Tuesday, August 22, 2006
It almost seemed like the usual last-two-weeks-of-August empty-city curse might have been lifted when I got stuck in massive throngs of people walking in the traffic lanes near Penn Station, but, alas, the curse has hit, and hard. It took me 45 minutes to find my first passenger tonight, which is just frustrating. That's not supposed to happen in the beginning of the shift, and it makes the night look hopeless.
I often tell myself, All I need is the first one, and then everything will fall into place, which is usually true, but when getting that first passenger proves to be more difficult than it should be, my outlook starts to look real dark. Of course, eventually, someone deigned to get in my cab and pay me to drive them somewhere, and slowly but surely, other fares followed, but the damage was done. The night proved to be dead slow, worse than usual, and I spent a lot of time by myself between jobs.
Sometime during rush hour a man and his teenage son got in the cab. They were visitors from Canada. Shortly after getting in, the man commented on the "Passenger's Bill of Rights" posted on the partition. We laughed at how ridiculous it is, and how sad. And also what it says about how the city feels about its taxi drivers, and so on.
We also got along because, when a bunch of genius pedestrians walked in front of my cab against the light, the man suggested I invest in something called a "cow catcher." He explained that it's that slanty thing seen on the front of locomotives and they serve to move animals and objects out of the way and off the tracks. I agreed that I absolutely needed a cow catcher. Especially today when the pedestrians seemed particularly suicidal.
They told me they were visiting the man's brother and leaving tomorrow. The son had never been here before, the father hadn't been here in over 20 years. We had a pleasant ride together and when they got out, they left me a decent tip.
Anyway, when my next passenger got in, he handed me a wallet and said he found it on the backseat. I immediately knew it belonged to the Canadian man. It contained only a Canadian "Operator's License" and a credit card, nothing else.
Now, I have to admit, had this guy been a dick, I might've taken some pleasure in throwing the wallet away, but he hadn't been. So I found the 800 number on the back of the credit card and called the company. I explained what happened and gave them my number. I felt bad for the guy. There was no way he was gonna be allowed on a plane tomorrow without his ID.
A half hour later, he called and asked if I could go back to where I dropped him off and return the wallet, telling me he would make it worth my while. Those words are like magic. They just make it a lot easier to go off-duty during rush hour for a complete stranger. It's like, at least the person knows you're going to be losing time, which equals money in this business, and they don't have an unhealthy sense of entitlement, which many New Yorkers definitely seem to have when it comes to cabs. But it's also a gamble, because you never know at what rate a person values your time.
Still, at that point, it didn't really matter. This guy deserved a favor, and I was happy to do it, even if it ended up as a loss for me. I hit my off-duty light and, of course, that was the moment when a hundred people decided they absolutely needed my cab, but I was on a mission to do a good thing and be a good person for a change, so I ignored their hails.
When I finally made it back to him, I jokingly told him that I only did a little shopping with his credit card at Circuit City and Best Buy, but I hadn't maxed it out yet. He was so relieved that I came back, he just laughed. Then he handed me fifty bucks and said, "You're my favorite New Yorker ever."
The whole interaction, plus the generous reward, pretty much made my night. So, ultimately, I came out way ahead.
I'm totally gonna use that fifty bucks as a down payment on a cow catcher.