Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking a cab and hoping for the best

The lovely Miss Wendy and I were bouncing about in the back of a cab recently, minutes away from LaGuardia airport, headed toward Manhattan. At least that was the plan. It was cold and the ground was still covered with the remnants of a blizzard that had left the region paralyzed for days.

Our driver seemed a cipher – pale and quiet; a little frazzled, but focused; neither pleasant nor rude. I could see his name on his hack license, prominently displayed on that plastic thingy separating us from him. It was long, foreign sounding and oddly devoid of vowels.

We were zipping along surface streets and I expected at any moment we’d find ourselves on the Grand Central Parkway, swinging to the north before making our way via the Robert F. Kennedy Toll Road into Manhattan, just south of Harlem around 125th Street.

But after only a few moments, I realized we seemed headed away from the parkway and Manhattan, touring sections of Queens that seemed a million miles from our destination. We rode through residential areas filled with row houses, passed schools and parks, then slowly threaded our way through thoroughfares clogged with motorists going nowhere.

Our driver seemed to be circling at times, working his way block by endless block away from our destination; accelerating up one street, quickly hanging a left, then bizarrely backtracking along yet another maze of aging buildings and seedy shops. Wendy and I shared worried glances, hoping our cabbie knew the region like the back of his hand and was working his way along a cosmic shortcut toward the emerald city, just the other side of the Hudson.

More realistically, we feared we were simply being taken for a ride – a really long and expensive ride. In the past, given the unpredictability of traffic in the New York City area, the trip from LaGuardia to our Midtown hotel generally took around a half hour and cost $40 or so. We were already nearing $25 and it seemed we were much closer to Coney Island then Times Square.

I was just about ready to break the silence in the cab when, magically, traffic began to move, one last row of industrial buildings fell away and hope hung heavily on the horizon. Off in the distance I caught sight of the Queensboro Bridge and I happily realized that our driver was, in fact, a cabbie extraordinaire.

We said goodbye to Queens and zipped into Manhattan at 2nd Avenue and 60th Street, a good 60 blocks closer to our Midtown hotel then if we’d taken the more traditional route. A short 10 minutes later, after weaving through cross-town traffic and zig-zagging our way around the south end of Central Park, passed the Plaza Hotel and Carnegie Hall, we pulled to a stop at the Park Central Hotel on 7th Avenue.

The cost? Even including a generous tip, I handed over less than $40 – trust me, a bargain. And the moral of this little tale? Stuff happens, and sometimes it’s good!

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