August 22, 2005

In the church of the big yellow taxi

It is not unusual, in this city of mine, to wave one's hand to hail a taxi, then take a blind leap of faith that the driver will a) follow your directions regarding your preferred route: in my case, take Park Ave. uptown to my street and turn right.

If you take Madison, we don't get to go through either the Park Ave. Tunnel or the roundabout traffic-light-free six-block special around Grand Central Station, for example. Extra time in traffic is extra cost on the meter, and even if you are new at your job and ignorant of the shortcuts, I am not.

b) Your driver will be able to follow the speed of traffic (or its lack thereof) without undue lane shifts that send the passenger (me) hurtling from one side of the back seat to the other -- since the seatbelt is buried well out of reach.

And c) your driver will be planning what to have for dinner, not the timing of the next revolution, when speaking in a foreign language on his cell phone while he is simultaneously driving.

Not being traffic cops equipped with computers, we can't verify that your driver's license is valid and of the class suitable for chauffeur; we don't pretend to think you are properly insured; we just pretend that you will get us from point A to point B without undue distraction or accident.

In 40+ years of taxi-taking, I have encountered many drivers who festoon their cabs with that oh-so-odorific imitation-pine tree smell, or with Christian crosses or rosaries hanging from the rearview mirror.

Many choose to listen to politically irritating talk radio or hip-hop music (and refuse to turn the station off, per request, which results in the lack of a tip from me upon arrival at my destination).

There are many infractions that may result in the fare paid being exactly what is on the meter, or to the nearest dollar, as a gratuity, in my book, is reserved for those who meet the requests -- and legal requirements, per the Taxi & Limousine Commission -- of the passenger. Face it, what incentive do I have to pay extra for good service? I've never hailed the same cab twice.

What I found today was a new twist in the hyphenated vocation of taxi drivers: I have met those who also serve as translators; those who are artists of one stripe or another; those who wait tables on the side, and many whose side businesses are too complex or illicit to detail. Yes, in the godless blue state I call home, I have frequently been held captive by taxicab radios featuring preachers of many religions calling on their flocks.

Today, I met my first minister. (As I said, we're a blue state. We're not in the Bible Belt. They wouldn't have us, and we wouldn't have them.) Seems his ministry must be suffering financially: in lieu of being offered a receipt (standard S.O.P.), I was offered an invitation to the driver's ministry. Seeing that I was en route to the 92nd St. YM-YWHA (note the H), I declined.

Given the quality of the minister's driving, I supposed there was, for that moment, a God, or at least a saint dedicated to saving the passenger from harm: there was no other explanation for my safe arrival.

In the church of the big yellow taxi, blind faith lives.


Post a Comment

<< Home