SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
May 11, 2014

Hailing a Cab

 

 

As part of the whole brain-scalding “buying a house” rigamarole, Morgan and I had to meet with an accountant whose office was located in Midtown Manhattan. Since Morgan would be leaving work and heading straight for the meeting, it was up to me to figure out just how the hell I was going to find my way from Brooklyn to a Midtown office building.

            It sounds simple enough, but I haven’t been above 34th Street in well over a decade, and even then I had Morgan with me to guide me around. I hate Midtown the way I hate few other places on earth, and so have gone to great lengths to avoid it. Midtown was uncharted and untested alien territory to me now, and given I’d be heading there just as the evening rush was getting underway, it was a potentially deadly proposition. Easiest way to do it, I figured, was to take a cab and have him drop me in front of the entrance. I hate taking cabs almost as much as I hate Midtown, and it’d cost me more than I could afford, but would dispense with a lot of confused whimpering and blood loss. To cut down on the expense, I’d take the subway into Manhattan, then grab a cab to the accountant’s office. Simple as pie.

            But nothing is ever simple as pie. Oh, it started off fine. The train showed up and I took it over the Manhattan Bridge to the Eighth Street stop near Morgan’s place. I could navigate the neighborhood and knew a good place to hail a cab heading uptown. The sidewalks were quiet and the traffic was flowing. But as I tapped my way over to Fourth Avenue I heard a voice.

            “Hey! Hold on!” A woman was approaching me, and fast. I tensed up and prepared to swing the cane at head level. ”Let me help you,” she said as she drew closer.  She grabbed my arm and began leading me someplace.

            “Um, actually,” I said. “I’m just heading for the corner here to hail a cab.”

            “Oh,” she said. “Okay, I’ll come with you and get one for you.” She was talking very quickly, there was something manic about her whole demeanor, and I was getting the feeling this wasn’t a good idea at all.

            “Oh, I’ll be fine, but thanks.”

            “Nonsense! It’s no trouble at all.” As she dragged me to the corner I could hear at least two small dogs trailing behind her.

            “Yeah, you’re never gonna get a cab this time of day. And there are two guys ahead of us trying to hail one, so we should let them go first.”

            “Okay.”

            “Hey!” she shouted over my head at the two men. “Where are you headed?”

            “59th and Third,” one of them called back.

            “Yeah,” I said, seeing where she was headed with this, and not much liking it one bit. “I’m going to 40th and Sixth.”

            “So you’re going in opposite directions. That’s no good.” She turned to them again. “You know it’s stupid to take a cab. You should just get on the train a block that way.” I guess she pointed. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

            “Um, no,” one of them confessed.

            “Yeah, didn’t think so. So just go down here, get on a six train, and take it to 59th. It’ll drop you off right under Bloomingdale’s.”

            Given they were from out of town, I wasn’t sure if this would mean anything to them at all, but still they reluctantly shambled off as per the crazy lady’s orders. She was beginning to make me very nervous, and I had the feeling she would get me killed before all this was over.

            That little roadblock out of the way, the next cab that came by was mine. But with them out of the way it also meant she turned her attention back to me, and began talking nonstop, a flurry of words and commentary and suggestions and questions and complaints.

            “It’s too fucking cold out here. This is the worst possible time to hail a cab, ‘cause they’re switching shifts now. It’s impossible. You’ll never get one. Why don’t you just take a train?”

            “Because I don’t know exactly where I’m going, and when I get off the train I won’t know where I am.” (It was true. It’d been so long since I’d been up there I no longer knew the train stations or where I’d be let out.)

            “So why not take the crosstown bus? It’ll drop you off at 43rd and Sixth, you’d be just about there. You’re going to 40th and Sixth, right?”

            “Someplace in that general vicinity, yeah.”

            “So c’mon, I’ll put you on the bus.” Again she grabbed my arm and started to tug. This time I tugged back, trying not to thwack her with the cane.

            “I won’t know when to get off the bus, and when I do I won’t know where I am. Plus I don’t know exactly where I’m headed. I’ve never been there before.”

            She snorted in frustration, apparently confusing “not being able to see a fucking thing” with “stupid and stubborn.” I had no idea how many available cabs were passing us as she was making alternate plans for me. “All right,” she said. “But this is impossible. You aren’t gonna get one. Not at this time of day you aren’t. We’ll be standing here an hour, and I’m cold . . . oh wait—here comes one!”

            She ran out into the street with her dogs and began waving her arms. I heard the cab slow, then heard it pass and continue on. She ran back to me. “He saw the dogs. That’s the trouble. He thought I wanted the cab. But even if I did it’s illegal for him not to stop and pick me up. I should take down his number and report him. I’ve done it before half a dozen times, and I’ve won every time. These are service dogs, and it’s illegal.”

            I decided against sharing my opinion on the recent trend of calling any damn dog a “service dog” just because you liked having it around. Even if I’d chosen to launch into my rant, I wouldn’t have gotten far.

            “Wait!” she shouted. “He’s stopped at the next light! I think I can catch him!” With that she ran back out into Fourth Avenue and down the street. This was all becoming a little too ridiculous and overblown for my taste. Being nice and helpful is one thing, being utterly stone insane is another. I didn’t even know this woman.

            I guess she caught up with the cab, because I could hear a woman doing a lot of yelling in the middle of the street up ahead. I was thinking this might be my chance to make a break for it, to duck around the corner and tap wildly toward Broadway. I mean, did I really want to ride in a cab with a driver who’d just been screamed at by a crazy person in the guise of doing me a favor?

            A moment later she returned, out of breath. “Okay, I got him for you . . . but it’s still illegal, what he did. These are service dogs so he has to pick them up.”

            I was starting to worry this woman had gotten it in her head to hop in the cab with me and follow me into the meeting, bitching loudly the whole way. When we reached the idling cab, I opened the door, hopped in, and pulled it closed again before she had that chance.

            Instead she picked up her harangue in mid-sentence. “ . . . So remember that next time!” she shouted at the cabbie. “It’s illegal! These are service dogs so you have to pick them up! Remember that! And take him EXACTLY where he’s going, hear me?”

            “Yes,” the cabbie replied meekly. “I’m sorry.”

            Meanwhile Fourth Avenue traffic was swerving all around us, trying to avoid the crazy lady with the dogs standing in the middle of the street. Having said at least some of her piece, she finally retreated to the sidewalk. As we drove on, the cabbie (who, I found, was from Bangladesh, had been in New York for fourteen years, lived in Astoria with his wife and father, and had been married at sixteen to save his wife from an arranged marriage) turned back to me.

            “I’m very sorry,” he said. “I didn’t see you at all. All I saw was this lady in the street with her hairy dogs. Hairy hairy dogs. I’m very sorry. I didn’t see you.”

            “It’s okay,” I assured him. “I wouldn’t have picked her up, either.”

 

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