Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A jazz guy, an alcoholic, a skirt, and a taxi garage owner,

Just another day in the life:
(I warn you this post is long)

Before I drove,
I was up the night before helping my now ex-apartment-mate move out, and after an hour or so of down time I took a midnight local bus into Brooklyn from my Staten Island house. Two Hours later I was at the taxi garage in Long Island City, Queens, eating some fig bars I bought at the 24-hour convenience store. I was assigned a crisp Crown Vic’, so fresh a rubber band still kept the extra middle seatbelt neat, and a factory smell permeated from every seat. I got the car one to two hours earlier than usual, but I had to since I was taking mass transit all the way from Staten Island. Even during rush hour it takes more than an hour to get to Manhattan from Staten, and that’s when they don’t skimp on trains and buses.

One thing about the 2008 Crown Victorias is they all have a tire pressure warning light in the dash. It is one more warning light constantly on. So since I was extra early and I didn’t really want to spend the time picking up drunks, or whomever, I looked around at each tire. They always look low to me, and so I spent a half hour filling my right rear tire to something closer to desirable.

Into the night:
Now that everything was in check I was out the back slowly, peering about and heading south to the usual course and courses. It was all going in slow motion for me that day; I guess that’s how I like it. Driving is very impulsive, and I wondered if my impulses were intentionally driving me away from business. Every time I wake up for a cab-driving day, I tell myself to take it easy. Every action from pouring cereal to brushing my teeth is done slowly and with care to emphasize a full day of careful routine. Some friends were just finishing their party in the farthest east of the Lower East Side and I thought about heading that way through the maze of small streets, but I saw droves of wonderers, zombies, silhouettes under the streetlights moving toward Delancey Street struggling with balance; I decided I’d continue with the routine path.

The Brooklyn Hustle:
My first rider worth note came after I hadn’t found many customers. Two hours had passed, and I had three small fares, as I wasn’t feeling ballsy enough to plunge into high demand spots. He tapped on my right side front window, 

“Can you take me to Brooklyn?”

Hmm well since he asked, “Where in Brooklyn?” I asked, I’d have taken him anyway, but I wanted to know how far out he was going.

“Dean and (x).” He said.

“Dean and what? Where is that?”

“It’s 25 dollars, and it’s real close.” He said

Well I don’t turn down rides, and he was begging practically, I’ve heard ‘it’s real close’ before, a common line, but at 25 dollars, and uhhh, well if you saw him you’d know he wasn’t far out there. Errr, sorry. So he gets in and we head south and he tells me directions, and I’m feeling kinda lucky. It doesn’t seem far, and as usual I’m starting to figure out where he’s going, it was pretty familiar territory. He seems like a nice grateful person, just then the phone rings, he picks up:

“Hello? ---
Oh no this is not the driver this is the passenger.---
 I’m heading to Brooklyn. Well where are you?--
 Yeah I’ll give you your phone back…for forty dollars-
Okay we’re heading back right now.”

This guy had the gumption to ask for forty dollars to return a phone. I sounded concerned for the phone’s return, so he assumed correctly that I would want to return it as soon as possible. I pulled the car around right before the bridge, and luckily the police didn’t stop me for the U-turn. He told me that he would split the money with me, give me 20, Sweet!! Then we waited where I picked him up and dropped off the guys who lost the phone. There they came and paid forty. He gave me twenty and told me to restart the meter.

As we took Dean down to emptier parts we talked about Philadelphia and its up and coming jazz scene, and how Boston doesn’t have a damned thing, New York is incomparable he said,

“Best city in the world,”

meh, I love it, but I need to see other cities, I’m not in a committed relationship with this city. I tell him that we (New Yorkers) all move, but we tend to come back, when we’ve been spoiled by all the conveniences and entertainment the city has to offer. Anyway it turns out he’s a jazz manager or something, a musician as well, he recommends a man named Kenny Garrett. I have yet to hear the guy. The fare was 13 or 15 bucks, he paid and then gave me the other twenty, I had to help him find it though, 

“It’s probably in your back pocket,” I said, presto there it was.

Sympathy for the cabbie:
I returned to Manhattan into the Lower East Side scramble, or what was left of it after 5 am. The bars close at 4, and so I made it through to SoHo without picking up. Then 5 Upper East Siders asked if I could take them. I didn’t know there were five of them, or maybe even 6, but what really agitated me was that 2 wanted to sit in the front passenger seat.

“You have so much room up there,” they remarked. “Don’t worry we’ll be fine.”

To which I replied, “ I am not worried about you, I am worried about getting a ticket for carrying too many people.”

The girlfriend of the couple to my right seemed to care actually. At one point when we passed 2 police cars, the girl bent down toward my side as if she was looking for something, err, like a lost cell phone. Me and the guy were both confused but when she got up after we passed the police, I thought that was a very kind gesture, but a little overkill. Anyway, they tipped nicely.

Waiting in the wrong places:
After all that good fortune I chose the wrong hotel and waited for an hour before getting a 6 dollar ride to CBS, the guy was really cool and apologized for being such a short ride, he gave me a ten.

Then I chose the Ship Terminal and waited for an hour and a half, landing a seven-dollar fare. That ship terminal is harder to figure out then life itself sometimes. Only lord knows what days bring airport fares.

It was the middle of the day and had it not been for the ride to Fort Greene in Brooklyn that paid double, I’d have been stressed. Slow, slow, slow, it was one of our first sunny warm days in a while and nobody needed to get anywhere in a hurry. I was in Chelsea and as I turned to 7th Ave from 23rd slowly and wide, I checked all sidewalk territory and saw a disheveled woman hail with uncertainty, then the man next to her dressed business casual hail with authority again. He gave her a ten and she climbed in with his assistance. She took about 2 minutes to get inside, and then another eight seconds to find the handle on the door and pull it closed.

Not one alarm bell went off in my head, because plenty of ugly people hail cabs, plenty of times people need help from a friend to get in a cab. I sometimes assist them on their way out too; it’s part of the service of paying for a taxi and not a bus. It wasn’t until she opened her mouth that I began to wonder,


She said with such effort that the whole seat was probably covered in saliva. As I drove across town she didn’t look frontward with concern for time or even for the money on the meter, she only looked out her window enjoying what little time she had in the comfortable confines of this upper-middle class travel. She soon had to spoil her peaceful moment and lay down the spiel:

“I’m homeless, and I’m going to the 5th precinct to find a bathroom.”

Well that wasn’t exactly music to my ears. I feel it as my duty to oblige to anyone who asks for some change or a little discount on his or her ride, but for her I didn’t feel too guilty. Firstly she got in a cab, so by asking for expensive services and not paying for them with money she has, she’s stealing a ride, she’s stealing my time, which I pay for everytime I drive the car. It’s a plenty expensive city, but it was her decision to step in to a ride worth more than she may have wanted to pay. So yes, her statement sent my thoughts through a whole judge jury and executioner kind of mode, but whatever, we’d cross that bridge if we had too. I was still grateful though that she wasn’t complaining about the length of time it took to get across town, rather she kept asking if we were there yet like she was 50 going on 3 years of age.

BTW a construction crane? Another one? On 10th street for Christ sake!? Why doesn’t anybody tell me these things in advance?? So we continue around that mess and add about a few minutes and a few dollars to the meter.

We finally get there, to Second Avenue and 5th Street, after I explained that it would be silly to go around the block looking for a place she kept describing as over there while she wasn’t healthy enough to lift her arm to point well enough. Then she needed help getting out of the cab. And so I held her arm as she grabbed each of her store bags and slowly stepped entirely out of the taxi. She let her arm free of our arm and arm embrace and pulled her shirt slightly and fussed with her belt.

“I need some help! Can you help me with my belt.”

I thought about it, God knows why, for a second, while checking the seat for any left behind items or liquids.

“No,” I said, “I’m sorry I can’t help you there. I only can go so far.”

“Fine,” She said, as if she was testing me, finding what my limit was.

We continued to the sidewalk at an agonizingly slow pace, and when I tried to move faster and carry her along, she would scream as if her bones were pulled apart. She waddled her fragile ripened pear shaped body over to the curbside, mocking all notions of time's existence. Eventually we made it to the restaurant on the corner, the long journey of several feet had taken about 12 minutes. The restaurant waiter quickly came to the entrance with some garlic and some steaks (just kidding)

“She can’t come in here. Last week she used the bathroom and pissed all over the floor. And she didn’t buy anything,” he said.

“Oh, well she hasn’t even paid me yet, she’s probably not paying me either, despite me walking her from the cab.” I Said.

“Oh, see," He gestured with open palms at her, "She’s a mess. And she leaves everybody else to clean up after.” 

Than she got her money out to pay; I suggested half price or even a little less, the meter was at 7.70. She gave me 3 singles which came from a wad of assorted United States currency larger than my own, my guess was she had about 40 bills in her hand, and of course we know she already obtained a ten. Like I said, she needs the money she has as it is tough to live in such a city, but I asked for one more dollar.

“Make that 4.” “and Thank you”

She asked for more help to walk her to the store she kept pointing to with no decipherable location. So we walked to a point where I finally figured out where she was going. We stopped at the edge of the curb by a parking meter so she could hold on to it as I left her screaming as if she broke a bone again.

“Why won’t you take me there!!”

The sign on the big yellow awning right down the street from the police station where they shot the fa├žade for the hit tv show NYPD Blue, it read, LIQUOR STORE in red capitals. I had gone pretty far out of my way to accommodate her to such a point, so I felt justified, she had underpaid, and so in a sense, she had bought some included advice from some kid who otherwise had no right to tell her what to do. After all she wanted my help, so I might as well give her some.

“I am not taking you to the liquor store. You have all that money in your hand, and just to spend it on more booze would just waste it all away.”

“You can’t tell me what to do,” came her voice, again sounding like an angsty teen.

But I continued, by underpaying she had every right to get an earful, “Where are you going to sleep? Why don’t you spend that money on a room and not a bottle? No I’m not helping you ruin your life ma’am.”

And with that I walked away.

“I NEED IT!!” she cried, “I NEED IT FOR THE PAIN!!”

Who sits in the cab next: some well groomed woman in a skirt sits down and gives specific directions, FDR to 34th then up First Avenue. If she ever knew, I thought, if she ever knew who sat in her place less than 15 minutes ago. I wondered how dry the seat was.

-Dropped her off, and picked up a couple, again with very specific directions, guy comments on the police motorcycles

“I’ve never seen those before, are those real?”

I thought they we’re new additions to the police toys for a minute, but then I noticed the Dodge Avenger car painted in traffic police colors yet marked as a regular police car, never mind the fact that the city doesn’t use Dodge Avengers and if anything, it would start purchasing Toyota Prius’ for the traffic division.

“Oh that’s right,” I said, “This is all for some movie. They were also filming by the Brooklyn Bridge.”

They didn’t seem to care anymore, I tend to dwindle on subjects long after the interest has left. Anyway he took a look at my trip sheet because he had indicated some interest suggesting he knew a lot about cabs. It turned out he owned a garage in Brooklyn. And name-dropped the owners names of my garage, how’s so and so, and also, his son, and then their buddy,for sanctity of the blog, I won’t say their names, but he knew them, he was a real deal owner of a Brooklyn garage. And I assume she was his wife, sitting, where the alcoholic was just 30 or so minutes ago. He told me to tell them he said hi, but my memory wasn't good enough to remember his name, nor did I feel it would help me to go out of my way to mention him.

After they got out in Chinatown, I pulled up one block further and sniffed the back seat, which still held its strong fresh from the factory smell.

For photos of The Dodge movie cop car after its planned collision go here: Hack Shots: Do we really need....

And for shots of movie Crown Victoria taxis used for movies go to my shots: here, and: here at my flickr account.


Anonymous said...

Wow tough day bro..... really interesting though.......amazingly well written...... I know that conflict between helping out and running away..... between allowing yourself to get used or standing up for correct process ......being generous or being a fool...... in any interaction with folks living on the street I almost never feel like I got it right....... or that i helped them ..... or that we both had a reasonable time..... or that they felt I understood them or at least was not condescending to them..... it almost always ends like you are describing.....(so much more eloquently)...... with them calling after you...... and you feeling kinda awkward and shitty as you leave them to it.....
Cool piece of prose my friend..
Cheers Jez XX

NYC taxi photo said...

Yeah, it was tiring more than anything else. And I'm glad I got the feeling across of not exactly being any hero, and not being a bum either. I still wonder if the blog entry was too long.

anyway, I like the latest picture of the police taxi you got, I tried a bunch of times to put down a comment, but your blog kept thinking I was spam.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it was too long, they are very interesting stories. I can't even think of anything else to say, only to wonder about all of the stuff that you have to deal with.