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.


  1. The life of a nyc taxi driver... I've recently stumbled upon your blog and have quite enjoyed myself thus far. I'm sure you'll have some incredible stories to tell...

  2. Thanks for reading my yellow cab rants. Anytime you come to New York for a visit, you're welcome to ride shotgun in the front passenger seat while we deliver back seat people to their destinations. Just gimme a heads up before you come:


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