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Those New York City Taxis Can Drive You Crazy

<i> Belcher is a South Pasadena free-lance writer</i> .

I love New York City, but I have a love-hate relationship with its taxis. I love the availability and hate the drivers.

This time I decided to take the subway from John F. Kennedy International Airport to my friend’s apartment in Manhattan.

I called her from the terminal.

“Take a cab,” Janice said. “It’ll cost you about $25, but it’s worth it.”

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“I hate New York taxi drivers. They intimidate me,” I told her.

“You’ll hate it worse on the subway,” she said. “You’re better off in a cab. Tell him it’s between 66th and 70th streets. And be sure to tell him to take the 59th Street Bridge.”

So I wheeled my baggage cart to the taxi stand. A uniformed taxi dispatcher waved me toward the next cab in line, and handed me a slip of yellow paper with everything you wanted to know about licensed Yellow Medallion Taxicabs (governed by the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission), written in six languages.

Bit of Security

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I clutched it in my hand. It made me feel somewhat more secure.

The dispatcher opened the door for me and put my suitcase into the trunk. The driver, a big swarthy man in his 50s with thick salt-and-pepper hair, pulled quickly into traffic.

I told him, “165 West End Ave. It’s between 66th and 70th streets. Take the 59th Street Bridge.” Feeling almost in control, I settled back for the ride.

“The 59th street bridge is too busy,” the driver said. “I’ll take the Triborough Bridge.”

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Instantly suspicious, even though I don’t have the foggiest idea where the Triborough Bridge is, I said, “That’s all right; I still want to take the 59th Street Bridge.”

“The traffic is real bad, lady, on the 59 Bridge; I’m gonna go the Triborough.”

We were still at the airport. I’m not going to mess with this guy, I thought.

“Look, I don’t want to argue with you about this. If you don’t want to take the 59th Street Bridge, you can just let me out right now and I’ll take another cab.”

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Time Costs Money

He drove another 25 feet. Then, in a snarling voice, said, “Lookit, lady, this is how I make my money. It takes me too long to go that way. I can’t waste time; it costs me money.”

“Well, it’s my money,” I said, “and I want to take the 59th Street Bridge.”

He mumbled something unintelligible and we pulled out into expressway traffic. I was afraid to ask which bridge we were taking.

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We drove along in silence. And drove. And drove.

I knew we were in Queens, but where? Somehow I just knew we weren’t where we should have been. I longed for my New York City map, but it was in my suitcase in the trunk.

I searched for signs outside the window. We passed Shea Stadium and, a few minutes later, La Guardia Airport. Where the hell were we?

Pen in Hand

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I decided to write down some of the street names, so I took out my pen and notebook.

He exploded. “Hey, wha’ hoppen? You check my number?”

“What?”

“What you doin’? I told you we take 59 Bridge. I don’t want you doin’ that back there.”

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I looked around the cab, but didn’t see any number.

“What is your number anyway?” I asked him.

“Lookit, lady,” he yelled at me, “I’m gonna let you out and you can just get another cab. I don’t want you writing back there.”

I learned forward: “I’m a journalist; I can write whatever I damn well want to write back here.”

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Horrified, I realized I was screaming at him. I couldn’t believe it. How could I lose my cool like that? I sat back and thought that something’s terribly wrong. Why am I defending myself like this? I’m not doing anything wrong. Just try and stay calm and rational.

Writing and Shaking

I kept writing. My hand was shaking.

He drove on. There wasn’t another word about dumping me out on the street.

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Eventually we crossed the East River on the 59th Street Bridge. It wasn’t any more crowded than Crescent or Hoyt avenues had been (which I later discovered are considerably north of the 59th Street Bridge and, in fact, are up around the Triborough Bridge).

He headed west on 57th Street. At the intersection of 7th Avenue he ran a red light and tried to inch his car through the pedestrians in the crosswalk. People yelled, shook their fists and made obscene gestures. One man hit the hood of the cab with a wooden box. I cringed.

As we turned onto West End Avenue, he asked, “59?”

I didn’t know what he wanted, so I just repeated, “165, between 66th and 70th streets.”

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It was a huge apartment complex across the street. He stopped the cab, muttered “165" and motioned his head in that direction.

I think he expected me to get out and walk across the street.

“There’s a driveway down the street a little way,” I said, somewhat amazed that I sounded so calm.

He drove on, turned in and stopped before the entrance. I heard the trunk lock unlatch. He had released it from the driver’s seat.

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I sat quietly for maybe three seconds, then started to get out.

He looked at me and grunted, “The fare . . . here,” and pointed to the red meter, which said $32.05.

“Aren’t you going to get my suitcase out of the trunk?” I asked.

“Sure. No problem.” But he held out his hand.

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I gave him two $20 bills and told him I had the nickel change.

Moment of Fear

I started to get nervous. I knew I wasn’t going to tip him, and I had a brief moment of fear that he would take off with my suitcase in the trunk.

He handed me a $5 bill, did something to the meter that turned the numbers to four red zeros, and got out of the cab.

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I was stunned. I almost decided to let it go and just chalk it up to a bad experience. But my courage returned when I saw a woman waiting to get into his cab.

As I got out of the cab I saw number 4L14 on the top.

My suitcase was lying on its side in the driveway. I walked up to him, all the while saying to myself, stay calm, stay calm.

“You didn’t give me all of my change.”

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To my utter amazement, he took a wad of bills out of his pocket, peeled off three $1 bills and handed them to me.

My hand was shaking, but I looked him straight in the eye. “Where I come from, we tip for service; I’m not going to tip someone who has threatened to throw me out of a cab in Manhattan.”

He didn’t say a word, then walked over to the waiting woman who had been watching us with a bemused grin, and opened the door for her! I heard him making small talk about a little disagreement.

As he drove away I realized I forgot to ask for the receipt.

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I picked up my suitcase and walked toward the apartment lobby.

Welcome to New York City.


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