I jumped into a taxi tonight, a hybrid Toyota Prius, at the corner of 40th and 8th. I was lucky enough to get a real New York cabdriver. A 60-year old with a hack license number in the 200-thousands. (All hack licenses are numbered sequentially. A new driver today will usually have a number in the 500-thousands.)
He started talking to me when a lady with five little kids walked off the curb against the light.
"New York today," he spewed.
By the time we got to Broadway (which the mayor has made a pedestrian mall in midtown, complete with chairs and little tables) he was really roiled.
"Whaddaya think of this?" he demanded. "Whaddah they tryin' to do, drive all the cabbies outta town?"
"I've been here my whole life," I interjected.
"How old are you?" he one upped me. "I'm 60 and was born and lived here my whole life."
By now we had made it crosstown, beat a yellow light on 40th and First and were streaming up through the First Avenue tunnel near the UN.
"Remember Nedick's?" he asked. "Orange Julius? The big Howard Johnson's at 59th and Lex? I'd go in there and ask for a 'Broadway.' Do you know what a 'Broadway' is?"
"No," I admitted.
"A chocolate soda with coffee ice cream. They'd put a big hunk of coffee ice cream in. Now some places'd give you a coffee soda with chocolate ice cream. But that's not a Broadway.
"The only place left is Papaya King up on 86th. And they just re-did the place," he lamented.
"One time, I played stickball with Joe Pepitone and Phil Linz." Two ex-Yankees.
"Linz couldn't hit much," I answered.
"It was like ballet with him. Nothing got by him. I never saw a man with more grace. He hit our ball on the roof. It had to be 100 feet high! We surrounded him. 'Phil, the rules say, if y' hit one on the roof, you gotta go up there and get it.' Nobody locked their doors in those days. He reached for a quarter so fast! He flipped it to me and I ran down the street and gotta new ball. We really lucked out. 'Cause we still had the old ball.'
We were nearing my house.
"I ran into him at the bar he owned, Flick, and I told him the story. He said it was Pepitone. And I said, no, I was twelve. I know it was you."
We pulled up to my corner. I gave him his fare and a $10 tip.
It was worth every penny.