Lessons from the Taxi Cab: Episode 1
It’s a yellow Ford Explorer with the required fare details glued to the sides. I like these because they always feel newer and cleaner and I can keep my back propped up comfortably instead of sliding into the blackish green vinyl of the older cabs. Into the sweat and mess of a million people, of sticky spilled coffees and unwashed hands. New York is gray and on the cusp of a downpour that never comes.
We start taking surface streets when the freeway turns into a parking lot and my cab driver explains where we are going. I hope that he will end the friendly exchange there but he continues on to tell me about the recent weather New York has been having. Cyclones, he says. He describes how 100,000 people are without power in New Jersey and how trees have been uprooted everywhere. I keep looking out the window and laughing, saying “uh huh” and wondering when he’s going to leave me alone to nurse my flight exhaustion in peace.
I used to enjoy talking to strangers. But people get older. People shut down.
Cabbie tells me that Saturday was the worst day for the wind. I tell him that this winter has been filled with wild weather and he agrees. “We are killing nature,” he tells me. We drive past a giant, leafless oak tree peeled away from broken concrete. I think he is on to something. I change me apathetic tune and begin to listen.
I keep my eyes on the passing brownstones. I wonder how the people with broken windows sleep in the cold.
He starts talking about how he got sick two years ago from an illness I never ask the specifics of and an illness he never describes. Now he only drives a taxi two times a week. He explains that this isn’t actually his taxi, but he rents one daily from another cabbie for $130 per day; any profit above that is his to keep. He explains how people don’t understand how much overhead goes into being a taxi driver and people are misinformed to think that cabbies make a ton of money. I never thought that. It never seemed like a glamorous gig in any sense of the word.
We are at a traffic light in Brooklyn.
The conversation somehow veers into talking about his arranged marriage and the difference between that and what he calls “your American love marriage.” He says that he tells his wife in his next life he will have this love marriage. The difference between traditional and arranged marriage is summed up by the cabbie using sayings like “You like this movie and I like this movie” and “I like this food and you like that food” which I assume is his way of conveying what it’s like to get to now someone and fall in love with every part of them, similarities and differences be damned. I could just be reading into it, though.
Cabbie’s wife is supposedly concerned about her husband meeting girls while driving, which he says happens often (“They invite me out at night! ‘Come into this club with us!” they tell me”), also something I never expected out of the Cabbie Life. He laughs and says something I can’t understand followed by how he tells his wife, “You’re right here. How could I forget about you?!” He is charming, this man.
The neighborhoods of Brooklyn recede into commercial buildings with Quiznos, Starbucks, a movie theater. Almost to Manhattan.
We start talking about kids. He has two of them. Boys. A nine year old and a six year old. After another indiscernible segue, he is talking about how his children got lost at the shopping mall and how he found them crying, crying, crying. The cabbie says he shook them and told them they cannot cry when they are lost; when they cry they will get nervous and then they will forget their phone numbers and where they are supposed to be and their parents’ names. When they ask their dad what to do the next time they get lost, he says, “You look people in the face. White, black, anyone. You look them in the face and you see who has a gentle face. And then you grab that person by the hand and you say, ‘Help me. I am lost.’ And if you don’t believe what they say, you ask someone else.”
We’re bounding across a bridge in dire need of patchwork asphalt.
I ask Cabbie if it’s weird to watch your children grow up into little people and if it’s scary how quickly time goes. He tells me that his mother taught him something very important and that was to always say, “My children aren’t growing.” The belief is that if you admit to how quickly your children are growing up, the time will go quickly and then eventually disappear. If they are always children in your eyes – small children forever – then time will slow to a tolerable pace. Time for life to be enjoyed. Time not spent on pondering how quickly life is going.
I want to follow this man around for a week and write down everything he says and compile it into I smile to myself and wonder if everyone from Bangladesh is this insightful or interesting or if I would be unfairly stereotyping a whole people by finding them all decidedly lovely. A kind disservice.
“Children are angels,” Cabbie says.
We are now in Manhattan.
He tells me how children look to us with big empty eyes and how we need to protect them and take care of them and teach them things. Teach them good things.
Cabbie drops me off in front of my building. I pay with a credit card. I leave a good tip. He takes my bag out of the trunk of his borrowed car and I say thank you and have a nice day and I mean it. I think about what the rest of his day will be like, the rest of his life, how his kids will grow up, how he will get old. And then I walk into my building and into my apartment and back to my own life and nearly forget everything that just happened.