“I took a cab instead of a train. Unfortunately I don’t have the right cab driver.”
I picked her up on Irving St. near Union Square. She was swathed in felt and fur.
After I missed two signals in a row, she said: “I really hope you can do a better job making the lights” and started making a series of cell phone calls.
I pushed the Crown Victoria’s pedal to the metal, gunning through yellow-red lights and drawing honks. After all of this, she dealt the “I don’t have the right cab driver” blow to the friend she was chatting with on her cell phone. Ouch.
As felt and fur called friend after friend and I contemplated pulling over and offering to find her another cab, I thought about how New Yorkers measure their time in seconds and missed signals.
Minutes are eternities in a city that moves in a business hours sprint. People who take cabs during the week during the day are basically hauling ass to keep up.
It doesn’t matter where they’re going: It could be lunch with a friend or a business contact, a shopping spree in Soho, or an appointment to get their hair colored (which, incidentally, is where felt and fur was headed. She arrived 18 minutes before her 1pm session).
Anyone who drives a cab in New York City has to have a trace of masochism coursing through his veins. I understood this intellectually as I went through taxi school. Yesterday, after a few more fares like felt and fur, the understanding crashed into my core, and I drew a few conclusions:
- If New York cabbies have a reputation for driving like meth-snorting maniacs, it’s because New York passengers demand it of us. If we don’t run lights, cut people off, make illegal turns, and/or constantly change lanes, the implication is that we’re not doing our job.
- Anyone who travels within a ten block radius of Times Square during business hours and expects that a cab will get them where they’re going more quickly than walking is being naïve.
- Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like a Wolf” is a great song to listen to when you’re alone in your taxi.
- You can’t predict how customers are going to respond to your efforts. I did what I thought was some masterful driving on a traffic-defying ride from Koreatown to Hell’s Kitchen, and my passenger tipped me 89 cents. Two fares later, I thought I was going to give a little old man (all tweed and bones and wooden cane) a heart attack when I rear ended a Lexus one minute (which left some dust on his bumper that he decided to forget, thank goodness) and cut off another taxi driver who laid on the horn and shouted at me the next. The little old man gave me a 30% tip.
The other day I was telling a friend that driving a cab kicked me into a “state of calm and engagement I can’t even get to in yoga class.”
Calm and engagement? Who was I kidding? I wouldn’t exactly call it war, but it doesn’t hurt to go into battle mode when you’re transporting the strivers who make New York move.
PS – My lunch during this shift – a soggy plate of Ma-Po Tofu from Excellent Dumpling House on Lafayette Street that gave me an MSG headache – was something I won’t repeat. But a $2 macchiato from La Colombe (319 Church at Lispenard near the 6th Ave/Canal St. taxi stand) was a jolt of joy that got me through the final hours. It’s going on the map.