Friday, December 15, 2006

The Five-Nine

The 59th Street Bridge was a wreck yesterday. I know this not because I was behind the wheel of a cab sitting in the traffic myself, but because I caught up with a bunch of my old taxi buddies yesterday while they were driving, so I got to hear all about it.

First I called Gary back. We hadn't spoken in maybe six or seven months, ever since he left the garage to do alternating 24-hour shifts with a private taxi owner for a cheap price. Gary is an actor and a playwright, in his mid-to-late fifties, completely bald, and totally sharp and edgy. We became very good friends when we drove out of the same garage but sometimes when people leave a place and you don't see them regularly, it becomes hard to keep in touch, no matter how much you like each other.

Apparently, since the last time we talked, he'd been traveling around, and had settled into teaching English at a Buddhist temple in Thailand. He left me a message telling me he was back, and when I got him on the phone last night he was sitting in a back-up on Crescent Avenue, leading in to the lower level of the bridge, and telling me about how he was saving up to go to Vietnam for four months starting in mid-January.

The entire time we were catching up, he was stuck in this traffic. At one point he said, "I can't believe this. It's so bad, cars are starting to drive on the sidewalk to get up to the front of the line."

I said, "You must be going nuts, huh?"

But Gary replied, "Actually I'm not. If I learned one thing from the monks in Thailand it was this: 'See clearly and you will always act morally.' It sounds a little simple, but I've found it really works. So like right now, I figure, I'll get in to New York when I get there, and I'll make the money I'll make, and the night will be what it is."

So Gary's doing well, getting all Zen and shit, and enjoying his life.

After talking for nearly half an hour, we hung up as he finally made it onto the bridge.

Next I called Elliott back. He picked up on the last ring, right before his voice mail got it, and said, "Hello! Good to hear from you! But I'm driving and the city's a mess. I'll call you later."

When I woke up this morning, there was a message from Elliott at 5:00 am, just getting off his shift, apologizing for not calling me back sooner.

After that, I reached Allen. Allen has a funny, childlike way about him. He's also in his fifties, is an orthodox Jew, and lives with his mother and his brother in Williamsburg. He picked up and we just said "Hello?" back and forth to each other a few times until he realized it was me. Then he said, "Melissa? It's Allen!"

"Hi Allen. I knew it was you -- I called you... How're you doing?"

Allen simply launched in and said, "Yeah, so I was thinking about your book yesterday. I got an idea for you."

"Oh yeah? What were you thinking?" I knew it was gonna be weird, whatever it was.

"You should make some of your characters into cartoons!" He said this with glee in his voice, clearly thinking it a brilliant and clever idea, but also knowing I would never do such a thing.



"Uh, yeah, okay, but I don't think that would work so well with the rest of the story. You always have the weirdest ideas."

Allen didn't say anything because he was laughing too hard at his own bizarre joke.

I changed the subject. "Where are you?"

"Brooklyn. The five-nine is all screwed up. You can't get into the city. I got some jobs and then got taken back out here. Now I'm trying to get back in."

"Traffic's bad, huh?"

"It's terrible."

We talked for a few more minutes and, as we started wrapping up the conversation, Allen assured me that he would come up with some more ideas for the book. I thanked him and wished him a happy Hanukkah.

I had been off this marathon phone session for about two minutes when Diego called. Me and Diego still talk regularly, so it's much more casual with us.

"What's up Diego."

"Nothing. I'm pulling in to LaGuardia. The 59th Street Bridge is all fucked up so I took the tunnel and the second I got through, right across the street at that corner, a woman gets in and takes me to the butt-end of Astoria. I didn't even call the hotline, I just came straight here."

"Yeah, I heard the bridge was bad. Is the airport full?"

"Nah, it's not that bad." He must've parked already because I heard him going up to the coffee shop in the taxi lot and buying a pack of cigarettes. Then he said, "Yo, you ever coming back to work or what?"

"I hope I won't have to, but I might. If I don't find something else, I'll probably come back in February."

Diego said, "Well I miss you, buddy. I wanna see you soon."

We hung up while he was still at the airport.

It's true. I've been working hard on this book (almost done with Draft 2) and I really don't want to go back to the cab, at least until it's finished. If I can avoid it for a while longer, I will. But if my bank account and bills demand it, which may be sooner than I'd like, I'll have to get back behind that wheel.

In the meantime, I'm much happier keeping in touch with the streets vicariously through my cabbie pals.