Monday, September 23, 2019

A New York Taxi story.

Last Thursday night, kind of late, I had one of those cab-driver conversations that only add to my already-deep love of New York City.

New York is the only place I’ve ever been where everyone of different differences mixes together—chaotically—and it all sort of somehow works. Of course the malefactors of great wealth have separated themselves from the rest of us. For all I know, they might have a systems of underground hyperloop tubes that shoot them from Wall Street to Fuckhampton in under four minutes, but much of the city, for all its glaring inequality of wealth is a fairly small “d” democratic place.

Jackie O. was behind me once in line at D'Agostino supermarket. And if you want a street hotdog, and who doesn’t now and again, you get it from an old Sabrett guy whose cart probably dates back to when Mario Procaccino was running for mayor and the hotdogs are probably older. 

If you’re in a real rush and can’t wait for your stretch 12-cylinder Pierce-Arrow or even an Uber, you’ll probably hail a yellow cab and you’ll be fine. In both cases, there’s a mixing of people that I don’t think happens in all that many places in the world.

Like I said, it’s one of the things that makes New York wonderful.

On Thursday I got into the front seat of a Mercedes Metris, a seven-seat van. There were already five passengers in the back two seats. I happily got the extra-upfront-legroom.

In just about 15 blocks all the other passengers had tumbled out at their various prewars. And truth be told, I had my earphones in and was listening to something sultry and sentimental by Blossom Dearie, Beverly Kenney, or June Christy. After the increasing stultifying cacophony--emphasis on phony--at work, there's nothing I like more than unwinding with a chanteuse or teuse. 

With just the driver and me in the car, the driver tapped me on the shoulder.

“Can you take your headphones off so we can talk?”

I assumed he wanted directions somewhere or he wanted to complain about a passenger who had been, against the rules, gabbing on the phone.

I took off my headgear.

“Let me tell you a story. Izzat ok?” he began. 

He spoke good English, with an accent I couldn’t place, though he occasionally mangled an idiom or metaphor, as non native-speakers do, as if they’re running around like a fish in a barrel with its head cut off.

“I had a friend, a countryman, this is 20 years ago, who moved into my house with me and my wife. He had lost his job and needed help.”

I said something without consequence, just to let him know I was listening.

“I charged him nothing. No rent. No food. No cable. No Consolidated Edison. He stayed for six months, not lifting a finger, not cooking or doing the dishes, nothing. Him and his wife and his kids. They would all come out for dinner, but they wouldn't help cook the dinner.”

“That’s a lot,” I muttered. It was more politesse than additive.

“Finally, I kicked him out. He had been there for six months. For 20 years, he didn’t talk to me. He was mad at me! I should have been mad at him.”

We were still on the west side. My driver knew he had about 20 minutes to wrap this up. And I wasn’t sure he was going to make it.

“He is a countryman of mine. I say ‘this is ridiculous. I grew up with this guy,’ so after 20 years I call him and we get together for lunch. I paid!”

“Figures,” I said. “Cheap is cheap.”

“So to pay me back, he gives me a car. A car my mother gave him. A 2005 Dodge Caravan. Immediately, I get a ticket. My inspection is overdue.”

We were crossing through the park. I was about a mile from home—at a typical New York City taxi-speed of 3.7 hours, about 18 minutes.

“So I take it to a mechanic who’s a countryman. He says the fourth injector is faulty and he needs to replace the on-board computer. I said to him ‘take a picture of you replacing the computer because I want to see it.’”

I nodded my approval. As they used to say, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” Somehow I had that applying to Brazilian auto mechanics, too.

“I want to see the picture,” he said. “I heard a story once about a man who goes into the hospital with a headache. The doctor examines him, takes and x-ray and says, ‘You have a brain tumor.’

“So they drill a hole in his head.” He did a good job as we sped up Madison of imitating and pantomiming a cranial drill. “They can’t find the tumor. So the doctor looks at the x-ray again, and drills another hole a half-inch to the left. Still no tumor.”

We turned right on 82nd, heading east toward my three-bedroom.

“The doctor looks again at the x-ray and realizes he’s been looking at it upside down. So he flips it over and drills another hole on the other side of the patient’s head. Then he removes the tumor.”

We were in front of my white brick.

“That’s horrible, three holes.”

“That’s why you ask to see a photograph,” he said as I unfastened my seat-belt. “He sued for big money though. It was worth it.”

We shook hands good-night.

Before I entered my building, I checked my skull, just in case.

You have to do that in New York.

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