Thursday, December 11, 2008

Who's Your Cabbie?

I’ll start by saying that after seeing this video on MTV, when I was nine, I wanted to drive a Yellow Cab: Other than being stuck on a desert island with Huey Lewis, that was the most glamorous, sophisticated activity known to me. And that is why, for a few years in my youth, I wanted to be a sexy cab driver when I grew up. I would close each shift by driving out of the city, parking the cab, sitting on the hood, and admiring the skyline…

Real Time:
I’m on my way home, in a taxi, from a late night out in New York City. My cab driver is young and friendly and I will call him Paco. Paco and I, we get talking. He likes his job—meeting and talking with people and touring the city, all night long.
“You won’t believe some of the stuff that happens,” Paco tells me.
“I can imagine!” I say. And then, “Do you ever take your friends along with you…like a ride along?”
Paco shrugs a shoulder. “Sure,” he says. Which comes across as, no, he hasn’t but, yes, he would.
“Could I do a ride along sometime?” I ask.

We exchange numbers. About a week later, I call him. We’re trying to figure out a good time…
Paco says, “What are you doing in an hour?”
And an hour later, I’m in the front seat of his cab. We’re cruising and I’m asking him all about his job, a million questions a mile. Somewhere in there I tell him that I used to want to be a New York City cab driver—how it has always seemed so glamorous and romantic.
“You wanna drive?” he asks me.
“That’s not what I was—-are you offering?”
“Yeah, you can drive,” he says. “Here, I’ll pull over.”

Okay, so now would be a good time to mention that I don't like to drive and am, ipso facto, bad at driving. I’m easily distracted by people in the car and bright lights confuse me. I should mention this, but I don’t. This is one of the most exciting nights ever. I am about to make my nine-year-old self very pleased—which I figure I owe her. Up until this point I think she’d be really disappointed in me, for good reason. Example: Last night’s dinner was a can of soup I bought with change from a jar in my room. I ate it and then cried myself to sleep.

But now I’m driving a taxi in New York City!
It’s like Make A Wish Foundation without the childhood life-threatening medical illness!
So sexy!
Paco tells me where to go. He tells me when to turn and brake and speed up. He even knows when a pothole is coming. He knows this city down to its details and I tell him so. Paco points out our first fare. I stop and two guys, going from one bar to another, climb in. They offer to buy us shots. We decline.

The second fare is a couple. They ask Paco and I if we want to come up and smoke pot with them. And again, we decline.

Oh, and guess what? Driving a cab is neither glamorous nor romantic. Fetid air fills the car. You can imagine. The passengers may be contributors but mostly it comes from my armpits. It is the smell of stress. And terror. My knuckles are bleached.

The next fare is a guy and his English girl-cousin on their way to Astoria.
I ask them, “So where did you go on your date?”
The guy reminds me that they are cousins.
“But how long have you been dating?”
“We’re not.”
“Then why did you go on a date?”
I’m goofing and they don’t like it. I have made them uncomfortable and now they hate me. (Which probably means they do secretly fancy each other.)

I apologize to Paco for losing his tip. And insist on paying the lost amount.

We pick up another guy who suggests getting a drink before dropping him home. I point out that a lot of people want to intoxicate us.
Paco confirms this. “You wouldn’t believe how many people try to get me to go out drinking with them,” he says.
That’s absurd! It’s like, before an operation, telling the surgeon “You’re cool, how ’bout we go get shitfaced together before you put knife to skin?”

We pick up a group of college students. One of the girls can’t believe that a woman is driving the taxi. She really can’t believe it.
She asks, “Are you really allowed?”
No, I’m not really allowed to drive a cab. In fact, it’s very illegal for me to be driving this cab. Which is probably what makes it even more fun. But it would be a good idea to stop, because it would not be fun if anything happened to Paco and his job. And that’s where the wild night, and the story, end.

Would I do it again?
No, way too stressful.

If you want to read stories from a real cab driver, check out Cabs Are For Kissing.

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