Tag Archives: taxis

I saw a bunch of tourists having trouble crossing the street

I was in Midtown Manhattan the other day on a lunch break and I wanted some food from a place a few blocks away. I was crossing East 54rd Street, and there was this family of out-of-towners waiting at the corner, stuck. It looked they wanted to cross the street, but they couldn’t get their feet off of the sidewalk. While they hesitated, cars and cabs kept making the right turn from 3rd Avenue onto 54th.


As I got closer to the family, the mom looked toward me, clearly frustrated, and said, “You’d think these cars would let us cross!” And I was walking pretty fast. I’m tall, so I have a naturally long stride, but it’s also New York, so everybody walks kind of fast. I didn’t even break my pace, but I turned to look at the lady as I stepped into the intersection, telling her, “You just have to walk. You just have to go for it. The cars will stop.”

I kept going, I made it across the street all while the lady stood there holding hands with her family, that distressed look on her face, me on one of the street and her on the other, both of us now separated by a whole line of cabs already continuing their endless stream of right turns. This whole interaction took maybe ten seconds, and once I was safely across the street, I turned forward and marched on.

But I couldn’t help but thinking about this lady and her family, were they on vacation? How long were they planning their trip to the city? Now that they were here, were they having fun? Sure, it’s a lot of filling in the blanks based on the fraction of a moment that we were in each other’s lives, but there was something there, there was us, there was a street, there were pained facial expressions.

I spent the rest of my walk imagining that family making it back to their hotel room later in the evening, they’d be exhausted, all of that walking around, nobody behaving in traffic like they do back home. How many times had she stopped random pedestrians to complain about cars? Was she giving that same confused/pissed off look to every single driver that didn’t stop and wave her along with a smile?

In my head she went back home to wherever she was from, her friends and extended family members would ask stuff like, “So how was your vacation? How was New York?” and not wanting to give the impression that they had a bad time, she’d lie, “It was OK, but everyone is in such a hurry. Everyone is so rude!”

And yeah, I’m in my head here, but this isn’t that uncommon of a thing to imagine, right? New Yorkers have a reputation of being rude. On season five of True Blood, this guy’s about to get killed, so he starts crying, hysterical, he’s like, “I never got to go to New York, to see the Big Apple,” and Eric the vampire says, “New York smells like pee and everyone is rude.”

Are New Yorkers rude? I don’t think so. I’m going to fault the tourists in this situation, that lady and her family. I’m presuming that they took this vacation and found themselves on the streets unfamiliar with the pace of everyday life. Unable to cross the street on account of traffic not coming to a halt simply because they were waiting on the corner, they reached out for a little sympathy from a fellow pedestrian.

But I didn’t give any. Imagine if every single driver stopped at every corner where a group of people happened to be waiting for a light. Cars wouldn’t be able to move an inch. Traffic would remain at a permanent standstill. There are more people than cars, and with heavy foot traffic, the lights are necessary to keep people in line as much as they’re there to regulate the cars.

I try to reverse the situation in my head. I picture me going on vacation to some small town somewhere. I’m driving along and as I’m about to round a corner, I see a family waiting to cross the street. If I just kept going, like if I aggressively made that turn without their consideration, they could look at me, they could give me that, “What the hell?” face, and I’d clearly be in the wrong. But I wouldn’t do that, because I’m not rude, I’m not an asshole.

What I’m getting at is that I don’t travel to other places and walk around acting like the whole world is New York. People from out of town should come to New York and be prepared for things to be different than the way they are back home. It’s not rude. In fact, I think if anybody is rude, it’s the person that travels around and acts as if every social code and rule is somehow universally based on how people get along from where they’re from.

I’m being way too judgmental here myself. I hate it when New Yorkers talk down to everyone else, like we’re so enlightened. As a waiter, I can safely say that a good chunk of New Yorkers are indeed rude. In fact, a lot of them are assholes. At least when they’re hungry. Does this just contradict everything that I just wrote down? Whatever, I’m probably being a huge asshole myself. Yeah, I just reread this whole thing, definitely, big-time asshole. Still, I’m right about the street crossing thing.

The economics of sitting down

I wish I could be a taxi driver. It seems like the best job in the world. I love to drive, I love listening to music, so on paper anyway, it just seems perfect. But then I think about the physical toll sitting down all day would take on my body. Every once in a while I’ll drive upstate, to Massachusetts. It’s like a three hour drive. Recently I drove up to Buffalo. That was close to six hours. It was a long, long time sitting down. My lower back hurt so much by the time I finally got to the hotel. I went to the gym to see if I couldn’t run it off, but I couldn’t. It was like I actually injured myself just sitting down.

But I wonder, if I were a full-time taxi driver, would those lower back muscles strengthen up? Maybe I’d get really good at it, but then all of my other muscles, the muscles I usually use for walking and stuff, they’d start to atrophy. And I’d just be stuck, sitting.

And traffic. When I drove up to Buffalo, the majority of the trip was spent simply trying to get out of the city. It’s the worst. Every once in a while I’ll think, maybe I should buy a car. It could really come in handy. But then I’ll get stuck in an epic traffic jam and I realize that this city is no place for driving.

Except for taxi drivers. That’s got to be the best, being a taxi driver who gets stuck in traffic. It’s like if you’re an office worker and the power goes out. You just sit there and hang out, right? It’s not like anybody can get any office work done nowadays without computers. And you still get paid, right? I guess, for a taxi driver, getting stuck in traffic all depends on if you have a passenger before you get stuck. Because once they’re inside the meter keeps running. Sure it’s a little slower if you’re at a dead stop, but whatever, a paid break is a paid break.

Recently my brother and I took a cab home from somewhere and for whatever reason the driver got on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a notorious parking lot. Sure enough, we get on and it’s just bumper to bumper, nobody moving. This driver was loving it. We sat in there for like half an hour before we finally insisted on getting out right there and walking towards the nearest exit. The driver was like, “You can’t just get out of the cab here.” But we did. And we beat every single car to the nearest exit. It was terrible though. We still had to pay like thirty bucks, then walk to the subway, then wait for the subway. The whole point of not taking the subway was to get home quick.

But whatever, every once in a while you have to pay the idiot tax. That’s what I call it when you just lose money for no other reason than making idiot decisions. Like going to Atlantic City for the weekend and losing hundreds of dollars playing Texas Hold ‘Em. Great idea Rob, you thought you’d just walk up to a table of card players and win? I only played two hands and lost everything.

But that wasn’t the idiot tax for that trip. The idiot tax was when I decided to go to the ATM and win a little back playing Blackjack. I’m telling you, twenty-five dollars a hand. Lose. Lose. Lose. Lose. Nice playing with you sir. And that was only part one of the idiot tax. Part two was taking another hundred bucks out and hoping I could instantly win it back on one round of roulette. Nope. It’s like if you get caught urinating in public. The idiot tax.

I don’t know, maybe I wouldn’t be a great cab driver. Any job where you have to rely on tips is always going to be disheartening, because tipping is optional, and given the option, some people will always be like, nope, no tip.

Maybe if somebody invented a taxi where you could stand up while driving. That would be so much better actually. Why aren’t all cars designed this way? Scientists are always wagging their fingers at us, telling us that we’re all getting so fat because our bodies aren’t meant to be living such sedentary lifestyles. So make all cars standing room only. As a bonus, you’d be able to fit a lot more people inside. Airplanes also. And movie theaters. We should just eliminate seats all together, so everybody has to stand all the time.

And I’m not talking about rickshaws either. That probably wouldn’t be the best job. I’m sure lugging people around like that has got to be grueling. And you don’t stand a chance against a car. I mean, if you get into an accident with a car, you’re dead. Unless everybody had rickshaws. Then that wouldn’t be so bad. But wait a second, if everybody is standing up, then what’s the point of a rickshaw? Because they’d be standing up also. And since they’re already standing, they might as well be walking, because that’s what the drivers are doing. I guess if everybody stood up, everybody would go out of business. Can you imagine how long that line would be at the unemployment office?