Hurtled, or Careened?
We landed in New York on Friday evening of President’s Day weekend, 1987.
President’s Day is in February, where it was summer in the southern hemisphere on the other side of the world.
Where we’d just come from.
But it wasn’t summer now that we were in New York.
Boy, it was cold! It was a real shock to Suzie and I, both of us originally coming from warmer climates.
Me from Southern California, Suzie from South Africa.
Then together for the past dozen years in Australia, Africa, and most recently Auckland, New Zealand.
As we crossed the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan the city was a beautiful vision in the crisp winter night. I tried to forget my terror (I wasn’t used to taxis and this one sped along at a frightening rate!) and take it all in, craning my neck to see the famous buildings and avenues through the taxi’s greasy windows.
There it was! The Empire State Building!
I felt as if I’d seen a movie star.
I recognized the beautiful art deco Chrysler Building from photographs I’d seen in books. Off to our left downtown one could see the huge Twin Towers, so big they seemed to defy reason. The Statue of Liberty, I knew, was just beyond that, in the harbor standing on her little island out of sight.
New York City! I could hardly believe it.
Here we were.
Suzie and I shivered in the backseat as the taxi turned into Seventh Avenue and picked up speed. Now on the wide avenue, the taxi opened up and hurtled insanely along, narrowly missing buses, cars, bicyclists, pedestrians, other taxis, hot dog vendors, etc.
I think hurtled is the correct word. I was going to use careened, but that implies too much control.
Then, while reliving it today so that I might write it down, for it was truly a formative experience and mustn’t be ignored, I had to stop writing and have a drink or two to steady my nerves.
Even decades later it’s hard to believe we lived through it, but I suppose every person who has ever caught a taxi in NYC since the day taxis were invented has had that thought.
So when we finally skidded to a stop inches from the legs of thronging pedestrians at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street that cold February Friday night, we were thankful just to be alive… and didn’t care, too much, about being ripped off by the driver.
After all, we figured, this was New York, where the term ripped off was born!
After unloading the luggage, I stood at the driver’s side and leaned down to pay him through the window. He hadn’t bothered to get out and help me, but sat eyeing Suzie in the rearview mirror. I counted out three twenties and when I asked for change, he shrugged his shoulders and gripped the last twenty even tighter.
“No change! No change!” he barked as he tugged at my twenty.
“But the meter only said…” I began.
“NO CHANGE, NO CHANGE!” he yelled as if getting louder made him right.
A tactic many of us, not just New Yorkers, employ from time to time.
“Wait a minute’” I said, not letting go of my money. “What the…”
At that moment new riders pushed their way into the taxi from the other side, elbowing Suzie out of the way.
“Downtown!” ordered one of them to the driver as if we weren’t there.
“Voetzek man!” began Suzie. Which if you know a South African means get lost! or scram! in a rather rude way, as if addressing an unwelcome dog.
Uh-oh! I thought. Watch out for Suzie when she gets riled!
But she never had the chance, because with a final tug to dislodge me from my money, the driver put the taxi into gear and hurtled off!
To be continued…