Riding Uptown. In Soft Rain.

3:25 pm. I step out of 111 Wall Street, downtown Manhattan.
30 min to get to midtown. Tight.
Rain sprinkles.
Uber: “Car unavailable at this time.” Wow.
I walk up the block to the intersection.  Look in all directions. No cabs. Please.
Walk up another block. Nothing.
Walk across the street. Nothing.
Walk across another street, and he rounds the corner, my right arm flies up. Bam.

“525 5th please…”
He doesn’t repeat it. Did he get it?
He has no smartphone. No GPS. No smart re-routing around traffic.
24 minutes.

No radio blaring. No TV screen behind front seat shouting ads.
No water bottle or coffee cup on console.
No crucifix on thin chain hanging from rearview mirror. No patron saint. No Jesus Saves.
No pics of loved one(s) on dash.
No ring on his finger. None on his ear or his nose.
No sunglasses on visor. No eyeglasses.
No NY Post on the seat.
No box of Kleenex or NY Mets baseball cap in door pocket.
12 min and 3 miles out. [Read more…]

Riding Uptown. Man on Venus. Man on Mars.

“How long to Grand Central?”

“20 minutes, maybe 30, it’s Rush Hour.”

Uber driver. Black Toyota Camry. Leather seats worn. Dashboard tanned with thousands of hours of direct sunlight.

“Your English is good. Where are you from?”

He glances at me in the rear view mirror. Reticent.

“Ethiopia, Sir.”

“How long have you been here?”

“9 years.”

“And your family? Are they here or back in Ethiopia?”

“Oh, they’re all back in Ethiopia. I’m here with my wife.”

“Do you miss home?”

Long pause.

“People think it’s easy. Here in America.” He pulls up. Polite, respectful.

I shift the conversation. We’re a few minutes out.

“You have a 4.94 (out of 5) driver rating. Wow. That’s something. How do you do it?”

“I don’t know Sir.” He smiles.

“I’m curious. Out of 10 rides, how many riders tip?” [Read more…]

Riding Uptown. Saving the Best For Last.

taxi-cab-new-york-city

The memory was triggered by a tune played on the car radio on a balmy December day last week. A tune I’ve played hundred’s of times since it was released in 1991. A tune that sits on top of the same playlist that has been transferred from iPod to iPod to iPod to various iPhone upgrades for almost 25 years. It’s Marc Cohn’s hit “Saving the Best for Last.

Got into a cab in New York City 
Was an Oriental man behind the wheel 

It wasn’t an Oriental man behind the wheel. It was a cab in New York City.  He was in his 60’s.  He didn’t do much talking, and certainly not about mansions in heaven.

Started talking about heaven 
Like it was real 
Said “They got mansions in heaven” 
Yeah the angels are building one for me right now…

It was July. The midday heat exploded, and like a desert mirage, the waves were radiating off the Manhattan asphalt.  All four windows in the cab were down, hot air was gushing in. I took my jacket off, and loosened my tie.

I couldn’t get the words out: “Can you please turn on the A/C?”  It was as if my tongue was jacked with Novocain.  A/C Broken or conserving petrol?

We’d lock eyes in his rear view mirror. A Suit staring into the deep dark eye of an elephant, with its leg chained to steel spike.

And I know…
They’re saving the best for last 
Look around this town 
And tell me that it ain’t so 
They’re saving the best for last 
Don’t ask me how I know 
‘Cause it must be 
Saving the best for last for me

There was a 34 oz plastic bottle resting in the console, the Polish Spring label worn from the refilling, the hundreds of grips and re-grips, and the punishing heat magnified through the front window.

Classified ads sit on the passenger seat, folded neatly. A black Bic is clipped to the top left, the plastic cap marked with deep chew marks. [Read more…]

Driving Uptown. With MAN from X.

cabs-nyc-times-square

DK:  Broadway and 49th please.
CD:  Times Square?
DK:  Yes. Please.

DK:  Your cab is so clean.
CD:  Thank you Sir.
DK:  How long have you been driving?
CD:  Nine months.

DK:  Where are you from?
CD:  X (A Caribbean Country)

DK:  Do you have family back at X?
CD:  Yes Sir.  My wife and 2-year old daughter.
CD:  I’m saving money to bring them over.
CD:  I do miss them. I’m hoping to see them at Christmas.

DK:  How many hours a day do you drive?
CD:  I start at 7:30 am and drive until 8 or 9pm.
DK:  Weekends?
CD:  I try to not to work on Sundays.

CD:  And then I study.
DK:  Study?
CD:  I want to become a Cop.
DK:  Cop?
CD:  Yes.
DK:  May I ask why?
CD:  Police, politicians – are thieves in X.
CD:  I would be proud to serve this city.
CD:  I think I would be a good cop. [Read more…]

Driving Up I-95. With Mr. Friendly.

taxi

I jumped into a cab after de-planing in Fort Lauderdale late Sunday afternoon. An uneventful flight. Largely uneventful that is, with the exception of the couple sitting in the front of the aircraft in premium seating. They were wearing face masks and plastic gloves synched with rubber bands. (Ebola.) If you gotta fly and you’re freaked, put on the protective gear. (It would be a cold day in Hell before you’d see me absorbing the ‘looks’ on a three hour flight.) Face-Mask-Man catches my stare. His eyes lock on mine as if to say: We’ll see who’s the Fool. 

“Do you take American Express?”
The cab driver’s response is undecipherable.
I’m guessing he’s in his 60’s, his accent places him from the Islands, and he’s wearing a day or two beard.

I ask again.
Do you take credit cards?
Yes, Sir.
This ‘Sir” thing is de-stabilizing. When did I become a Sir?

I note that I have plenty of legroom in a Yellow Cab. I’m grateful for one of life’s rare and simple pleasures.

How was your flight?
Good, thank you.
Where you coming from?
New York.
Is it cold?
It’s getting there.

89°F. The air conditioning is either not working or he’s conserving fuel. I open the window to let the tropical air blow in.

Do you want me to turn on the air?

No, it’s fine, thank you.

Is the friendliness a ploy for a larger tip? I scold myself for the unprovoked cynicism. And then reverse course and conclude that a friendly driver would earn a larger tip and that my cynicism was rationally placed. And the wheels on the bus go round and round.

What is the address again?
I repeat the address.

Is that on A1A?

I have no idea. Sorry.

Anticipating a bad outcome, I grab my smartphone and turn on Google Maps. And wait. I don’t want to be pushy and start offering instructions. Not yet anyway.

[Read more…]

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