah Chayes. I first learned of her one night in 2003. I'm allergic to television, except when PBS is on. So I joined my house mates, who were watching. Nightline was covering Sarah's newfound
purpose, living in Afghanistan and serving all of humanity by helping people on the ground rebuild their war torn lives. She had been a well respected journalist on behalf of NPR for years, but had now decided to not just report on social injustices, but actually do something about them. She joined the efforts of an aid organization, and more recently founded an agricultural cooperative to produce viable Opium alternatives. Bill Moyers interviewed her this year and I am still as starstruck as ever.

I can again return to intensely appreciating life for all it's worth. Every drop of water that bathes and hydrates my viscera. Every watt of light that illuminates my journal at night. Every potent rumination that comes into sight. Every split second hand eye thigh tarsal auricular excremental coordination. And most importantly, my innate doggedness. Sarah herself said, "I don't think that hope is relevant. I think determination is all that counts. You just have to try. It doesn't matter if you hope you're going to succeed or not. You have to keep trying." Is it OK for a 27 year old taxi driver to have a crush on a 46 year old foreign aid correspondent?

Mikey, a close pal of mine here in Nu Yo, happens to be a cabdriver too (turned him on to it). We both have a NYC Parks and Recreation Department membership and visit the gym biweekly to work out and shoot hoops, as a way to combat taxi dystrophy. Afterwards we engage in map buffing activities, like brainstorming mnemonics for museum mile. Running along Fifth Ave, across from Central Park, is a long string of cultural hubs that cabbies ought to know by heart. So we came up with funny phrases to address the code A-B-C-J-H-N-M-F, which lists them in order from north to south....
1. Museum for African Art
2. El Museo del Barrio
3. Museum of the City of New York
4. Jewish Museum
5. Hewitt National Design museum
6. Guggenheim
7. Neue Galerie
8. Metropolitan Museum of Art
9. Frick Collection.
His was "Any boy could jump high given no more friction."
Carly's (GF) was "Always be careful just have God nearby mother fu%#ers."
Mine was "After Bartholomew captured Jerusalem he got New Mexico fast."

A pair of Upper West Side moms and their boisterous children got in across from Rockefeller. Returning home from a birthday party, the kids slapped their little
stickers all over my windows. Minutes later the moms paused their convulsive flapdoodle and reprimanded the kids, ordering them to peel the stickers back off. I immediately looked up from my chimerical road gaze and said, "oh, that's alright, let them leave it. I love (anarchic) decorations."
"You are just the nicest cabdriver I ever met."
Terminus (after 2 separate stops): $2 tip on a $12.50 fare.
That's a 16% tip. But they paid with credit card (cabbie is charged %5 fee).
That's 73 cents taken off my income. I get $13.77 instead of $14.50, which might sound like pocket change to you, but try calculating these losses across hundreds of transactions. It pays to be a nice cabbie. At least my garage doesn't care if I bring the cab back with minor scratches, dents, cracks, or sticker littered windows.

It's one of those rare moments when the taxi stand on 8 Avenue is depleted of cabs. I pull into the lane that I would have otherwise driven right past. Two garbage truck drivers step in on route to Chelsea's NYCHA. My only efficient option is to hover near the crosswalk until the timing is right (red signal) and then swiftly turn left unto 33rd from that 5th and furthest lane. The instant I perform this trick the two men break into loud jubilation. "He just pulled a triple cutoff!"

Hastily I check my mirrors, misinterpreting their words to mean we're in the midst of getting pulled over. "Relax broth-a, we were just enjoying your dexterity back there cause we do it ALL the time. We drive (and collect rubbish) that way all over the outer boroughs. That's how we get our runs done." They turn out to be better tippers than most a suit and tie out there. And for the remainder of that shift I didn't rub eyeballs with any other jehus for lane seniority. Not from the realm of sanitation, nor deliveries. Just your common cadmium yellow torpedoes and one anomaly. A gang of pugnacious Harleys refused to allow me past their gastropodous entourage. Finally someone on the road with a bigger ego than mine (exception: NYPD).

The answer that I resent the most when I ask a passenger if they happen to have a route preference is "whichever way's faster". As if I plan on milking the meter when they answer no. But whenever I contemplate a policy of just keeping shut mouthed with internalized navigation, memories of refreshingly symbiotic brainstorms with effusive riders keep me from giving up on the immense potential of communication. Mixing the ample yet ultimately abridged wisdom of a hack with the commuter's knowledge of patterns in their circuits of routine is a recipe for immaculate cab excursions. But even then something can go terribly wrong.

Last week I was on the Prospect Expressway with a pleasant passenger who was headed home from the Flatiron to Kensington (BK) at 3:30 am. Our lovely Crown Vic workhorse of a space shuttle suddenly started shaking violently and the steering wheel became nearly unnegotiable. Slowing it down to a stop on the shoulder felt like trying to land an airliner with its landing gear paralyzed. The lady was really cool about it all as I made a 360 degree inspection of our overworked mule. No flat tires, no unevenness in the suspension, no external symptoms of anything. We agreed to coast the last couple miles with hazards blinking. The car would start out normal, but every 1/4 minute the vicious trembling would resume, even as we kept around 10 mph. Coming to a full stop was its only pacification. She was racking her brain for a round-the-clock repair shop, but I explained that the garage from which I lease it was solely authorized and responsible.

We made it to her place and the tip revealed mammoth compassion. She tried convincing me to just have my garage summon a tow truck, which was an option. But the whole thing would take well over two hours and I had to get back in business. So I crawled cautiously all the way up Bedford and over the Pulaski. Those last few feet to the hydraulic lifts a mechanic took over and his dramatic signature pedal jerk finally made the front wheel fold on itself. He literally dragged the front end forward by sheer acceleration, but he had the whole problem cured in 45 minutes. Unfortunately though, these mechanics are so jaded and aloof that they have no interest indoctrinating me with the process of troubleshooting, which I'd sponge up in a heartbeat if only he were into Mohandas Gandhi. Learn as if you were to live forever and teach as if you were to die tomorrow (I bent it a bit).

ps: My big Bob Dylan revelation this week: It's 'lay lady lay' (not 'lady DeLane').

NOTE TO CABBIES:
Beware of the $115 for box blocking having recently become a non moving violation. The meter maids on E37th St. are busy handing these out to everyone stuck crosstown inside the intersection as you crawl through Park Avenue. My passenger's comment: 'That is such a cheap shot'. I've seen this activity in one other spot: 3 Avenue crossing E56th Street. The two rightmost lanes get jammed with those headed to the Queensboro. The meter maids have a field day here.


THIS WEEK'S SHORT LIST OF RED LIGHT CAMERA SIGHTINGS:
1AV across 63rd: red light cam (although i never seen it flash) This link contains a long list of
some other spots

Friday, November 14, 2008

To travel on a shoestring.....










.....is the ultimate purpose in life. Or at least the best way to discover its meaning. I am devastatingly disappointed when I look at this map. By now I should have seen at least 50% of the world. Daily I have fleeting thoughts of just running away from NYC with nothing but a toothbrush, a journal, and a change of clothes in my backpack. One of these days. Perhaps when my DMV points reach their limit and my license gets suspended. I'll simply pack up and walk the docks in search of a ship that would allow me to cross the ocean in exchange for keeping the bathrooms clean or something. And once I get there it'll be nothing but hitch hiking, scavenging, odd jobs, and couch surfing through as many countries as humanly possible.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

FIERCELY LOYAL GRAVY TRAINS

An azimuthal equidistant projection, centered at the North Pole, between two olive branches. That is the flag of the UN. What I wonder though is: who raises all the other flags every morning. Each time I drive past the complex, I can't decide if each nation has someone in charge of this daily ceremony, or if an anonymous team of blue collars is dealt the task. Is it done in unison, all 192 member states along the colorful corridor of flagpoles? I always forget to ask when a foreign delegate gets in my cab.

This week I picked up a book that I had given up trying to read years ago, because of time constraints and random circumstances. Now I feel bad for having neglected Jay Griffith's magnanimously omniscient writing. Some of my favorite chunks so far have been these:
"Time is not measured in hours but in experience."
"Only those who live not in time but in the present are happy."
"Sea Horses mate at full moon and it's the male that gets pregnant."
"Modernity knows the strut and the fret but not the hour."
"Time is highly political."

It was almost 5 am on Water and Pine when an Irish bartender stumbled out into the street. Nearly choking on his own drool he just barely sputtered directions at me. "Brooklyn Bridge. BQE to Maurice Ave." We got off the highway in Maspeth (Queens) and he kept saying, "left here". But there was no left to make. "You mean right?" He just got louder with his left rant. So I pointed to the right at the last second and asked, "this way?". He agreed buoyantly, fading in and out of consciousness. When we stopped at his duplex he opened the door and literally fell out unto the curb. The red flags inside my head had begun to tatter in the wind. I walked around and got in his face with an outstretched open palm. You owe me 24 dollars. "Alright, alright don't be a prick about it." He only had 11 in cash, 7 ketchup packets, a wad of napkins, a set of keys, and no CC.

After checking his emptied pockets 5 more times he had me follow him inside. When he turned on the lights his girlfriend laid half asleep on the couch and the dog had ripped apart countless random objects that were strewn about the floor. He made her go into the back and get money. This entire scenario reminds me of the time I tried to help my phlebotomist crawl out of her depression. An impromptu camping trip to the beach ended up inside a pitch black trailer home littered with mounds of dog shit that I got all over myself while trying to sneak out.

Five ladies from the UK giggled and gawked at my traffic maneuvers, all the way from Le Parker Meridian to TGIF. Just like their hotel's motto, they are "uptown but not uptight". And it was TGI Sunday to them. And it's true.... not all of Great Britain is cheap. These ladies tipped handsomely.

Out of the blue, my mother began screaming at me from inside her bedroom. I ran over to see her watching ABC news. She scolded me for always offering to make sure people's unwanted electronics end up away from the landfill. I try to be some sort of quasi eco-warrior but today the TV is saying that electronic recycling has a very dark side. It all ends up smuggled to China, where people in slums melt it down in exchange for $2 a day and a slew of ailments. Once again, the only true solution is reducing rampant consumerism and not being so naive all the time.

At the age of 14, my dad and I were traversing a darkened parking lot after our tennis match in the lit courts of a park in a suburb of Houston. A light in the night sky caught our attention. We watched it for a quarter hour as it made extraterrestrial movements. Hovering, then shooting across in a straight line, then shifting directions at unbelievable angles. It was too far away to reveal any structural detail. Just a white blob, slightly larger than that of a visible planet. Nothing is impossible to me. I used to borrow UFO books from the nonfiction section of the library as a teenager. The whole topic's been put on the shelf for years now though.

I didn't always have a job that I felt belonged to me and I to it. Being a yellow cabbie in NYC has indeed been my longest lasting and favorite source of employment. But it's only been that way for 25 months. Before that I had been a truck driver for a residential moving company in New Jersey, a bicycle messenger on the streets of Manhattan, a produce van deliveryman for a warehouse in Miami, a remodelation debris grunt (manual laborer) on oceanfront condos, a shelver/page at a public library, a graveyard shift custodian at my own university, a pedicab peddler (bike taxi) in West Palm Beach, a helper electrician digging trenches, assistant to a wheelchair bound nursery/metal shop owner, a nursing home companion, a silk fabric art exhibitionist's assistant, and last (and least)..... when I turned 16, my first job ever was at McDonald's. I've come a long way from $5.25 an hour.

CAUTION to NYC taxicabs:
new rule: no left on 40th off broadway.
new red lite camera: 9 av crossing 26th


NOTE TO ALL:
Take a moment to sign the petition at www.donotmail.org
and prevent telemarketing calls on your cellular by dialing 888.382.1222.
Follow the automated prompt for your 10 digits, or just get rid of the damn device.

Monday, November 3, 2008

MOSAIC OF TAUTOLOGIES

Member FDIC don't mean jack squat. The car wash restroom on W24th has a sign that says "This bathroom is available to all who need it". You must always put a dollar in there to help maintain the cleanliness. And they do a commendable job of it. It's the most community oriented thing in all of Chelsea. Aside from the gracious proliferation of public relief zones (star bux), an accessible non profit restroom in Manhattan means jack squat and much more.

Not flossing greatens my risk of heart disease, but my arm wrestling match against languorous apathy itself is dwindling in most aspects of my life, aside from the fact that I militantly pour heart health Emergen-C powder into every glass. Lycopene and mineral ascorbates to counter poor hygiene and lack of exercise? Atrophy from perpetual operation of a yellow cab.

Don't go one inch past the white line when approaching Avenue of the Americas while westbound along Canal unless you want a 5000 cent postcard in the mail. If you encounter a street hail, esp. an individual standing snobbishly smack dab in the middle of the street and not budging over as you angle and decelerate, then ever so slowly coast right past them as they follow frantic until snuggly curbside. They have no right to obstruct the flow of traffic for self-absorbe
d purposes. And half the time they will turn their head and hail the next taxi.
Which weeds out those who have no cognizance of public safety and most likely no appreciation for any driver. Move on, they aren't worth the hassle.

Can't afford to do that, you say? Hard time fishing for passengers as it is? Well, I have a formula that works for me, any hour and anywhere in Manhattan, and parts of Queens and Brooklyn. Just go straight ahead until 2 or more vacant taxis are cruising in front of you. Once you spot a plurality of lit roof lights, turn off at the next street. If someone on that block is coming out of their building, you'll be the first available cab. Otherwise just turn again on that following avenue, which often gets you dibs on that block as well. Repeat step one and two over and over. This gets the goods. Believe me. There's nothing more detrimental to a cabdriver's income than to sit in an ocean of empty cabs. Avoid drag race chicken fights. Make the dough and get the hell home. We don't burn fossil fuels for the fun
of it. And it ain't just for the hell of it that I'm adamantly against splitting atoms and creating other high level waste.

Regionalism can get sort of silly sometimes. This week Katy Couric corrected her guest on the pronunciation of 'Nevada'. She made him say it like 'vast', not 'far'. I looked into it and discovered that folks out west believe Katy's correction to be appropriate. I doubt any Nevadans will read this, but 'nevada' happens to be in Spanish (Espanol). It means covered in snow. Hence, the Sierra Nevada (mountain range in California) literally means 'snow-covered hills'. And Nevada is pronounced like Dada (art cultural movement), not rat or mad hatter.

I really do try to withhold from judging others, especially when they're passengers in my cab. People have their reasons for tipping the way they do. But with every new fare, I automatically begin to compile a picture of their socioeconomic status and personal value system out of what I piece together from a conversation, the rear view mirror, or the price tag for an event I'm taking them to. Last week I brought several groups of people to the convention center and back, so they could pick up their runner numbers to put on their abdomen during the NYC marathon. I learned that it costs $177 ($232 for foreigners) to register in the race. Based on that, I'd say the Californians were generous tippers, but the Englishwomen were cheap scoundrels. It's not like these ladies came from London's east end and have spent their entire lives saving up for this.

I just finished reading a fabulous zine:
WORLD DOMINATION THROUGH DUMPSTER DIVING #19.
It features an article called YOU DON'T DESERVE BRAIN CANCER.
YOU DESERVE THE FACTS. Amy Worthi
ngton reveals cell phone industry secrets and makes a connection between it and the endless civil war in the Congo. This was published in 2003 and since then the violence in that country has all but disappeared from the news. Ironically, only days after I read the zine, this unique slice of human misery reemerges in the mass media.

I had a recent rider from Albania whose name (Fiutra) means butterfly in Shqip (her old Balkan language). She's especially memorable because she said that when she tells people that she's Albanian, they say oh you're from the state capital (Albany). Another conspicuous rider was a Scotsman in a suit who's traveled to all the Central Asian nations on behalf of the beer industry. He's having difficulty resolving his visa here because his passport contains stamps from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrghystan.

DHS don't like the fact that he's tasted authentic home brews around the world. And in yet a third illustrious fare, the Jennifer Aniston lookalike had you stop by a sidewalk cart so she could buy her 15 month old a hot dog and got one for you too. That never happens. Who ever wonders if the cabdriver is hungry? Then there was the German couple who just disembarked a cruise ship. Their only 48 hours in NYC were looking very pluvial. I came up with the most cliche idea for that: MUSEUMS?. "Boring", they murmured defiantly. Right then I had a clairvoyant moment. I knew exactly what they'd like to hear. "Did you know we have a MUSEUM OF SEX in NYC?" Their eyes lit up as they pulled out a pen to write down the address. That tip that would manifest into another pleasant tip as we pulled into their hotel.

As a cabdriver it's alarming to discover how little people actually know about the miseries that entail our profession. $110 to lease the cab for a day and another $40 (way less than a couple months ago) for gasoline. Roughly half the shift goes by before we actually begin earning an income. We drive anywhere from 12 to 17 hours a pop, in circles, through some of the most temerarious traffic on the planet. The odds stacked against us are twice as tall as the Empire State Building, and still we manage to make due.

If a passenger shows interest, I'll speak their godforsaken ear off about it all, as they lay there in astonishment, wide eyed and open mouthed. More questions flood their heads and the answers keep churning. God bless us, the yellow children of Gotham. I think the exact number of human faces we see in a year's time is greater than any other line of work, simply just from ceaselessly scanning crowded streets with eagle eyes while maintaining a thirty mile an hour peripatetic.

WARNING TO N
YC YELLOW CABBIES:
There's quite often a speed trap on the FDR North, just before you go under the Brooklyn Bridge. If you enter where South Street ends or off the 9A underpass (tunnel), do not go a single MPH over 40. Everyone floors it here because it's the
very beginning of the highway. A cop stands in the shoulder just over the hill. Only other radar gun trap I've seen in NYC is SB on Cross Bay Blvd. as you enter the residential zone of Broad Channel the limit plummets to 30 MPH and an unmarked hides in the median. On the opposite side of Queens, when WB on Astoria Blvd do not make a left on Crescent St. from 7 to 10 am. One of those little golf cart-like interceptors is busy around the corner. And in Manhattan, I'm pretty sure what I witnessed had to do with that far left lane on Broadway as you're about to cross 14th. It says on a sign and on the ground that you MUST turn left. Taxis break this rule 50 times a minute. Well, I saw folks getting pulled over systematically on that southeast corner one day last week. Must've been that rule being enforced. That's all for now.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

BAILIWIX AND BIVOUAX


Read (rap) these homemade lyrics to the beat of this instrumental:

Self appointed guardians of the status quo
Plainclothes detail struck with its own ammo
A deported Dominican at Queensbridge station
only tried to avoid some Metro card inflation

But who's a cabdriver to judge the situation
Roles would undergo weekly rotation if we had our way
Bus drivers, traffic agents learning empathy the hard way
Chess matches manifest in brain cell expulsion via urination
Without pointing at an empty bottle like taxi percolation

Cops hide out by the south exit ramp with a perpetually painful paper fine
For those coming off the FDR unto Houston without stopping at the sign
Little kid in the cab asks his mom: 'is it better to be early or on time?'
And when we arrive he asks 'are we late?' you know he's in line...
Phenomenal we're malleable as clay and yet some other mom allows her child to play
with the backseat GPS screen during payment with a credit card
and almost beats the fare by denying cash confirmation with no regard

A Chicago businessman bounces out of hotel 41 and hasn't had breakfast thus far
Cabbie asks if he wants to grab a slice as they roll passed the 99 cent pizza bazaar
Odd questions like this hurled from the front seat make a square feel awkward as fuck
But hey eccentric hacks can have exceptional knacks and still deliver the hurried puck
Just figured it made sense to sacrifice 10 seconds and undo two famished bellies
But this suit had no trust that both the means and the end could be smooth as strawberries

There's no shortage of white collar criminals, they're practically everywhere
Beijing reroutes water from thousands of miles and it's a loss that the farmers bare.
Four elder intellectualists crowd into the cab on their way to an art museum nearby
One of them compares collage journaling to visual hip hop, which nearly makes me cry.

On the next post you'll see a list of traffic regulations for each Manhattan intersection
and a list of all the other jobs that I've had since the age of 16 and their effects on my soul

And a list of peculiar prerequisites for the soul mate I haven't met before.
It's been plenty of years since I've had to find myself looking at the front door.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

NO MARGIN FOR ERROR

Azerbaijan votes but there's no pluralism. Hindus and Christians in India force conversion upon each other. 40% of the world has no access to proper toilets. But all you can do is complain about the people who ride in NYC taxicabs. This pompous prick in a corporate suit walked across 50th street and pulled on your door handle as you pulled away, after writing a note in your journal. He was like 'whoa!' (applied to horses) and you braked abruptly. Stuck your head through the window and told him he should speak in advance... say "taxi" or something, you know? But he found this offensive. "Know what? I'll find another cab, idiot!", he slurred in a loathsome fashion.

They think taking a cab is like checking into a vacant restroom at Starbucks. No need to recognize there being an actual human behind the wheel. You're like a commode, available to hold his ass when he needs to go (somewhere). It took a lot of discipline not to step outside and swing at his face. Your NYC hack license is far more valuable. But this scene reminded you of another instance a few nights ago when these 2 married executives got in and wanted to go anyplace they might have luck getting laid. "Our wives won't find out you facilitated this. Just help some geezers out. Somebody's getting rammed up the ass tonight (LOL)." Only difference in treatment of the cabdriver was that the latter were drunk. Therefore, the patronization came in a lighter form.

Every time you're stuck in Second Avenue traffic around 8:30 am (where are you not stuck at that hour?) and explain to the passenger that it's the Midtown Tunnel jamming things up, they say, in a malapert way, "but why would people be leaving to Queens right now"... as if you tried to pull a fast one over their heads. "No, I'm talking about the influx."
"Ohhh, I see what you're saying."

It'll be hard to forget this one elder aristocrat who hailed you down by the end of W23rd. She wanted to take the 6 train back uptown. You hadn't even crossed 9th Ave. when she began asking if you thought it's good exercise to walk across town. It was one of her only times ever coming this far downtown. "Well of course it is".
"But I don't see any good clothing stores around here".
"Sure there are, haven't you heard of Ladies Mile?"
"Well, so show me then".
You made a left instead of continuing towards the subway station.
"What kind of shops are you looking for?"
"Top of the line, high fashion".
So you begin naming off the storefronts and when you say Eileen Fisher she perks up and squeals for you to stop right here, this instant. The fare is $5.70 and she dishes out 6. No other cabdriver would have treated her with such genuine consideration the entire length of the trip. Yet if you compare her tip and the average price tag inside that place, something ain't right. Perhaps if you were rude she'd ask for three dimes back.

When not driving the cab, you teach Yoram (your dad) computer literacy skills, like how to attach his resume to email in response to ads online offering employment to experienced electricians. He's got a job, but wants options in case the economy grinds to a halt. You also get him a web cam so he can keep in touch for free via Skype with his sister in L.A.. She (your aunt) happens to be among the most incredible artists on the planet, in the realm of collage journalism. An inspiration to those who try to place meaning on the subtle contradictions of life.

Dad is so adorable on the lap top. In a short span of time, he's gone from nothing to picking up his pouch of coffee and typing up a map search of its distribution warehouse in Paterson (NJ). Both of us are interested in exploring this the 2nd largest Arab American population outside of Dearborn (MI), and bringing some authentic Baklava back to Queens. What's that? Astoria, right. You 're left with a picture of the first night in months you went out with old friends. Cabdriver with a social life. What?

Monday, October 13, 2008

EXTOLLING BRUSQUENESS


The driver's lounge at your garage turns into the scene of belligerent feuds between our browbeating Russian dispatcher and a handful of west African drivers, over adjustments made in the daily lease rate and early bird special, as well as whether he's fibbing about the commission having threatened him with summonses for allowing us to surpass the 720 minute continuous vehicle operation limit.

Upholding your idea of what is a good cabdriver, you tune into the traffic report nearly 15 times an hour, in case someone gets in the taxi who wants to get somewhere affected by roving construction, an accident, or just plain volume. In between, the radio blares out snippets about the potential for solar powered desalinization plants to cover the world's deserts and the theory about terrorism being a symptom of alienation (and degradation of the environment being its cousin). You take this extracurricular taxi idea home by using Google to compile upcoming NYC events, planned street closures, and the schedule for Javits shows as well as cruise itineraries at piers 88, 90, and 92. This is recommended for all cabdrivers to do if they want more lucrative shifts and/or care about improving the yellows' reputation for conscientiousness, or lack thereof.

Got your fix of Autopanethnic news via Caracol (Colombia) and Mabat (Israel). After the recent riots in Akko, an Arab apologized for driving through the Jewish quarters with a loud radio during the strict holiday of Yom Kippur. But no record of a Jew apologizing for hurling stones at him and his little son. Your latest You Tube fixation lasts an hour. In those 60 minutes you and dad watch clips of near catastrophic airplane take offs and landings. Dad injects his engineering background into every scene in attempts to explain what went wrong.

A landscape architect from Argentina in lavish Oxxford suit over drank and lost his cell at one of the bars. It's 4 am and he wants to know how much you charge to Orange (16 miles into NJ). "What the meter says, plus double rate from the state line, and tunnel toll." He says never mind and begins to exit (as if you resemble a con artist). Wait, what did you expect to pay? "It's always $100." You guarantee the meter will total out cheaper and even let him call his phone with yours. 25 minutes later the bright red digits read $80.10 and he hands you 120, smiling and staggering out into a dusky October dawn.

Chip came for a ride in the cab last week, but it was too close to the 5 pm shift deadline. Instead of cruising in search of itinerant people to give him a feel for this magnanimous profession, we had to return over the Queensboro bridge to drop off the cab. Chip looks healthy even though he complained of Candida complications. He stuck to his ironclad diet in tupperware while we had veggie burgers and onion rings at the local diner. Speaking of the 5 pm shift cutoff: it sometimes calls for maneuverings and negotiations to maximize time, space, and monetary efficiencies. For example, it's 3:30 pm and a mom/son duo from the Satmar sect wish to go over the Billy bridge to prepare for the sabbath.

You can see inbound traffic backed up beyond the horizon, so it seems like the end of your shift by default. Who would've ever thought these last 90 minutes would see so much action though. You begin up Bedford Avenue towards Long Island City a little bummed out at having been booted from Manhattan so early on, yet too late. But then in the heart of hipster district a girl jumps in and requests Fort Greene. From there it seems best to use the Manhattan bridge, which nearly never sees a jam, and work your off-duty Queens bound again. On the corner of Tillary and Flatbush stand a crew of young Spaniard tourists awaiting a lift back into the island of money. And then another instant turnover further uptown that leaves you a 1/5 mile from base. What a chain of luck. An extra $45, all thanks to the hub at Williamsburg.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Autumnalities


Peruano father and son duo stand by their '84 Toyota van wagon, holding cables up high to an audience of frenzied autoists on 8 Avenue. You pull right in to give them a jump but nothing works. They coyly inquire a ride to Cobble Hill, if their 300 pound floor finishing machine fits in the trunk. The three of us barely manage. Meanwhile the radio blares about the jihadist diaspora, closet quranophilia, and auto-erotic asphyxiation . We return from Brooklyn to exhale that the meter maids have only now begun their rounds around the block.

I've been studying Mediterranean demographics and cartography in preparation for an adventure this spring. Not sure if these countries allow one to pass through without a return ticket. I think sufficient bank funds are a viable alternative. If anyone has hitch hiked through southern Europe, please share some info.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Highlights from July and August

1. An upbeat elder double date out of eastern Washington state ask to go to the West Village from SoHo.

2. Roadwork, condo construction, and film production perpetuate the nightmares of traffic nonflow.

3. A single, middle aged New Yorker heads over to sign adoption forms for an Ethiopian infant. The honored cabdriver credits her with kudos for her wisdom.

4. Brisbanite of Polynesian descent proudly fulminates Qantas as the only airline free of fatalities.

5. Guitar and vocalist for the rock band 'Betty' rides aloofly backseat from ABC to NoHo.

6. Swiss suit shares tales of hitchhiking from Venezuela through the Amazon.

7. Swedish duo get a royal tour from the Regency hotel to Atlantic Yards via scenic FDR drive with a view of four monstrous bridges. The boy wants to find "street wear", so the cabdriver recommends Fulton Street mall.

8. Russian lady whose husband is an absent Turkish sea captain has me carry an a/c unit up 5 flights for a generous tip.

9. Peruvian nanny and a little boy communicate so adorably on the way home from a Zionist private school. She shows off the few words in Hebrew she's learned.

10. It seems no one in NYC is ever interested in improving their alternate merging skills.

11. Paid a visit to the mud puddles of the Willets Point district, haggled a bit, and replaced broken automotive glass that some Brooklyn teens must have practiced on.

12. Took my Houstonian cousin on a camping trip to the Catskill mountains.

13. Joined the Parks & Recreation Department here in NYC and I've begun using their gyms/indoor pools about three times a week.

14. Moved into a small apartment in south central Queens with my parents in order to save money to travel the Mediterranean on a shoestring late this winter. They're in their 50s and the thought of them aging never crosses my mind. Occasional moments of concern do emerge, but then passengers pass through my taxicab to demonstrate that health and age don't have to be codependent. Merialis, a 67 year old superwoman who just attained her black belt in karate, serves on the Connecticut board of ecotourism.

And a guy my father's age, who piles his bicycle in my trunk, pedals in daily from Sheepshead Bay to work in Manhattan. Today his wheel caved in on itself. The spokes must've been loose for too long and he hadn't known to tighten them. Unlike in the Bucket List, these folks actually mend their adventures into their daily routines, not some last minute punch list. Mine is going to be Portugal, Morocco, Spain, Croatia, Albania, and Greece come February or so. Then Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt. And a return to the states via Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Holland, France, and Britain.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Fruitcake Elucidations of Gotham

Juxtapositions of ethnicities that sit in the taxicab on a daily basis amaze me. And even more befuddling is when months go by without a single Filipino passenger, and then four pop up within a week. Mind you that 62,058 of them live in NYC. One of them was an adorably diminutive, yet thoroughly sagacious gastroenterologist on his way to BIMC. The second, an iron willed secretary of an important surgeon at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who spends every last nickel sending her child to the best school in Manhattan. The third, a charismatic sculptor whose day job is interior design. The fourth, an older and much less Amerissimilated agent of Manilabound tourism at the nonprofit building which houses the consulate. She lives walking distance but was running late that day. A sprinkle of vexillology to top off the paragraph: flag of Phillipines and Czech Republic are astoundingly similar, considering they have nothing in common, cultural nor geographic. Same for Indonesia and Poland. It's as if Oceania and Eastern Europe were destined to be each other's parallel alternates.

Motoyuki, a ship engine salesman from Osaka, entered the cab near Chelsea Market and explained that his name means "being honest" as we careened towards the WiFi hotspot of Murray Hill. "That was fun", said an older businesswoman en route to the NY Yacht Clubhouse. The otherwise 20 minute cab ride up Avenue of the Americas lasted 420 seconds at 6:30 am. It pays to rise with the sun when surface transportation is your mode.
A retired NYU administrative staffer fought her way into the cab as a brisk breeze blew. She claims to know every nook among these urban canyons where the angles made by the crisscrossing of several streets combine with open air squares to create acute drafts of wind that have been known to knock people down. She's keen on these micro jet streams since a hip replacement sensitized her.

Four suits on their way to the Apple store by Grand Army Plaza, speak in tongues and act like they're preparing to jump out of a helicopter and into a battlefield, assigning each other roles. Something about the mayor confronting someone over buying out the Wendy's Corp. You drop them off at some sort of live, televised press conference. They beat around the bush when you inquire. "Come pick me up later. I wish every cabdriver drove like you."

A tax lawyer, whose obscure accent is a blend of the Queens he grew up in and the Ireland his father who raised him is from, warms up to the psychologist cabdriver you bring out in yourself and shares what plagues his mind: "My job is to help rich people get richer (in court). It's morally corrupt because they just sit on it like eggs, while people with less who strive to succeed and do the right thing have no access to fair and square distribution of wealth".

I love how much easier it is to talk with someone about their hometown once you've swallowed a good book about that region. I remember as a little squirt borrowing the straight, dry lists of factual trivia from the library. Nowadays I seek out endearing sociopolitical stories in order to touch the more human spirit side of my favorite subject: geography. So I just finished this book, which has made my conversations with Brazilian passengers all the more alchemized. I'm unto another one now, about how this guy escaped hell on the fringe of his continent and started over in New York. However, I'm bound to run into more Sierra Leonese cabdrivers than back seat passengers. Still, no less potent a dialogue.

The turbulent state of our economy has shown its face in my cab these past few weeks. Many passengers on their way to job interviews after getting laid off from big shots in the financial world. Not sure where their next pay check might come from. Yet too much in denial to admit that a cab ride is no longer in their budget. The manager of a Starbucks in Midtown had me reverse the cab until it lied near a storefront covered completely by newspaper, cardboard, and tape. Inside was the hollow skeleton of what used to be a cafe. She was shocked by the thrill on my face when asked to help load some boxes. I'm in desperate need of less mental exercise and more perspiration, as muscle atrophy and spinal paralysis looms amidst 240 hours of car seat posturing. So we delivered a full cab load of coffee shop paraphernalia another location that isn't going out of business and I was rewarded with an iced Macchiato.

In enters a 'friendly' man who until yesterday was a diamond dealer, and is now in search of a new 'career'. Thanks for the 10% tip. It really demonstrated your appreciation for my willingness to take you six mangled, gridlocked blocks in the opposite direction as my garage, where the cab was due back in 15 minutes so that the night driver (who has 3 children to feed) could start his shift. Remember my off-duty lights were lit, doors clamped shut, and I decelerated only because your face was moaning in agony and your finger was pointing towards Brooklyn. You even blasted the synthetic air that gives me migraines on this gorgeous, no-where-near humid day of 81 degrees and gas is at $4.33/g..

I feel like I got manhandled by you in half a dozen different ways. Where'd all those diamonds go? People only keep what they give. Therefore we're losing nearly everything. This man had got so sympathetic with me when I mentioned that dad is Israeli. He even shared his handful of distorted Hebrew phrases for a few moments. And your mom? She's Colombian. Oh. Awkward gap. Take it all back. Nothing against latinos. Just lost the mutual Jew 'contact high', that's all. The only way to correct having humiliated someone is by being humiliated.




Saturday, June 7, 2008

ITINERANT IRREFUTABILITIES



















Far away from ever being the victim of an existential crisis. That's you. The dawnielitic beings have arrived in a grease capsule to work on a vegetable farm in Virginia. If you could reclaim the freedom you once knew, you'd be there in a pulse throb. Farming is one of those dharmic human doings worth having your ignorance deplored about. But here you are in the city without a way out, for now. So into the taxicab we go for another hundred mile cacophony of scribbles on the street map of your life.

A pair of 'Ash the Berber' types, but Irish, tip selflessly for a smooth ride from the Bowery to West Fourteenth. A humorous old man travels crosstown to the diagnostic imaging place. One of his jokes: "...a cabdriver speeds up and runs a red light. speeds up again and runs another red. does it a third time. then approaching a green light, he outright sits on the brakes. why'd you stop here of all places? because you never know when there might be another cabdriver running the red light." Don't know about you, but that had me laughing hard. In enters another old man, but in a sharp suit and with no signs of decrepitness, he requests a ride up to Spanish Harlem. As you drop him off in front of the GoSo office, he gets awfully hubristic about his role in reducing recidivism among young men.

A wise young lady who reminds you of Daina Thomas just has to go a few blocks along E 72nd. Says she likes to interview cabbies and asks for your feelings over the credit card machines. She's collecting a rainbow of hackney responses for a letter she'll be writing the mayor. It's a tradition she has kept up ever since Mr. Dinkins himself actually wrote her back in 1990. You get political with your next passenger, a slick Egyptian buck, over the unethical behavior of most governments for the sake of monetary comfort and complacency.

One thing in particular is strongly agreed upon: "rather be homeless on the streets than to know someone died because of me." And the next fare is an Asian-California girl who just spent months touring the country to organize rallies for the Hillary campaign and is a bit bummed about it being over. And then a Jersey couple whose family is visiting from India try real hard to negotiate a flat rate to Niagara Falls and back, which is impossible to do in a dozen hours, and they wouldn't want to embark at 4:30 am anyhow. But there's no getting through to them.

An engineer who just returned from erecting a skyscraper in Dubai catches a ride from the Flower District to his one night crib while boasting the fact that Antarctica is the only place he hasn't been. It could have been a fascinating chat, but instead you drown in his vainglorious hypnotism. You yell something at someone through the window just to break up the stale monotony of his voice. You head back downtown vacant and available until an elder Italian Jew and his alert little granddaughter step in, bound for the salute-to-Israel parade. He tells his tale of driving a retired 1970s NYC Caprice yellow cab through 24,000 miles of Latin America and beyond.

Next in is a modest guy who looks like the helicopter pilot on Airwolf, the 1980s TV series that was among a handful of afternoon anesthetics your mom was clever enough not to let you watch too much of when you'd come home from school. He said he'd look up the resemblance on You Tube. Side note: If a Benz or BMW driver gets angry when you cut him off with your yellow cab, tell them "hey, I've got to earn my swanky beamer too. Ya know?" (ya right).

To get home and hear your sister recalling her great day at the summer internship makes each grueling shift worthwhile. You accidently hooked her up with this spot while being the random yellow cab that stopped when the fashion wizard's business partner hailed his hand up high a few weeks ago. It's going to look so good on her resume.

Synchronicities happen often enough to keep you ceaselessly humble, but only if you're outside the mental bubble enough to intercept them. I leave you with 2 outstanding photographs a Viennese friend took while riding in the cab.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

TZEUBIM ANAHNU

5 am in the city of New York. The Brooklynites are still asleep. But on Ladies Mile there's a eurofemme duo bound for home (the East Village). They chat back seat in English by way of two differing accents. Perhaps Deutsch and Francois? Self eject and in enters an athletic missy who goes 50 blocks and disappears into a subway pit. Scratch my head and then oh, it's also an entrance for Equinox. The 3rd fare's a redheaded boy in a sharp suit. Jumps in at Kell's Hitchen and off we go to FiDi. Soon as he says "best way is to stay on 9th and take Varick", he apologizes and says "you probably already know that". Cabbie's reply: "Comparing notes! That's a fantastic idea. Especially during rush hour."

#4 is a short fare. Chelsea to St. Vince. She's petite, polite, and tips 75%. #5 isn't noteworthy. Neither is #6. Just bland, dried out suits. And then a guy gets in slobbering voraciously on a red apple, so I'm thinking: yes, this one's laid back. But no. He immediately freaks out about the rubber cushion lining that's sticking out of the door frame at him. "I'll let the garage know to fix that this afternoon. It's always one thing or another with these cabs."
"I SEE THAT" (why the wise guy attitude?)
And I can't say "go find yourself another taxi" cause sis needs monthly MetroCard funding, art supplies, lunch money, etc. and mom/dad need support getting through their mortgage woes and homeownership gone criminalized in general.

Midmorning four suburban housewives climb out of the Long Island Railroad staircase and have tickets to their favorite syndicated American TV talk show. Giggling the entire ride up about every idiosyncrasy they can spot from their window view of my beloved human circus of a city, they join a monotonous herd minded line at ABC studios.

A blond euroman in an immaculate suit you wrote off early on in the trek (Theater District to Museum Mile) as being sterile and aloof, turned out to be so neat. As we traversed across 96th Street, under Central Park, for the last leg of the journey, he asked me if the narrow sidewalk is bicyclable. He took a cab this first time in order to scope out the prospect of a two wheeled commute, soon to be his routine. Excitedly, I recommended the circuit that runs within the park's perimeter, which is a whole lot safer and surrounded by the fragrance of trees. He mirrored my enthusiasm instantly and his seeming pompousness melted entirely. Silence ought not pervade the space between cabdriver and passenger unless an official indifference has been formally established.

Then from one part of the Upper East Side to another, this euromom and her two gringosified children sit tight as we weave, squeeze, wail, swerve, and honk to lessen the shame on their faces for being late to an appointment. "Story of my life", says the adorable Scandinavian mother.

A straightshooting yet tenderhearted suit guy has you take him from Turtle Bay to FiDi. He's understanding of the little manifesto you mumble to him when the lanes that feed into the FDR above 34th St. get real backed up. "When my last day as a yellow cabbie arrives and I'm stuck at this spot, I'm going to drive right over that low concrete slab that divides ramp road from highway. I either won't need my license anymore anyway, or I'll slip away undetected and be able to brag about it to all the sucker motorists.

Shortly after that fare I encountered another, from Two Bridges to Bowling Green with a suit feller so extremely square that I'd label him an eccentric for gawking at every perfectly comprehensible phrase I uttered, like "I'm going to take South Street unless you have a better idea." As if my kidnapping of him was underway.

Some dude holding a loaded laundry hamper hailed from a Greenwich Village curbside. As you extended your wing flaps outward and steered the wheel in at him, a mack truck slowed from 30 to zero in 3 seconds and signaled a right turn, which instead of making, he pulled over in front of your client all angle posed like a cop car at a scene. As you hovered forward to pull in a head of it, the dude nearly destroyed his own flip flops trying to run out into the street with his heavy sack and get your attention (which he already had). Once inside, he said, "can't trust those trucks". Your reply: "tell me about it! Just last week one ripped my side view mirror off, left it dangling by the wires scraped some paint, and proceeded to take off through heavy traffic, like nothing had occurred. You followed it and used the next red light as a stage for dialogue.

I had the honor of transporting the MoMa cafe's Trinidadian chef with boxes of fresh produce from Union Square to the 54th St. loading dock. She is so hardcore and awesome. And towards the end of the shift I had the pleasure of taking a dentistry professor to the main NYU and we exchanged tidbits of etymology. He taught me that pediatrics comes from babies having their foot in their mouths. I in turn taught him that vexillology is the study of flags. Important word for someone who grew up memorizing those of every nation and their geo
graphic outline.