The beat of New York is the beat to which Abu moves.
Watching him weave through the midday traffic heading uptown on Third Avenue, I wondered if it was the city that had made him so frenetic. Or was it taxi driving? Or was he just fast and furious by nature?
The ride hadn’t started off well. Almost immediately after I hailed him on East 14th Street, the cabby started chattering away on his cell phone in a language I didn’t understand, ignoring me as we drove north. You call this customer service? I thought. This is why Uber is eating you guys for lunch…
I almost wanted to get out of the cab. He sensed my unhappiness. He flipped his phone closed. “Did you want to ask me something?” he said, smiling at me in the rear view mirror.
“Did you already eat lunch?” I asked him.
“Why? You hungry?” he opened the paper sack on the passenger seat and pulled out a fragrant ball of aluminum foil. “Garlic knots!” he said, unwrapping the foil. “With extra garlic. Do you like garlic?”
“I love garlic.”
He stabbed one of the shiny balls of dough with a plastic fork and handed it to me. “Here, try one.”
“Wait–I don’t want to eat your lunch–”
“Come on! It’s delicious. Healthy, too. Usually I try to eat healthy. You have to eat healthy when you drive a taxi!”
I took the garlic knot, spilling a little of the extra garlic on my notebook. (My notes still smell like garlic as I write this.) “Where did you get this?”
“Oh,” said Abu, “it’s from a small store. Very good and very tasty. You want me to call in an order for you? It takes them some time, so I always call ahead…”
“I have time,” I said. “Could you take me there?”
He turned the cab around and somehow found a parking place on East 9th Street.
“Come on,” he said, putting on his fedora. I hurried after him into East Village Pizza & Kebabs, where he introduced me to the guys behind the counter and ordered garlic knots with extra garlic and a chicken pita sandwich for me, which was exactly what he was having for lunch, minus a diet Snapple.
“Alex!” said Abu, on his way out the door. “Make it good for her!”
“Abu, Abu, Abu,” said Alex, smiling to himself as the cabby sped away.
As I sat on one of the bar stools, studying the photo collages of happy customers on the wall, debating about whether to take a picture of the “Footprints in the Sand” poem on the plaque next to the counter, biting into that unremarkable chicken pita and wondering how many garlic knots I could get away with eating before no one would sit next to me on the subway, I felt like I’d just been hit with a wild but pleasurable gust of wind.
East Village Pizza & Kebab
145 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003
b/t St Marks Pl & 9th St in East Village
Note: Abu also recommends chicken shawarma at Shawarma Grill, on Third Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets, and the three-vegetable $7 lunch at Dil-e Punjab on Ninth Avenue.