...They have a place in our enlarged memory banks.
These past two weeks of weekend work gave me such a pleasure to experience the special people:
I was two rides, maybe three, in to my shift the saturday before last, when I felt desperate enough to look to the bar adjacent to my car at a red light in the East village. Out pops a woman who looks responsible, but she has a walk to her that seemed to have lost a little rhythm. As we traveled toward the Williamsburg Bridge she said to me,
"I Feel sick," and to, "Stop the car."
She opened her door, and expedited her beer to the street and on the bottom part of the door. She asked again for me to
"Pull over," so I pulled over some more.
She apologized for her puke incident, she was in her few seconds of guilt phase.
"It's okay," I said, "There's a first time for everything."
Conveniently, we were right next to a convenience store, So I asked her if she wanted a water. I turned off the car and bought a sport bottle of Poland Spring while acquiring some free napkins, YES! perfection, I thought. I handed her the bottle, she told me I was very sweet, then I handed her some napkins and wiped the door with two of them so the goo wouldn't seep through.
"Are you sure you're able to make the ride home?" I asked.
Of course she said she was fine, "Much better, thank you." What would you say if you had to go home to Brooklyn, you wouldn't want to be stuck on the other side of the bridge, would you? She told me she'd give me a big tip, but I drove extra careful and smooth and within minutes she told me that the faster we get there the better. I didn't respond to that comment. She paid with a credit card and added a two dollar tip, which only covered the surcharge I pay for the privilege of people to use a card and the price I paid for the Poland Spring Bottle. I guess some people have a different sense of what a big tip is. It was obvious that her short-term memory might have also expedited along with some of that beer.
Really I was very lucky to have a customer who was smart enough to tell me to pull the car over, and to have actually gotten better after a few minutes. Still I felt I should bring the car to the garage and clean it. Hip Long Island City is only 10 minutes or less from hip Williamsburg, so it was all perfect. I go off duty but see someone hail me. He's going to Staten Island.
"How far into Staten?" I ask, "I have my off duty light on because there is a little puke in the back. I'm not sure if you're okay with that?"
And so he might have actually been okay with it, under his strange circumstances, "I'll give you a (lewd performance) in exchange for a free toll?" He asks.
"Hahahahaha, noo thanks," I say, and suddenly I feel very fortunate that this woman puked in my cab, otherwise, I might have taken this guy to Staten Island without a pre-screening, and then I'd have had that uncomfortable conversation in my cab. Oddly enough it wasn't the first time I'd been given the offer. A few months ago I took someone to brooklyn who wanted me to come upstairs, I politely turned him down of course and received a 5 dollar tip. Come to think of it, he looked like the same guy.
I quickly took an assumption that he was going to a facility, a hospital, or an institution perhaps. I knew Roosevelt Island was half made of hospitals, and my brain had one of those nervous ticks where I forgot he said Randall’s Island which was much more desolate and harder to reach than Roosevelt. No matter though, I quickly remembered he said Randall’s Island when I was piecing my thoughts together halfway over the Queensborough Bridge. Randall’s Island in addition to sports facilities, fire department training grounds, and a beautiful windy barren landscape view of Hell’s Gate, also contained a psychiatric complex, and that was clearly, or hopefully, his destination.
I raced back to the garage, darted around the long line of cabs checking in for the end of their shifts, and found the bucket with soapy water and a brush-broom. It was my first time cleaning puke, so I felt very proud like I won a new badge of honor. The right side of the seat, foot-well, and right door were all lathered up in under a minute, but how do I get all of this off now? To my pleasant surprise the air compressor hose evaporated all of it!! And so within a few minutes, the mess that was barely there in the first place, was gone. I was more worried that whatever leftovers there were would soon grow stale and rank a terrible foul smell, so it was better to be safe than sorry.
Yesterday after a guy got refused by several other drivers he asked me about going to Staten Island for 75 dollars.
Yesterday after a guy got refused by several other drivers he asked me about going to Staten Island for 75 dollars.
"75 DoLLars?!" My curiosity was peeked but not in a good way.
"Yeah," he said, "you can turn your off duty light on and keep your meter off and everything, there are no cops or anything when we get there, so you don't have to worry about that. And can I smoke to relax."
Sheesh, for all we know he was an ok dude, but really there was just way too much wrong with this scenario, so I turned him down too. FYI all you non New Yorkers, the taxi fares in NYC are pretty cheap, and to get to Staten Island it should only be 40 maybe 50, at most 60. If somebody offers extra money and wants to, smoke to relax, that's just too many red flags.
"You know," he said, "I could've just got in your cab, and there'd be nothing you could do but take me. I'm at least telling you before hand." He was right, and I thanked him for his courtesy. I felt so guilty for not taking him, but I then had one more red flag, a pissed passenger, so I apologized and took every excuse he could give me for not wanting to go there.
"I can understand if you aren't going that way, or if it's too far out of your way." he said.
"Well, where in Staten Island?" I ask. It wasn't within the 5 miles of the Island I was familiar with, "Yeah man, it's too far, I'm sorry," I told him.
The cabbie in front of me waved me over to talk about the situation after the guy moved on,
"That guy was special, I was telling you not take him. You go to Staten Island my friend, you're not coming back. Once you're out there he can do whatever he wants." The guy was offered 80, and said he's taken people out there for 40, but that guy was special.
Plus I live out there, and Know already that his information was incorrect, firstly the Verrazano Narrows Bridge has a lot of police, who want to stop you for anything and everything, and secondly, why do I want to go somewhere without police?
It was now after dawn and the morning's sun peered through our empty towers. Very little life walked the streets, which made it difficult to find a customer. as I headed up on Madison Avenue a man raised his arm, and turned toward the cab, and then away from the cab, then toward it again. I couldn't make out his face and as I came closer his posture slumped, his hair grayed, and he looked more and more like he couldn't afford a taxi. I stopped and analyzed his face further and as he slowly approached the rear door. From his mouth a long but somewhat solidified stalactite of blood dripped through the gray stubble on his chin down to almost meet the zipper on his jacket. And on his gray jacket, a dried up muck of yellow and brown chunks was splattered across. The blood looked fresh but might have been preserved by the cold air, and I couldn’t tell how fresh the up-chuck was.
I was so dumbfounded that he wanted a cab, I couldn't even lift my foot from the brake pad. I suppose I had enough guilt in me already. I was ready to carry out this deed. He gets in and I get a closer look at the vibrance of the dangling line of blood, like drool, but glistening red. I worried, and I prayed none of it would land on anything on or in the taxi.
"Randall's Island" He told me in a matter of fact, but trembling voice. He sounded sorrowful of his situation maybe. But his tone, and his mission to get to Randall's Island suggested that he would be damned if he ever admitted that he needed help.
"Uhh, ok, the ride is free," I looked at him to see if he grasped it, "Okay?" I remembered reading internet tales of a San Francisco taxi driver who said that he always gives one free ride a day, and I always thought that if somebody really deserved one, it was surely a brilliant idea, and this was most definitely the case for such charity. The man was willing to shell out everything he had to get to the island, and was in a worse condition than most people experience in an entire lifetime. He didn't expect any favors.
He smiled as much as he could bare it, and when encouraged to respond with an answer, he finally acknowledged an, "Okay."
“Oh, you wanted to go to Randall’s Island? Right?” I yelled to him on the upper roadway. I was trying to be a nice guy, but another two things I’d hoped for was that he wouldn’t freak out about me taking him a longer way, or that he would became so relaxed that I would have to dive into the back and wake him up. But he was actually the perfect gentleman.
“Yes.” One clear and simple, approval.
“Do you mind just paying the toll of 4 dollars and 15 cents?” I asked.
“Uh okay yes, that’s fine.” And he maintained that calmness throughout the whole ride. He eventually slumped down in his seat, and of course a family raised their hands to hail me in Astoria, Queens. Remember that my meter was off, so my vacant light was on, but so was my off duty light so hopefully they weren't too bummed.
When we got to the island he kept repeating the sentence, "We are right on time, right on time." A big grin spread across his face, which was a little scary since his face was covered in blood. I was pretty familiar with the island from my high school days on a track team and a soccer team. I knew all the corners of the strange marsh and grasslands so I felt pretty comfortable. Plus the daylight factor, if it was night time I probably wouldn't have done this trip, I may be stupid but not that stupid.
When we got to the compound, it wasn't over. the entrance was guarded by a state policeman. I casually rolled down the window when he asked what we were there for. Since I had no idea why we were there, or where we were going, I rolled down my passenger's window so he could explain. The officer leaned in to the car, but quickly took two or three steps back,
"Ooooh... Man." He squeezed his face together like his eyes just saw the ugliest thing ever, or as if he was sprayed with mace. "Woah." He pulled his professionalism back together, "Where are you headed sir?"
And in the same calm demeanor my passenger had displayed for a whole half hour, he answered with clarity, and conciseness, "I am going to ____"
And with that response, we were on our way I thought, well not so fast.
"Hold up, this is really weird," said the state officer, "I have to call this in." And we waited with the gateway half open, "Hello, yes I have a New York City taxicab out here? And the guy is going to ___? Okay, okay."
Meanwhile my passenger handed me a ten, I handed him back six. The gate then opened, and my passenger guided me to his building, said he was right on time twice more, thanked me with the dripping blood still intact, it may have never moved, and he tightened his makeshift cotton sleeve belt and was on his way.
I came round the drive and back to the booth to meet the officer again, and we talked and laughed at the odd situation.
"His face had welts all over it, like he was beat up real bad," he said.
He told me that the cameras were watching me and I didn't drop him off where he said he was going. He knew of the one place that wasn't in the state police jurisdiction, but then got dropped off at one of their buildings instead. He told me the situation was so weird that he had to write down my plate number, but was really cool about it.
I held on to that ten dollar bill the whole rest of the day saving it for a bad customer, but all my customers were kind. The thin paper Hamilton sat on my dash, mocking my fears of germs, as I never wanted to touch it. In all honesty the man's hands were very clean and dry, but the door had a smudge of blood by the handle so I grabbed a napkin with snow that sat on a bench, and I wiped it off. I checked the back seat and the partition and they were spotless, and odorless, he was also odorless.