Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Star Struck! - Driving Spike Lee

Now, I'm not the type to get star-struck, okay that's not true; I guess it depends on who it is, and how much of an interaction I have with the person. There are some famous people they say, who exude a special charisma: the way they walk and talk, it feels exactly right, it feels perfect, and this was such a fare, but first I'll tell you how I got there. Bare with me as we head uptown unsure of our destination before getting such a reward heading back down.

Uptown Bound:
I'm in the Upper East Side. I turn onto Third Avenue and a woman stands at the corner looking towards downtown for a ride coming uptown perhaps. When she saw me stop in mid-turn she stepped in and said "a one-twenty-eight street," but as we started, she added extras, "four-oh-seven one-twenty-eight," and "one-twenty-eight and c-min." She couldn't tell me weather it was east 128st, or west 128, all she said is "near highway is fine". But everytime I tried to confirm an avenue it was near, she said "yes, okay." She told me, " I wish I knew english," her and me both, but wishing wouldn't help her get home. I eventually realized even though I couldn't find it on the map, that I did remember a street called seaman ave, on the west side, and this was probably where she wanted to go. I turned off the meter before we started going west and before we started going in circles. Eventually she got out at 126th and Lenox, I told her it was seven dollars, she said: "No, five." Wow, that was hilarious, I laughed out loud, and was pleased to have her leave the cab. Good riddance, that's the last time I go out of my way to pick-up someone who clearly would rather take a car service, which is more expensive, but more likely to speak spanish. As I head downtown, I'm not particularly mad at the time I wasted, these things are bound to happen, it can be expected to be delayed at least five times in a day with traffic, or a long fare fare from the Manhattan epicenter.

Downtown Bound:
Heading back I went in a direct line, aiming for Central Park, but before I got there, from a nice enclave of park space and brownstones a man came out from between the parked cars and flailed his arms wildly in the attempt to catch me. "Yo, TaXI!" He shouted: He was desperate but deliberate, loud but calculated. I stopped when I caught sight of an arm of his with the accompanied taxi shout. He plopped in, "Thank you," he stated.

"No problem," I replied.

The destination, re-imagined, for less disclosure: "Seventy-fourth, and Lex." His words were sharp at their beginnings and endings, and the middle of each word was drawn out with careful annunciation. The sentence came out with presence, as if he was awarding me this prize, as if he was really saying, Here from beyond the reaches of 125th Street, I hereby award you with a ride to 74 and Lexington. Saying Lex, was his proclamation of pride to be a real New Yorker.

I was nervous to look in my rear-view mirror, or to ask him the clich├ęd: Do I, or should I know you? While driving customers I rarely grasp a full description of them unless I have a conversation. I see only pieces of the man: A red designer baseball cap with matching jacket, thick glasses, and a thin face with a bushy but short beard. I grasp at the time when he hailed me a minute ago, the brief moment I saw the man flailing his arms on the street, calculating him by his round glasses, his height, his beard, his voice. This man was most likely Spike Lee. He then made a phone call to his friend where he was begging his buddy to play with him on his team, this caused me confusion. What member of Spike Lee's entourage would turn down a chance to play baseball, or basketball with him? Maybe this wasn't Spike Lee? I was very proud of my route downtown; I took 5th Avenue to 96th, and then to Lexington. He tipped well. When the opportunity came to give him the change he specified, I realized this was my last chance to look back and see if I recognized him. So with the change in my left hand, I hopped out of my seat, crossed over to straddle the middle armrest, and faced him through the open partition window and handed him his change. I think I frightened him, but I did get a good look at him. The thickness of his beard sent me off the trail, but his trademark glasses assured me even more that he was Spike, in the flesh. "Have a good day," he exclaimed in that same savvy pitch. I tried to eye him as he walked, but to see his backside wouldn't help me assure myself it was him. I banged my fist on my door with giddy excitement that I had just given a ride to the famous director. I banged my fist on the door several more times in frustration that I couldn't confirm it was him. I was pleased that he was so pleasant, but I wished we had pulled off a full conversation. Perhaps he was more pleased that I wasn't so talkative, and that I gave him a moment of peace between point A and B. I planned to go around the block in hopes that I'd get another glimpse, but I grabbed another fare really quick.

Reflection:
I've had people in my car before who might classify as famous: There was this woman who talked on the phone for the entire ride about the details of a reality show she was on, America's Most Smartest Model, and there was the woman who I overheard through a phone call who was just starting as a head curator at the Whitney Museum. There are many who have talked to one another about how they're the key ingredient either in a universe of models, or a universe of some upper-class social scene.

In the end people don't count as famous if they have to tell you about it, and much of taxicab culture for the newly initiated New Yorker is about showing off your clout, charisma, and credentials. In the end, for the truly famous there is no escaping the charm everyone else covets. Fame has taken hold of these certain few, none of whom I'd ever had the pleasure to interact with until now.

Finding Proof:
I later took another ride all the way from a small hotel in Chinatown to see his family at a new condo building on 116th street. He grew up in New York, but moved to L.A. and worked in the industry. Would you believe he had photos on his iphone of Spike Lee, and some others too, the Donald, and Eli Manning. Of course it was the Spike Lee photo I was particularly interested in. I checked the picture twice, he had the same glasses, it was totally him.

One Degree of Separation:
So it would seem special enough, strange enough, that not only do I give the famous movie director a ride, but in the same day only a few hours later I give that last guy a ride who has a picture he took of Spike Lee to confirm the special highlight of my day. It gets only a little stranger, me and this guy talk through the whole ride, he gave me a big tip too, but he tells me the corner he grew up on, 83rd and Columbus Avenue. After dropping him off at 116th Street from Chinatown, I travel back to the Upper-East Side. My next ride's destination?

"83rd and Columbus please."

Strange how interconnected our lives all really are.


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