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Two Lessons and Terrible Tacos (Part 2)

You can learn a lot about a person by eavesdropping on their cell phone calls.

And when someone initiates a chain of calls from the back seat of my cab, I feel no shame about listening to their side of the conversation. I may be invisible to some of my passengers, but they’re never invisible to me.

Within five minutes of picking up the fare on the corner of 42nd and 2nd Ave. who was en route to JFK, I learned he was a lawyer who’d just finalized a major corporate merger, that he’d quit his job that day and was very pleased with himself about it, and that he’d budgeted an hour and twenty minutes to get to the airport.

He finished his first call and said, “How are you?” in a relaxed tone that I thought was meant for me.

“Oh, I’m doing OK…” I met his eyes in the rear view mirror only to discover that he was on his phone again. I clapped my hand over my mouth and focused on the traffic.

We were coasting down the Long Island Expressway at 10 miles an hour, and I was trying not to think about the possibility that my passenger might not make his flight.

“I’m in a little bit of traffic,” he said to he person on the other end of the line.

I thought about the Van Wyck Expressway that lay before us, and thought: you’re about to be in a lot of traffic.

He seemed fairly relaxed about the journey, though, so I decided to take a cue from him and breathe.

Things changed after he finished his third call. We’d merged onto the Van Wyck. It was 4pm. We were moving at an average speed of 5 miles per hour and coming to a complete stop about every 30 seconds.

“I’m starting to freak out a little bit,” he said to me, “Are we going to get there by 4:30?”

“Yes,” I said. I sensed his growing nervousness, but I couldn’t reassure him completely.

Just as I started praying – please, God, let me get him there by 4:30, please, God, let him make this flight – he started with the profanity:

“S**t! I can’t miss this f***ing flight! This sucks!”

He tossed his brief case to the side and leaned forward.

“Can’t you go another way?”

“At this time of day, the surface streets aren’t going to be any faster,” I said. At least that’s what my instructors at taxi school told me, I thought. The truth was, I didn’t know how to get there any other way, and I didn’t want to risk getting off the expressway and getting lost. Would a GPS have helped? I didn’t know.

We inched forward. I rode the rear ends of the cars in front of me, changing lanes, chasing every inch of forward momentum I could find. I looked at the odometer and counted the tenths of miles. We had 2 miles to go before Linden Blvd., where the congestion was supposed to clear.

As each minute passed, I listened to my passenger grow more agitated. His cell phone was long gone. He was totally focused on the journey. I knew he was thinking we weren’t going to make it, and I threw that thought back at him. For once, I was grateful for the plexiglass partition that separated us.

By this point, I’d been on the road for 12 hours, I’d taken a fare to La Guardia and had him stiff me (his ‘only’ credit card was declined), I’d moved 23 other passengers from “A” to “B”, and I’d relieved myself in my cab (see previous post). I didn’t have the energy to get caught up in this guy’s freak out. I’m over it, I thought. We’ll get there…Please?

“(%&$*%(&!!!&#*(&!!” he said.

We made it to Linden Blvd. at 4:21, where we increased our speed to 25 miles an hour. Two minutes later, the road opened up, and I channeled the spirit of my lead-footed mother. I accelerated, I swerved, I passed every car in my path, and all I could think was: Bat. Out. Of. Hell.

“Good,” my passenger said, “Yes.”

At 4.29pm, I parked the Crown Victoria in front of the American Airlines departures terminal. My passenger threw a wad of cash at me and flew out of the cab without waiting for his receipt. The moment he slammed the door, tears welled up and streaked down. I wasn’t actually crying. My eyes were just manifesting my relief.

It was almost 5:30 by the time I got back to the garage to return my cab for the guys driving the night shift. Despite arriving almost an hour late, they showed mercy and didn’t charge me the $105 for an extra shift. Yay, Team. I promised them I’d learned my lesson: never take a fare to JFK after 3pm and expect to make it back by 4:30.

I decided to celebrate at a Mexican-Chinese restaurant near Queensboro Plaza, where I should have ordered stir fry instead of soft tacos. I forgave the flour tortillas (which the cook put through a press right before serving), but I couldn’t get past the iceberg lettuce, the brown-green guacamole or the institutional cheese. The black beans weren’t bad, though…Oh, who was I kidding? They were bad $2 tacos from a hole-in-the-wall not even worth naming, a period at the end of a shift that had had enough exclamation points.

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  1. Whew! I wish you had an easier life.

  2. Where would the stories be without struggle?

  3. Hang in there kiddo!

  4. They said life wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t hard… but does it really have to be this much fun?

  5. Not sure about you, but I’m most distressed about the terrible taco. That’s really upsetting. =) Hang in there!

  6. Hey Layne, If your Garage is in Queens you can still afford picking up passengers to the airports, but you MUST change your route during rush hours, here is a suggestions.

    If you pickup from downtown i.e below 14th street, take whatever bridge (Willamsburg, Manhattan, Brooklyn) and head east towards Atlantic avenue, take atlantic avenue straight to Van wyck, you will probably make it to the air port in 30-40 minutes.

    From midtown between 86th to 14th,Always take queens blvd all the way to Van wyck( best way is to hop onto Woodhaven blvd) but queen blvd to Van Wyck will also work as a charm.

    LIE is always a killer during rush hours, so avoid taking highways during rush hours, my two cents.

    • You are an angel. An angel! I’m totally going to do what you suggested.
      Thank you so much.

  7. I never understood the tex-mex places owned by Chinese folks in NYC. Fresco Tortillas, what’s up with you? Eh, most New Yorkers don’t know the difference.

    • Food made sad.
      I think a lot of New Yorkers do know the difference, though…

      • Perhaps as a gross amount, I’m not so sure as a percentage. In fairness, a Chinese person putting out bad Mexican food is less depressing and less common than a Chinese person forced to cook bad Chinese food.