I wasn’t sure why the cop started flashing his lights at me when I turned left onto 72nd St. from Park Avenue, but I decided to let the hyperventilating bride-to-be in the passenger seat (“We’re getting PULLED over?!”) do the talking when he sauntered up to my window.
“Did you know one of your brake lights is out?” he said.
I turned to the bride.
“I’m getting married today!” she wailed, “I’m late! I was supposed to be there at 8:30! Please don’t do this now!”
The officer took one look at the shellacked curls, the diamond tiara, the impeccable make-up and the mania in her eyes and smirked.
“OK. OK, go ahead,” he said.
I put the cab in drive and sped (ahem, headed) toward Central Park.
“Oh, my God. Oh, my God. I don’t feel well,” the bride fanned herself, “I think I’m going to faint. Oh, my God.”
“Did you eat?” I asked her. I turned on the AC full blast, “Do you need a barf bag?”
“Yes,” she told me, “No.”
“Good girl,” I said, “Now take a deep breath.”
“Yes, you can.”
We’d been having this battle from the moment I picked up her and her dress (in a box, to be put on just before the ceremony) at the Waldorf-Astoria.
“No, I can’t!”
“Yes, you can. Come on. In through your nose,” I inhaled, “And out through your mouth.”
She took a shaky breath in.
“Good girl. Keep it up.”
When we got to the corner of 72nd and 5th, she started hyperventilating again, “Go in!”
“What?” I said, “This is the park drive. It’s for pedestrians. No cars. I can’t go in.”
“I have a permit! Go in! Go to the Boat House! I have a permit!”
I had five seconds to decide which would be worse: the wrath of the bride or the wrath of the NYPD. I went in.
“Do you know where the Boat House is?” the bride said.
“Not exactly – ”
“Just keep going! Go! Go! Go! I’m late! Run over whoever you have to! Just go! I’ll tell you where to go. I’m so late! Oh, my God – ”
We came to a fork in the road, and she didn’t know which way to go. I veered to the right as mystified cyclists and roller bladers and runners shook their heads at the presence of my cab in their Sunday space. I was too terrified of my passenger – and too consumed with the idea that I should have veered left – to absorb their indignation.
“Keep breathing,” I said, as much to her as to myself.
We swerved around pedestrians and glided down the tree-lined road.
“There it is!” the bride said, shaking a finger in front of my nose, “Pull over! Run over whoever you have to! Go!”
Dodging pedestrians who aimed outraged stares at me, I drove over a low curb and pulled up next to a tree.
“Go further. Go up to the door!” the bride said.
As this would have involved mowing down a waiter and a few bushes, I finally told her “no.”
“This is as far as I can take you.”
She wrestled herself out of the passenger seat and bumped her head on a tree branch. The shellacked curls didn’t move.
“Thank you!” she said, smoothing her hair.
“Break a leg!” I said.
A runner approached the cab: “You know you’re not supposed to be in here,” he said icily.
“I know. She forced me to drive her. What could I do?”
“You better put your hazard lights on and drive as slowly as you can. I don’t know what the cops are going to do to you.”
And that’s when I realized that the bride had made off with her alleged permit. Before I could catch her, she disappeared into the Boat House. How was I going to make it out of the park without her as my alibi?
I turned on my flashers and inched away from the Boat House lawn. Now, without my hysterical passenger, I could feel the disbelief in the stares of every man, woman and child I passed. Where was the end of the path? I wanted to reach it, but I dreaded what I might find once I got there. Please don’t let there be any cops, please…
There wasn’t one cop when I pulled up to the park drive entrance. There was an NYPD armada of five squad cars, three vans, and at least fifty uniformed officers assembled in anticipation of the Israel Day parade on Fifth Avenue.
Obviously, a Jason Bourne car chase was out of the question. I parked the cab behind the line of squad cars, scanned the group of officers and approached the fattest one. Why him? Maybe subconsciously I was thinking he couldn’t catch me if I ran away.
“Officer, I’m really sorry. I know I’m not supposed to be here, but a bride forced me to come into the park.”
“She forced you?”
“She needed to get to the Boat House. She was late. For – for her wedding.”
He let go a disgusted sigh, “All right. Get outa here.”
“Are you sure?” I said.
“What do you mean ‘am I sure’?! What are you gonna do? Leave the cab there all day? Get outa here!”
I sprinted back to the taxi before he could reconsider, fired up the engine and zoomed out of the park, taking the incredulous looks of his fellow cops with me as I drove away.
The bride was my first passenger on Sunday.
Between her $2 tip, the Israel Day parade, the Murray Hill Festival, the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market, the Amsterdam Ave. festival and some other fair on Broadway that prompted street closures starting at 58th St, two passengers who appeared to be involved in some drug-related hanky-panky (“Are you a cop?”), a Korean student whose English was so bad he started to cry (any driver would’ve turned off the meter for this man-child), and the trip back to the garage to have Wilfredo fix my brake light, I was having a horribly slow money-making day.
If I wanted to break even, there was no time for restaurant reconnaissance, but I couldn’t make it through the rest of the shift without eating something that wasn’t McDonald’s.
Finally, I stopped by Pick-a-Pita, wolfed down just-fried falafel with roasted eggplant and heavenly hummus and wondered whether the bride had made it through the ceremony without fainting.
Running on falafel, I took my last fare of the day from Penn Station to the Upper West Side.
Fighting traffic to the West Side Highway, I got stuck behind an NYPD squad car. One of its brake lights was out.