Friday, February 20, 2009

Idle Hands and Sestural Glips

(spoonerisms are often used in the titles these postings are given)

Things are getting a bit craggy at the garage. It seems all 700 drivers want to work 7 shifts a week. Those who were driving all along are now putting in more hours to offset newly unemployed relatives sitting at home. And then there are those who've had their valid hack license stored away in a drawer, just in case, while relying on a steady day job that ended up falling through. So now they're adding to the long waiting lists at the garage. And the dispatchers are taking advantage of the situation by catering to those drivers who make a habit of tipping them better than anyone else. Leasing a taxicab has become something of an auction, and furthermore, a casino where you put down a hefty sum, in hopes of earning it back on the streets of a landscape that has gone from luscious economic greenery and endless nocturnal revelry, to block after urban block of sand dune. More cabs on duty, later and later into the night, circling the same deserted sidewalks like an obsessive needle locked into a groove on a broken record. These days I'm taking whatever the garage can give me. Day shift. Night shift. Double shift. No shift. Carpe diem.

Last week I got lucky one evening when, after teleporting someone from Midtown to Sunnyside, I happened to be approaching that fork in the road where Queens Blvd splits into Thomson at precisely the right moment. An elder was being escorted on foot from La Guardia College. His helper waved animatedly at me while the #7 made hellish noise, not to mention short circuit sparks seemingly dripping down like lava above our heads. Together we eased a flustered gramps into the backseat and I was reminded of how touching it is to clench a senior's cold, anhydrous hands. Made me nostalgic for the part time companionship I was hired to provide to two wheelchair bound nursing home residents during college. Off to Morningside Heights we went and it turns out he's a retired art history professor who was giving a lecture. And from the same corner where he got out, a college student entered the cab, needing to be at a Pilates class in Union Square, in 8 minutes. God bless the Henry Hudson Parkway. For months she had been oblivious to the statue of Mohandas Gandhi that was directly across from her building, and I was euphoric to have the honor of revealing it. It's my favorite statue.

Jenine was down from Providence over Valentine's weekend and did a few hours of front seat co piloting, during which we took her friend Liz Harris, who's now a famous musician, to the airport, after having come in from Portland for a live performance at the New Museum. That shift Jenine had to witness several instances of me swelling up in dramatic conniptions over unfair activities being carried out by the NYPD against fellow yellows all around us. They're really stepping it up on behalf of city revenue. Just ask this 31 year veteran cabbie who also happens to be one of the best taxi bloggers on Earth. His story is one of hundreds and his account infuriates me. Especially if the cop was a rookie in his early 20s. It's like a teenage Israeli soldier humiliating a Palestinian who is old enough to be their aging parent. The other guy who really pushed my button was a passenger who kept mumbling under his breath about how much he hates cabdrivers (and everyone else who is obsequious to him), for no apparent reason. I sure as hell didn't give him one. Jenine had to tranquilize me with a peaceful pep talk.

This Presidents Day had the smoothest traffic flow of any day I've ever worked (minus Xmas), while yielding the most continuous stream of fares of any holiday I've ever hacked on. The sidewalks were akin to bee hives and ant hills cause the weather had warmed up, yet not a single ounce of vehicular congestion could be found. The reverse gear wasn't responding on this particular cab, so I had to pre plan all of my movements to take that into consideration. No stealthily slothful U turns on 14th, 23rd, 42nd, or 57th. I don't understand slick young men who say they'll pay for my ticket if I get pulled over for breaking a turning law on their behalf. Why would they then leave less than a 10% tip when successfully arriving at their destination on time, thanks to the risky short cut. Something's missing from that equation. In the physical notebook I keep on board the cab is an uninterrupted list of every final red glow display on the taximeter, coupled with another row for the actual total given (including tip). So in theory I could add a 3rd row to show the percentages of gratuity, and even devise statistical charts of generosity levels.

1. Minneapolis parents and their post graduate New York daughter jump in at Gramercy Park and hesitantly inquire about making three stops. Why in the world would I have an issue with stopping at the thrift store to unload three large bags of clothing donations, dropping her off at work (NY Times), and then continuing on to David Letterman's show with the free ticket wielding parents? Sounds like a fabulous fare to me. Some of these cabbies have really devalued the riding public's expectations. She was so surprised at my enthusiasm and her parents were like (in a thick Midwestern swing), "see honey, they're not so bad." $14.60 was the bill and one crisp, solid Andrew Jackson their reward.

2. The sweetest old lady ever leans down and collects a few chunks of rubbish left on the floor by previous passengers and says, "I'll throw this away for you honey." Meanwhile, her door person stands there and holds it open.
In a 180 degree upper torso twist I blurt out,"I really appreciate it".
"I know you do", she smiles warmly with sustained eye contact.
No one ever does that for a cabdriver. Especially not on the Upper East side.

3. If it hadn't been for a graciously informative guy from Seattle that I picked up at the international toy fair earlier in the afternoon, I would have made nearly 100 dollars less that shift. On our way to his hotel he let me in on the inside scoop: where would many of the 1000 toy manufacturers, distributors, importers and sales agents from over 2 dozen countries be partying tonight? The hottest new spot in NYC: Strata! From 11:30p to 1:30a I kept bouncing off that place like a pinball stuck between a jackpot and a trampoline. I tend to avoid nightclubs because they're always already crawling with yellow cabs, but this one has yet to be discovered.


  1. Wendy Scher2/23/2009

    Thank you once again for humanizing the taxicab.

  2. Hannah Temple2/23/2009

    as always thanks. I was so happy to hear about your new love. I hope you create many many beautiful things together, seen and unseen.

  3. Anonymous2/23/2009

    I like the sweet lady @ #2..I want more people like her around..

  4. every paragraph such a different story, with no segway in-between, and yet it flows perfectly, a true reflection of the taxi driving experience, most notably that there is never an off time.

  5. Gil, I know I don't write back often after you send your missives, but it's nice to read about your adventures and misadventures in the NYC. I
    like to think I know the place fairly well, so it adds that extra level for me when I read your accounts. I hope things are going well in live overall. Tucson's just starting to come out of winter, and it feels so good. The last two days have been humid! In the desert! Hells yeah! It kind of feels like Miami. Speaking of which, Jerry should be here in a
    few days. I can't wait. Well, thanks for keeping me updated. Take care.

  6. Anonymous2/25/2009

    that was great gil! my favorite was the women who threw out the trash.
    lots of love,

  7. What a jouney out of my snowbound world this was. Thanks Gil, I needed that today.

    By the way in your previous post you said you had a person from Winnipeg. That is where I'm from.

  8. Jenine2/26/2009

    That bottom photo is really transporting.


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