Friday, June 21, 2013

A Taxi Shift on Crack, June 19, 2013

Welcome to another chapter of New York City’s Craziest Taxi stories. Tonight was a Wednesday night, a summer night in June, and distinctive because summer tends to be quieter in the city with more tourists and less traffic. For us taxi drivers that just makes us a bit more desperate, needing to scrape up whatever passengers we can find in order to make bank, including psychos, druggies, and criminals. Tonight, I was lucky enough to get a cab earlier in the afternoon. My first fare after coming across the Manhattan Bridge was a mother and daughter asking to go to the Empire State Building. Easy one. Welcome tourists. The ride was conversation free. After this one I turned around and near Grand Central, the major train station in NYC and I got a fatty going back across midtown to Penn Station, which is at 7th Avenue and 32nd/31st Street. After this one I headed back north on 8th Avenue. Here I saw two darkish males hailing me on the right side.  One of them was gangster looking, the other more average looking.  Should I stop or not? Better go ahead and stop – it could be a TLC undercover sting. They wanted to go to Richmond Hill, Queens which was a bad neighborhood near JFK Airport, oh no, here comes trouble!!! I said, “okay you know it’s gonna take about 50 minutes or so given we are near rush hour right?” They said okay. Then I asked them for a deposit. They responded handing me a $100 bill. Oh great, I thought I bet this is not legit either. I looked at the $100, holding it down so they wouldn't see that I was examining it. It seemed okay so I drove on. We encountered some traffic headed east near the Queens Midtown Tunnel, just sitting there for like 20 minutes. No fun because I've got a couple of hot potatoes in here now. Eventually we made it through the tunnel and onto the LIE, now we're stuck again, just waiting on the late afternoon tie up that plagues the LIE, everyday. I exit off Woodhaven Blvd. I notice them messing around with a colorful pipe and I realize at some point the gangster guy has lit the pipe. These two non-legit passengers have taken a taxi so that they can smoke crack in the back, great I thought! I hope that vapor doesn't make its way up front here. I cracked the windows. I didn't ask them to stop because I thought they might kill me. We continue on and I notice the gangster type guy has lost it, slurring his speech and falling around in the back. He was speaking with an accent and I'm not sure what country these two are from. Not a big fan of drugs myself because I’ve heard it can really mess you up but it’s something I encounter sometimes. I drive on. I stop at 114th and Liberty in south Richmond Hill, eager to be rid of these two. There’s some ethnic looking people around. The fare was over $60 and we were driving for 1 hour or so. I give them the change for the $100. Exact change, no tip.
Next, I drive on down to JFK airport holding lot, which was conveniently only about 10 minutes from Richmond Hill. Luckily, the holding lot was only about 1/3 full so it shouldn't be that long of a wait. I get in line behind the other taxis. The dispatcher for JFK holding lot gets on the PA and asks for a 5-seater. I pull my van around and ask for the 5 passenger fare. The dispatcher then comes out of the office and tells me that my handicap van is not a legal 5-seater (technically it is, but 1 passenger must be in a wheelchair). Oops! I am rejected then I go back in line again, turning my van around. The TLC dispatcher, a middle aged African American woman, comes back and yells at me to exit holding lot, and go all the way to the back of the line. “You cannot make a U-turn in the taxi lot!” Oops! Double burn on this one. Luckily there was no ticket. Dispatcher yells, “oh god!” I wait my turn.  My next fare was an Australian family headed to a midtown hotel. Lots of Aussies visit NYC during the summer and it seems I pick up half of them. The patriarch sits up front and we proceed to discuss his tour of the United States. He speaks with a Britishy Aussie accent I think is cool. He tells me that he’s going to visit the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield. Then we proceed to discuss both the Civil War and the Revolutionary War in the United States. I discovered that Australia had never officially declared independence from England like the United States had in 1776 and it was still part of the British Commonwealth, something new to me. Then I tell them a few things about the sights and sounds I see behind the wheel of a taxi driving through NYC and about my encounter with the druggies earlier in the day.

After I drop them at the hotel a foreign couple gets in and asks me to drive across 45th to go to some play. They tip low which is a total stereotype for summertime, luckily tonight I was booked up solid to make up for some of the low tips and the weather was fabulous tonight, which was to my liking. After a few more fares I met this interesting guy who told me a whacked story about a taxi he took in Mexico. I picked up him and his daughter on 14th and we headed to Park Avenue and 37th. He looked to be in his 40’s. He explained to me and his daughter that his fraternity in college went on vacation in Mexico and this was his first time going outside the US. They didn't want anyone to steal their money and wallets and passports so they put the wallets in the lighting fixture at the hotel and didn't turn the lights off.  The hotel caught on fire and they caused half the hotel to burn down, oops! They moved rooms to another wing of the hotel. The US consulate replaced all the money lost plus more that they said they didn’t have on the order of $10,000 worth of US dollars. What about the taxi I thought? The last night of the trip the owner of hotel said they could go and get a buffet, eating or drinking anything they wanted due to the misfortune. The owner did not discover they had actually caused the fire. So they drank up a storm. The bill was $35,000 but the frat boys thought it was all you can drink for free so they stiffed the hotel on the bill. Now here is where they meet the taxi driver. The taxi driver drove them away from the hotel after they stiffed the owner. On the way back to the airport the hotel owner chased them down and the taxi got a flat tire. The taxi driver went to change the tire but didn't want to let frat boys go so they could escape. Instead the biggest frat guy then punches the taxi driver who goes out cold onto the pavement they then grab the luggage from the trunk and get another taxi. They race to the airport and make it onto the airplane without getting caught. Wow, triple burn on this one – hotel owner, driver, and US consulate to the tune of 45 grand!

Later on into the night, I had some pretty good luck, financially. Summer is slow so you never know if you'll be able to make bank for the night.  I drove a white collar type guy to 113th and Broadway, then I headed back south where I stopped for this other group of ethnic looking people probably Puerto Ricans. As brutal as it sounds, these are “leftovers” for summertime. Not the typical yellow cab taxi passengers but gotta take what I can get from anyone. I drive them north to 143rd and Broadway. After this I head south and grabbed two guys at Metro North on 125th. I take them to Crown Heights, a nice, long, expensive ride. A livery guy quoted them $50 and I said, hmm I’m not sure how much it’ll be, maybe $40 or $45? On the way there I tried to give them a tour of some neighborhoods as they were shopping for an affordable apartment in NYC, a search I have personally conducted myself. I told them the hot areas for an affordable place would probably be Bushwick or that I might also consider the western part of Harlem, around Columbia U. If I wanted to go further out into Brooklyn or Queens there are probably more choices. They asked me about the Bronx and I said that was probably bad news as in my experience that’s probably the most dangerous borough of NYC. We chatted all the way through the Hasidic portion of Williamsburg, and then we stopped in Crown Heights and rang up a $60 fare.Oops, way more than $45! I got their bags out of the back, and then I drove a few blocks and picked up a young lady who then took me to Park Slope area after what appeared to be the end of a date. She left without saying a word, then I got two assholes who took me from Park Slope to the West Village, They were drunk and if I’m not mistaken one of them still had a glass in his hand from the bar. I completely ignored the belligerent one who was harassing me about not passing somebody and rest of the conversation they were having with each other about BS topics. The friendlier one took up the slack and paid once we got to The Village. As soon as they got out a couple got in and took me downtown to the Financial District. They seemed interesting and fit the stereotype of the monied youthful and upper middle class working professional types. The male tried to make some friendly small talk with me and asked me how my night was going. I responded by telling them it was pretty busy and I had some luck. Then he mentioned that James Gandolphini died tonight from a heart attack. I was like “yes, wow! That’s too bad.”

My little string of lucky fares added up to way over $150 or so and my luck wasn't ending yet. Immediately after the couple exited I spotted a curvy young woman with big breasts in a conversation with some other cabbie immediately ahead of me. They did not strike a deal so I pulled alongside. I wanted this young lady in my cab and I knew it was probably some out of town trip somewhere. Right on the money - Jersey City. She said $50 without tip plus toll that wasn't much but I didn't care it was plenty for now. We headed up 6th Avenue toward the Holland Tunnel. Enter stage right - some sex-related conversation from a drunk girl. Same bullsh*t, different night. The girl was stone drunk and blabbering a bit. She was a friendly young woman from PA. She started going on about how she was hooking up with this guy and that they had a spat about some stuff being said over text messaging. The context of what she was saying was not totally clear, but the dispute was over birth control. She was talking about birth control. Something about the pill making her moody or something. The she had told me about how she had gotten pregnant last year when she wasn't on the pill. I was like, this is TMI. This girl was tanked, but eventually the conversation moved to other topics and we got stuck in the tunnel because they were cleaning one part of the tube. Then we stopped at some deli in NJ. After this she got out and I went back to Manhattan. 
By the time I got back to the city it was getting pretty late and things were dying down. On Hudson Street headed north I picked up another young lady who took me to East Midtown. She didn't say a word. Then I picked up a few more forgettable types one of whom was a flaming homosexual with a suitcase and tattoos. He said hello, but my voice was getting hoarse from all the previous conversations I had had and also because of a cold I caught from running the AC in my apartment for too long at night. Then I headed over to meatpacking to close the night out with the club scene. Here, I found some guy who worked at one of the clubs there. We were talking about how it’s much cooler to go out on a Wednesday night rather than a weekend because of all the meatheads from Jersey and Yonkers clogging up the streets on a Saturday night. The he started telling me about the dope he used to do with some celebrities and who go there, people like Justin Bieber, Jim Carrey, Ray Liotta, Leonardo DiCaprio, and so on. I asked him about the Bentleys parked out front. He said those belonged to some obnoxious drug dealers who frequented the club and not the celebrity types. My last fare consisted of two super sexy Scandinavian tourists who were gibbering to each other in Swedish. They were both hot and skinny. I was too exhausted to try to converse with these two girls so I just went home and went to bed thus concluding another shift of NYC’s Craziest Taxi Stories.