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Reality Drives

Waiting off Broadway for a fare at the Marriott

Before I went behind the wheel of a yellow cab for the first time, I had visions of stopping at taxi stands between passengers and discovering cheap, wonderful things to eat. I also imagined myself wiping down my cab with tea tree oil (so as to start every shift with a fresh-smelling vehicle), doling out candy to cool passengers, and regaling them with recommendations for my favorite places to eat in New York.

So far, the realities of hacking are blowing these lovely, well-intentioned fantasies to bits. After a week of driving, there’s still too much vertigo in my stomach to make room for hunger. When I do stop for food, it’s wherever I can find parking and a bathroom.

I used to ask cabbies where they eat during their shifts. Now I understand what a silly question this is. We eat wherever we can while we’re driving. It’s mostly after the shift ends that we’re free to tackle the endless buffet that is New York City. That said, I still hold out hope for finding good things to eat near the taxi stands.

As far as wiping down my taxi with tea tree oil, I don’t know what I was thinking. After the dispatcher issues me a cab, I’ve got to check the interior and exterior lights, make sure all of the seat belts and the windshield wipers work, adjust my mirrors, move the seat as close to the steering wheel as it’ll go, find my radio station, and position my camera, tape recorder and snacks within easy reach. By the time I finish these rituals, it’s high time to get on the road. You want a sweet-smelling cab? Open the windows.

A sea of cabs traveling south on Park Avenue.

What about giving out caramels to passengers? The only people who might have appreciated this gesture were my first two intoxicated fares from last Sunday (Unfortunately, I was too discombobulated to remember to offer them at the time).

Somehow, the act of giving out candy seems to clash with the light of day. Can you imagine offering a Nip to a banker who’s about to close a multi-million dollar deal? To a grand dame going home to her high rise on Park Avenue? Neither can I.

Even if I don’t give out candy, wouldn’t you think I should at least be able to share food recommendations with my passengers? Not with the elegant couple I picked up at the Waldorf-Astoria who were on their way to brunch on the Upper East Side: “Do you know a place nearby where we could find good pastries to take to our party?” they asked me.

As a matter of fact…I had no idea.

How ironic is it that I couldn’t answer the question that I’ve been asking cabbies for the past three years? What could I do but drop off the pastry hunters and leave them to their own devices?

This is exactly what I did, but when I got home I channeled my shame into research and discovered that I could’ve taken them to Anneliese’s Pastries or Andre’s Cafe. So much for taxi gourmet.

Even as I crash into the realities of my ignorance, I have to admit I’m awestruck by the view from behind the wheel. There is some strange mojo afoot on the streets of New York – something that allows cars, trucks, vendors, oblivious pedestrians (whose club I used to belong to) and suicidal cyclists to move through impossible spaces in some maniacal love-hate dance.

Driving a yellow cab forces you to bear witness to the madness and the poetry of this never-ending performance, to detach from it and engage in it, to anticipate the openings and claim your place.

To be continued…

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