Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Cabbie's Lament.

7:00 pm, New York City on the last Friday night in June. Step out of the train, join the slow-moving herd of travelers and luggage inching through the hot bath of platform air and up a narrow stairway, navigate past at least four deeply disturbing spectacles in the human pinball machine that is Penn Station's main floor, and stand on the grimy escalator until it spits out into a new level of pinball game, the corner of Eighth Avenue and 33rd St.

Thanks to the car service Uber, the torturous line for taxis is one trial for which I no longer need to brace myself in a trip to New York. But Uber can bring its own surprises. Let's begin the journey.

I peer at my phone to see where Uber thinks I am. Nope. Some location that might be mythical. Wait a minute. The map updates. Yes, there I am, a blue dot outside Penn Station, lumbering slowly to the curb of 33rd. And a mere 1-minute wait for a black car! Yes!

Uber informs me that Ramon is on the way. I look for his license plate number and blink, not seeing it on the screen for a moment. Oh! NOSTRESS. That's his license plate. I like Ramon already. "No stress" is my mantra, even though it rarely works for me.

I see that Ramon is already parked right across from me on 33rd. What a treat! I hop across to where he is waiting and wave to the driver, a middle-aged man with a mustache. "Christina?" he says. "Look how fast we did that!" I smiled and said, "I like your license plate." Mutual triumph.

"Ha, yeah," Ramon said. "Let me just write this down and we'll be on our way." Ramon logs the trip quickly, turns on the air conditioner, and eases out into traffic.

The interior of the black SUV is calming: cool air and clean black leather. Ramon says he wants to cut over on one of the lower streets to my Upper East Side destination and "avoid that mess," waving toward Times Square. Ramon and I are of the same mind on preferred route. I settle in, grateful for a No Stress beginning to my NYC visit.

Ramon asks me some small-talk questions about where I am coming from, how my day is going, etc., but I keep the answers brief, not feeling like a chat. Ramon, however, is nothing if not a dedicated conversationalist, with "conversation" defined as an unending litany of woe.

"Friday, everybody fighting!" Ramon said. "Everybody in a hurry, getting mad, everybody has to get to their destination right away. Friday is the worst!" He informs me.

"That just sounds like New York every day, to me," I said. Ramon ignored me and went on. Everyone is fighting, making each other crazy, he continued. "For nothing! For no reason!"

It was clear now that Ramon's "no stress" motto was not working for him either. He was the most stressed guy in New York, and he was determined to let me know all about it.

"This Chinese lady. She wants to go all the way cross town in 15 minutes. 15 minutes! Ok, I tell her we go 31st because that's the fastest way. But then she arguing with me saying no, no, take 34th. I tell her no, 31st is traffic...."

Can you guess the outcome of this tale? That's right. Poor Ramon was right, they took 34th and it was horrible. I sat there murmuring and giving short answers, but after awhile it no longer mattered whether I was into the conversation. This guy clearly needed to vent.

Somewhere around East Midtown, I realized that this was not going to let up, so I decided to go with it. I asked Ramon whether most of his offending riders were New Yorkers, or out-of-towners, and hit the record button on my iPhone. This was his reply.

In case you couldn't catch it, at the point where I chuckle (0:37) he is saying, "You need helicopter, my friend." He winds up with "Jesus Christ," pronounced "Jesus Cry," an interjection he frequently used to emphasize the absurdity of his clients' desires.

Multiply this two minutes by 10, sprinkle with a couple of interludes of chilling, forced laughter, and you pretty much have my NOSTRESS ride, which culminated in an epic story about a standoff between this "white guy" (tip for disparaging all of humanity: always qualify with the race; it is more damning, no matter which race you are describing) who was kicking Ramon's car ("This is a new car! Come on.") because of where  he was parked and the clock, which ticked away as Ramon waited for a hapless fare who could not locate him, despite his impeccable description of where he was waiting, and ultimately canceled the trip.

I tried to mollify him by saying what a great service Uber is. "It's a great service!" he agreed. But this got him on the topic of Uber's rating system. "Some people, they give you one star. Some people, they give you five star." (For the record, I gave him three.) He let me know of his low regard for the population of fares who did not want to have any conversation, a population to which I secretly belonged.

I bade Ramon a speedy farewell at the door, while he urged me in a somewhat martyred tone to enjoy the rest of my day. Was there any day left to enjoy? It didn't feel like there was.

Perhaps it is not fair, but since Ramon used me as his unwilling confessional, he is now my unwitting material on this blog. If you ever see this, Ramon, do not be offended. Simply use it as a story for your next fare. Start the story with: "This white lady, she think she's being funny..."

Music: "Leavin'," Jesse McCartney (2:25... "no stress no stress no stressss")

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