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').

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.

1AV across 63rd: red light cam (although i never seen it flash) This link contains a long list of
some other spots


  1. Hi there. Just wanna say thanks for reading my recently sad and pathetic blog. ;o) I plan on reading more and blogging less so just wanted to let you know I'm gonna be hanging around on your blog for a bit. Hope ya don't mind. heh.

    Happy Holidays!

  2. Hey gil, I like the new format brother , and don't change a thing about the way you write !!

  3. Thanks for the essential observations! Stream of consciousness is perfectly matched to the way taxi driving evolves. I'm enjoying your writing style. I haven't driven a taxi for a while, but one of the best parts was always when someone said "You are the nicest taxi driver." The extinct economy of air evolves into an economy of kindness. The Tibetans have it right.

  4. A black coffee just heated gently needs more fire.

  5. Jack Vrooman3/12/2009

    hi gil,
    i have meant to thank you for your missives. in your last one you mentioned all your previous jobs and i thought is that it? i have had hundreds of jobs! most all short lived. of course, i'm an old fuck.

    baker's death, 11 months ago now, really hit me hard. he was such a generous and thoughtful guy who helped me a great deal recovering from my last emotional meltdown (i'm bipolar). things aren't the same there. matt was asked to leave due to non-payment, bicycle jim still comes and goes(i think he's in panama now) and they have new tenants i haven't met. mark bought a big, old house that i am painting(read restoring) and he has his first girlfriend! they are very serious and will probably wed.

    i see you are still making friends on facebook. one of your new friends, carrie, i have met thru matt and i was happy to see she won reelection in a very close race. one of my nephews was arrested at a FPL protest and while i'll definitely proud of him, i kinda feel he was used by 'pag'. live and learn, i guess.

    well i'm off for a few day in and around san juan del sur, nicaragua. it's the second poorest country in the world but there is a large ex-pat community there. i'm hoping i'll stumble upon some opportunities that will bring me back down there again and again. of course with Bush out of office i'm not in such a hurry to flee america.

    take care. i wish i could write like you


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