Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Hasidic Jew celebrating Purim and a narcoleptic Mexican, 2012

Welcome back to another edition of Craziest NYC Taxi Stories in New York City. Colorful is a good word to describe tonight’s list of unusual and eccentric characters. I picked up 40 people during the night driving shift starting late afternoon on a Sunday. Because it was Sunday traffic was easier to navigate and more relaxed. My afternoon started as I rode along Flatbush Avenue as I do every afternoon. I was unable to find anyone headed into the city right away, so over I went across the Manhattan Bridge in search of my first passenger for the shift. I made a right turn onto Canal, then I spotted a group of young hipsters wanting to go back to their place in Fort Greene, so I swing a turn back around onto Hester, making a left on Bowery, and back over the bridge we go. They decided instead to get off at 7th and Flatbush in search of a store. Next up, I head back down Flatbush, and am stopped by two married Australian women who then ask me to go to Bedford Avenue “where there are furniture stores” from where we are in Park Slope. I had no idea exactly where this was but I made the assumption that they wanted to go Williamsburg. Not wanting to lose the fare, money is the name of the game here, I settled on the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Grand Street in Williamsburg, so we turn onto the BQE Eastbound which really means northeast bound, to the neighborhood of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York. Williamsburg is hangout central for hipsters and a booming, gentrifying, and cosmopolitan neighborhood. I’m not sure these two Australian ladies knew exactly where they were going, but they were satisfied with this choice. Once I discharge them, I then head back across the Williamsburg Bridge after a brief and unsuccessful scan of the streets for passengers in Williamsburg. On the bridge I encountered a backup due to some type of construction. I passed the backup after riding solo after about 12 minutes. I turn onto one of the northbound streets in the East Village and spy a cosmopolitan black man headed back into central Brooklyn near Bed Stuy. We cross back over the Williamsburg Bridge again and make our way through Brooklyn again. After I drop this guy off, I make my way through central Brooklyn alone; I’m going to skip the Williamsburg Bridge because of the inbound backup there, and head towards Flatbush yet again to return to Canal Street over the Manhattan Bridge. As I ride through Brooklyn, I see a Hasidic Jewish man wearing a large black hat called a Shtreimel, and a black robe with his children. He waves at me. I stop, roll down the window, and ask “what’s up?” in my usual casual tone? He says “Can you take me; I need to make 2 stops with my kids?” He said in a strong Yiddish accent. I could barely understand him. I said sure. We ride through Williamsburg. He is a Hasidic Jew like many in this part of Brooklyn, most of who never hail taxis. Today the Jews in this neighborhood are celebrating Purim, which is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire in ancient history. The Hasidic man sitting in the front seat offers me some directions. He then proceeds to tell me that on this holiday, which is a Sunday, he wears his traditional clothes, those normally worn on a Saturday, and the kids dress up and celebrate, sort of like Halloween. As I drive through, I see many Hasidic Jewish kids in this neighborhood wearing costumes, and many adults wearing their traditional outfits of the Sabbath. The man then told me in a heavy Yiddish accent and imperfect English, that “on this day, we drink, but not any other days, we do not drink. Do you drink?” I stated “Of course I do” I laughed. He says “and you get drunk?” I said “Yes.” We stopped. The man rushed out of the taxi and left his kids in the back for a few moments. Next we make another stop, and he takes his kids and offers me $10 for a$7 fare. “Thank you, nice meeting you” I say. I drove on. Next, I drive south and back over the Manhattan Bridge into Manhattan as originally planned, and then I picked up some out-of-towners headed for La Guardia airport. Off we go, from the east side, to the airport. Then I get a fare back to the Upper West Side from the taxi holding lot at the airport. Next came a memorable middle-aged lady, someone I term a middle-aged complainer. I picked her up on West 72nd Street just as the last airport trip was departing the cab. I was facing west on this two-way street. She tells, make a U-turn then go to 86th and Park. Of course, she wanted to head to Park Avenue; there is an infamous street for you in taxi driving.  She wanted me to make an ILLEGAL u-turn, which I don’t make because I don’t like getting tickets from the NYPD and points on my license. I ignore her, and make a left on Columbus, circle back around to 70th Street, and then make a left on CPW, to head north to the 86th Street Transverse. She begins to complain about the fact that I would not in fact make an illegal U-turn, she tells me, “hey wait, you are supposed to tell me that you will not do a U-turn.” I said, “yes of course I will not. I don’t want to risk breaking the law, that’s illegal.” The she states “this is totally not the way that I would do this trip.”Of course, there is no alternative because there is no way to head northeast unless you want to go all the way over Amsterdam Avenue from Columbus or make an illegal U-turn (meaning that what she said was completely nonsensical). We then proceed up Central Park West. I was hoping she wouldn’t make any other complaints and I’d be able to get the trip completed without having to discharge her and lose the fare. She then asked me to roll down the windows, which I did. We stopped on Madison and 85th. She then stated that she’d get out there. I told her, go ahead and pay less if you would like, she offered no response and then she paid me $8.25 for an $8.20 fare and went on her way. A middle-aged complainer headed to Park Avenue, telling me something nonsensical is a pretty predictable event in taxi driving, I believe in their attempt to “game” us a bit. My strategy for dealing with these individuals normally consists of reasoning with them or ignoring what they say, knowing the law and the streets, and if necessary discharging them from the vehicle. Moving on, moneywise I was having a good shift tonight with a steady stream of business all night. Predictably, things slow down on a Sunday after 12AM. My next series of fares included the usual groups, some tourists from Sweden, another group from Arizona, a black girl to the Bronx ,and some club and bar hoppers headed home for the night to various parts of Brooklyn. A few more fares after the complainer, I picked up a small Latin man headed to Harlem, wearing a sweatshirt. This was probably against my better judgment. He could barely speak English and he wasn’t really dressed like a man who accord afford a high taxi fare and tip. I asked him if he had money to pay the fare. He showed me his wallet filled with green, got in, and we were off. He muttered in broken English “man make phone call about money, they no have it.” I said, “what? Oh yes that’s right some don’t pay, but most do.” This Mexican man wanted to head to Harlem at 110th and 3rd Avenue. Our best bet would be to head straight up 3rd Avenue, since traffic was light tonight. The man then argued in broken English, “Sir, if you go along the side, pointing right, it much faster (meaning the FDR).” I said, “Mr., I think it’s probably easier just to go up 3rd Avenue at this time of night, we should get a lot of greens here.”He said “hurry sir, the right side, I have to go to the bathroom soon. Let’s rush.”I ignored him and went up 3rd. He lost interest in this conversation, and quieted down. We are zooming up 3rd almost to Harlem. When we arrive, I pull over and look back. I say, “yo, dawg, we are 110th and 3rd in Harlem, is this okay for you?”No response. He is asleep. I honk the horn. Twice. No response. I turn around again, “Hello, Mister, here we are at your destination.”Still, no response. I think this Mexican must have narcolepsy. He falls asleep in the middle of a taxi ride in which he needs to use the bathroom. I open the door to my van, go around and open his door. I half expected this snoozing little man to pull out an 18” machete and start whacking my neck with it, thinking that maybe his sleeping was an act. I touch his leg. He wakes up proclaiming “Oh, sorry for the sleeping!”I say “no problem (secretly seeing my life flash before my eyes).” He then pulls out his wallet and hands me a $20. I offer him $6. He gets out and I get in and lock the doors. Up another $14. Speeding away now, next!!!!