It was another lovely Sunday morning, well, it was kinda slow once the sun came up, slower than usual. WCBS radio was adding to their traffic news coverage "Extended Pope traffic coverage," well I thought it was all hogwash and it could all be avoided anyway. This was the first time I decided to print out Gridlock Sam's traffic column, and the first sentence of the column said, "Don't drive if you don't have to this weekend." I barely noticed the Pope's presence on Saturday, he only stayed by the United Nations, and went to his hotel. I stayed west and downtown on Saturday and avoided the whole thing.
Sunday though was different. I waited at the Downtown Marriott as the sun rose while 10 minutes became a half-hour, and a half-hour grew past 1 hour of waiting. After this time I was first in line for the hotel only because the taxis in front had given up. I had some sort of odd feeling that it wasn't going to be any better anywhere else. The news reports were talking about road closures right where I was, and so I felt kind of special. I thought that I was in some enclosed Pope zone, and I wasn't even sure if I could leave.
Pope Mobile spotted:
Downtown / Financial District (World Trade Center)
Well I got something out of it all, the Pope Mobile itself was towed past the taxi line and the hotel just before the gates were open at the World Trade Center site (A.K.A. Ground Zero). I was afraid to take a picture as it passed, fearing they'd lock me up and send me to Guantanamo. But then the doorman, the bellhop, and concierge as well as a few tourists whiped out their cellphones and aimed them simultaneously at the Pope Mobile in tow. Another 15 or 30 minutes passed and I got somebody up to Central Park, who told me the streets wouldn't be closed for another hour, he even had a sheet showing all the road closures in the area from the hotel.
So it was all under relative control after that; pick up tourists, hope they don't go to Ground Zero, than work up to New Yorkers at noon driving them home after errands, or lunch, or the gym. But I soon found myself in deja vu:
Upper East Side
Here I was having found a hotel to wait at, all of Park Avenue became blocked north of 63rd and I was between 62nd and 63rd. Again I wasn't sure if I could drive off or if I would be target practice for the roof snipers. The oddest situation went down where an old man came up to me and told me he wanted to go up to 86th street. I told him he was first on the list when I get a chance to drive north again. So we waited, we all waited, the neighbors, the hotel guests, the Cadillac Escalade Limousine Drivers, the decorated soldiers? We all waited for what we heard was to be merely 15 minutes from the polite doormen and the police both. 15 minutes turned to 30, et-cetera. The man asked if he could lean on my cab, and I took pictures of the waiting.
More simultaneous cellphones
The officers told me that chances are all Avenues at the moment were closed north of 63rd. "Wow this guy really messes with a town," said some random guy in shorts and a Hawaiian T-shirt, " He must think this city has no traffic at all." I looked back toward the hotel to see a sprinkling of hotel personnel all over. A man walked briskly but with a chipper disposition toward the street closure and asked one of the hotel guys this: "Hey who's manning the desk?" to which the reply was, "Nobody is." It was the culmination for me of the small town moment we were having. Hardly ever in New York City, and especially when working as a taxi driver do I hear or see evidence of something or somebody not being watched.
Just then the doorman asked me if I was available to take 2 people to Newark Airport, I really wanted to, but I had to talk between the doorman and the old guy who wanted to go uptown about how I couldn't go uptown anyway, and that once the streets opened north, an empty taxi-cab would be easy to find, and I asked the doorman if he'd help the man find a cab, and he obliged.
Being that it was such a strange day, I continued to watch as the Papal Motorcade drove by.
Eventually the Hawaiian shirt guy and his wife left in one of the Cadillac's. I returned to my cab to find the trunk packed and the people sitting waiting to be driven to Newark Airport, and but of course we made it in record time.