I don’t know if it was the holiday or the promise of sun and seventy degree temperatures, but when I was driving across the Queensboro Bridge on Easter Sunday, I noticed that the pit in my stomach – something I’d grown accustomed to contending with at the start of every shift – was gone.
Even when I got lost after I dropped off my first fare in the Bronx and almost crossed the George Washington Bridge into Jersey, I felt strangely calm. Apparently my teachers at taxi school were right: after a couple of months behind the wheel, the paralyzing anxiety starts to recede.
Anxiety was still nowhere to be found when I picked up my second fare: a father in a fancy suit taking his Easter dressed daughter to church on Madison Ave. Her eyes widened when she saw me behind the wheel.
Her dad asked me what taxi garage I drove for. Then he told me about a college buddy of his whose father – who had come to the U.S. after fleeing pogroms in Russia – had put him through school driving a cab.
His buddy now owns 900 taxi medallions (not bad considering that each medallion is worth something in the neighborhood of $500,000) and heads the largest fleet of hybrid taxis in New York.
After that, pretty much everyone who got in my cab was in a wonderful mood (New Yorkers embrace beautiful weather as ferociously as they go after everything else), and I met my favorite passengers of the day toward the end of the shift, when a not quite 2-year old stuck her curly head through the window in the plexiglass partition and said, “We’re going to my cousin’s house!”
“You are?” I said, “Where does you cousin live?”
They asked me to take them as far as Grand Central. The 2-year old’s sister – who wore purple pants, a purple shirt and purple fingernail polish – was around 6. She asked me my name and told me hers was Alice.
“See?” one of her dads said, “Women can do anything. And sometimes they can do it better.”
I smiled into the rear view mirror.
When we passed 10th St., Alice said, “That’s where my great grandma lives. Guess how old my great grandma is?”
“99! How did she live so long? What’s her secret?” I asked her.
“God takes good care of her,” Alice said.
“She doesn’t even believe in God,” one of her Dads said.
“But she’s a good person,” the other Dad said.
“She must eat a lot of yogurt,” I said.
“I eat yogurt sometimes,” Alice said, “But I don’t love it.”
“What do you love?” I asked her.
She thought for a minute, “Soup dumplings.”
Not just any soup dumplings, her fathers told me. She loves the soup dumplings from Grand Sichuan at 9th Ave and 24th. I wrote it down.
“Can you drive us to Connecticut?” Alice asked.
I wished I could have. I promised her I’d try her soup dumplings and she blew me kisses goodbye. Her sister Penny followed suit.
I could have picked up more fares after that, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to end the shift on a high note, the way I used to leave the milongas in Buenos Aires after an especially beautiful tango, the way I like to save the best thing on the plate for my last bite…before ice cream.
I knew I’d get to Alice’s dumplings eventually, but I’d had ice cream on the brain for several hours by then, and I knew exactly where I wanted to get it: Grom.
Gelato at Grom is expensive – $5.25 for a small cup – but the owners are from Turin, and they make it the Italian way (importing hazelnuts from Piedmont, lemons from Sorrento and mountain water from Lurisia for sorbets). Their Bolivian cacao sorbet is the stuff of fantasy – it’s the only ice cream I’ve ever tasted that gives me the same high as a chocolate bar.
After circling the neighborhood four times, I finally found a parking space on Bleeker, but I was a ten minute walk from Grom and a two minute walk from L’Arte del Gelato, an ice cream parlor I’d heard good things about but had yet to try.
I beat back my desire for Bolivian cacao, walked into L’Arte and ordered Sicilian cassata (a flavor I rarely see that I thought would be made with ricotta, nuts and dried fruit) and caffe.
I was a little disappointed with the cassata, which tasted more like fresh milk than anything else, but the coffee gelato was unbelievable. Refreshing and strong and not too sweet, it quenched my thirst and satisfied my sweet tooth at the same time.
When I finished it, I didn’t even need a drink of water (I think this may be one of the indicators of truly great ice cream). Did Alice know about this place? If our ride from Washington Square to Grand Central offered any clues, I guessed that she did.
L’Arte Del Gelato
75 7th Avenue South (at Bleeker) – (212) 924-0803 – West Village – Map it