But during my last shift, I learned two lessons that were particularly memorable: (Note: If you don’t care for graphic descriptions, you might want to stop reading now.)
1. Never, ever, order an iced coffee while driving
2. Never, ever pick up anyone going to JFK after 3pm and expect to be able to return your cab to the garage on time.
Why you should never order an iced coffee while driving
As every New York cabbie with a kidney problem knows, going to the bathroom is a special challenge in Gotham.
Between parking restrictions, civilians who park at taxi stands who do not receive parking tickets, and the knowledge that every minute that we’re not searching for or transporting fares is money lost, relief can be complicated.
A bladder of steel is a handy attribute for a taxi driver. Unfortunately, mine is – and has always been – made of cheesecloth. I don’t exaggerate when I say that this seriously infringes on my ability to make money as a cabbie.
I don’t know if it was the heat or the fact that I was running on 3 hours of sleep, but during my last shift, I convinced myself that my over-enthusiastic bladder could handle an iced coffee. My logic: it was hot – I would sweat it out. And I was exhausted – even if I had to stop for more bathroom breaks, the caffeine would quicken my pace, and I’d make more money in the end.
Wrong and wrong.
Even when I limit myself to 16 ounces of water over the course of a 10-12 hour shift, I still have to take 5-7 bathroom breaks. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that within half an hour of downing the iced coffee, I had to go back to Port Authority twice to use the bathroom.
20 minutes later, in the middle of a traffic jam on 45th St., I felt my bladder growing insistent again. Oh, come on!
I tried to ignore it for a couple of avenues, but I knew I couldn’t pick up a passenger in my condition. “No Parking” signs lined the sidewalk as far as my eyes could see. And somehow I’d ended up behind a mail truck, so I had no idea how far the jam extended.
When the mail truck stopped and turned on its hazard lights, I knew I was in trouble. I knew that if I turned on my own hazard lights and dashed into the sandwich shop to my left, I’d come out with a $115 parking ticket on my windshield.
I took one look at the empty iced coffee cup. I took another look at the cars lined up on my right to make sure they weren’t big rigs or SUV drivers who could see what I was about to do.
I put the taxi in Park. I slid the driver’s seat back as far as it would go. I turned on my hazard lights. I grabbed my 5 borough street atlas and laid it across my lap. I rested my purse next to my right thigh (and was never more grateful for its girth). I pulled my pants down and rearranged the atlas. I lifted my lower body, situated the coffee cup under me and gingerly let go. And let go and let go. Tears of humiliation and relief rolled down my cheeks when I finished.
My pants were still down when a woman in a brown shawl approached my window with a hopeful look on her face. I waved her away and shook my head, “No, no, no!” She raised her eyebrows and walked away, bewildered at the vehemence of my refusal.
The hurt on her face was still fresh in my mind when I picked up my next fare.
“JFK,” he said, swinging a laptop bag and a briefcase in after him.
It was 3:11pm. I could only imagine the state of the Long Island Expressway and the bumper to bumper on the Van Wyck.
“Just one second,” I said, sprinting to a trash can on the sidewalk. There was no way the iced coffee cup was going to the airport with us.
To be continued…