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From the Driver’s Seat: Fare Beater, Flat Tire, Cool Passenger, Obscene Cookie

We were rocketing across the Queensboro Bridge at 6:30am when he started screaming into his cell phone: “I want to f&%$ kill her! There she was dancing like nothing happened! I just want to take all the phlegm in my throat and spit it in her face.”

When we finally made it to his apartment in Queens, my passenger handed me $15 for the $32 fare and told me he had to run upstairs to get the rest: “I’ll be right back.”

I knew he was lying. I waited seven minutes and knew my cause was lost. Every cabbie in New York has fallen victim to a fare beater, and I’d just met my first. I got back on the road and let it go, as my teachers at taxi school counseled me to do.

An hour later, I picked up a Russian couple headed to Rockefeller Center and noticed that my cab was making a strange rumbling sound. The Russians giggled in the back seat. All I could understand were the words da, nyet harasho and taxi.

I made a mental note to tell the garage that something was wrong with my car when I turned it in at the end of the shift.

Several fares later, a man in the Lower East Side wanted a ride to the Financial District. I asked him if he had a preferred route (i.e. “Please help me as I have no idea how to get where you’re going.”). He told me to get on the FDR highway and take the Brooklyn Bridge exit. But instead of veering left toward downtown, I found myself on the bridge to Brooklyn with no way off.

“Uh, oh,” my passenger said.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, feeling the heat rise to my face. The cab was still making that weird rumbling sound. The faster I went, the more the Ford protested, “I’m not going to charge you for the ride.”

“It’s OK,” he said.

The way he said it, I knew it really was OK. There were no exasperated sighs. There was no impatient fidgeting. Together we brainstormed the best way to get back on the bridge and found the way.

When we made it back to Manhattan, he told me he’d never been on the Brooklyn Bridge before.

“You should try crossing it on foot sometime,” I said, “And stop at Jaques Torres for wicked frozen chocolate with chili peppers when you get to the other side.”

He started digging in his pockets when I finally delivered him to his destination. I told him there was no way he was going to pay me.

“Really? Thanks a lot!”

If roles were reversed, would I have been so kind? He was generations behind them, but my passenger reminded me of the old men who taught me to tango in Buenos Aires, who responded to my mistakes with compassion, who refused to accept my apologies for losing their lead.

I was still somewhere between gratitude and incredulity on Park Avenue when a cabbie pulled up next to me at a red light and started gesturing wildly: “Your tire. No air!”

So this was what the Russians were giggling about. Two hours and one Brooklyn Bridge had passed since I’d dropped them off. All that time I’d been driving with a flat tire.

I drove straight to the garage, where a mechanic changed the tire in less than five minutes. I felt like a race car driver at a pit stop.

Back in Manhattan, I should have been focusing on finding my next fare and making up for flat tire time, but all I could think about was a chocolate chip cookie.

There are foods that soothe from the moment they make it into your mouth, and chocolate chip cookies are among them. Especially when they come from Petrossian Café, which happens to be two blocks from the Wellington Hotel taxi stand on 7th Ave.

Months ago, a painter friend of mine turned me on to these cookies, not only because they’re one of the only things that either of us can afford at Petrossian (which doubles as a high-end Armenian-Parisian caviar outpost), but also because they’re semi-sweet chocolate-laden, pecan-studded pucks of bliss that leave a buttery gloss on your lips and a toffee aftertaste on your tongue.

This is a cookie that’s worth the $3 they charge, especially considering that it tames your hunger for 2-3 hours. On Sunday afternoon toward the end of my shift, I also discovered that this is a cookie with the power to erase the trauma of fare beaters, flat tires, and rookie mistakes – and remind you of passengers who show you what’s right with the world.

Petrossian Boutique & Café
911 7th Ave, New York 10019 – (Btwn 57th & 58th St)
(212) 245-2217
Open: M-Fri 7:30-8pm; Sat 8:30-8pm; Sun 9-6pm
Nearest taxi stand: 56th & 7th Ave (in front of the Wellington Hotel)
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