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


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.