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My taxi was a safe place. The leather seats were soft against the skin. The air had a hint of the evergreen air freshener that hung from the rearview mirror. The steering wheel was worn from turning onto the different avenues and streets. There were footprints permanently indented into the carpet in the back.
Most people look at my taxi and just think it’s another ordinary taxi, but it isn’t. There are so many distinguishing features about my taxi; if you’re looking for them. Take the crack in the right passenger door for example. When I pulled up to the curb to pick up a couple of teenage boys, instead of getting in, they took out rocks from their coat and started to smash the glass. I remember it perfectly because that was my first day on the job. We tried to fix the cracks that were made, but there was one that was in the corner that we couldn’t get to.
The paint on the right side is chipped a little under the handle of the rear door. That was from a woman that was obsessed with jewelry. There were probably ten necklaces hanging around her thin neck. Bracelets went up to her elbows on each arm. On each of her fingers she had a huge ring. I’m sure if she had pulled her hair back there would be long, elaborate earrings up and down her ears. As she was struggling to get the door opened with big shopping bags in her hands, her ring got caught under the handle and scratched off the paint. I remember the screeching the metals made as they rubbed against each other.
Other than leaving her mark on the outside of my taxi, she left a mark in my memory. “West 128th and 7th please,” she said with a gravelly voice. I stared at her in the rearview mirror.
“Harlem?” I asked confused. The thought of this woman decorated in jewels walking around the projects was foreign to me.
“Yes,” she answered sharply. I nodded and started the meter. We drove a few blocks when she finally broke her silence. “Could you turn this song up?” I forgot that the radio had been playing in the background.
“Sure,” I answered as I turned the knob between my fingers.
“Just a small town girl ,living in a lonely world.
She took the midnight train, going anywhere.”
The popular song leaked through the speakers. “I love this song,” I commented as I started to sing along. The woman nodded, still looking a little tense. The guitar solo came on while we were at a red light. I took my hands off the wheel and started to play the air guitar. Glancing in the mirror I saw a smile twitch on the woman’s face. I made the motions more dramatic along with the song and the woman laughed. Her laugh was like a high pitched ring. It was an innocent laugh that didn’t escape often. Her dark eyes lit up as she heard this foreign noise. Clutching her stomach, the woman started to sing the rest of the song loudly.
“Don’t stop believin’,
Hold on to that feelin’,
Don’t stop believin’,”
We both laughed some more as I pulled over to the curb. The woman paused for a few seconds before getting out money to pay me. I turned the radio back down and stopped the meter. She finally rummaged for a few crumpled bills from her pockets. I realized that these were the last bills that she possessed.
Her ringed hand reached over the seat to hand me the money. “No,” I said shaking my head and pushing her hand away from me. She looked confused. “Keep it.”
“Okay,” she answered hesitantly. I gave her a genuine smile as she reached for the door. “Sir, I want to thank you for a fun ride. I haven’t laughed since, oh gee, I’m not sure when.”
“You’re very welcome,” I turned around to look at her. She opened the door and was about to step out.
“Here,” she said handing me one of her rings. I took it and examined the large green jewels.
“Thank you,” I said with gratitude. The ring fit perfectly on a little hook on the mirror. It still hangs there today.
The left tail light had a small smudge of black paint that was shaped like an odd heart. This was when I was passing through an art festival in Greenwich. There was an event where people would throw balloons filled with paint on a large sheet hanging over a building. I had missed the memo not to go down there that day. So while I was maneuvering through the crowd of people I tried to dodge the balloons. I felt as if I was driving through the middle of a battlefield. “Get out of here!” someone shouted at me. I put my hand up and mouthed, “Sorry”. Just as I was about to turn off of the street, a balloon had hit the back of the car.
A week later I drove down the same street, with the paint still splattered on my taillight. I stared at the clock and realized it was time to put some caffeine into my system. I went into a small coffee shop with a French name I couldn’t pronounce and ordered a black coffee to go. While I waited for my drink I looked around the small café. It had a very bohemian essence. Colors could be found everywhere. Then I noticed, tucked in the back of the café was a folded up sheet with a cluster of colors on it.
“Here is your coffee, sir,” a young girl offered me my beverage.
“Thank you,” I said with a smile. “Excuse me, but what is that sheet that is folded up over there?”
“Oh that,” she said as she leaned over the counter to see what I was talking about. “That was for a fundraiser to save art programs in schools. It was a dollar for every balloon you threw. It turned out to be a wonderful day and we raised enough money to help two schools keep their programs.”
“Wow, that’s great!” I expressed enthusiastically. “That is truly amazing.” I thanked her again for the coffee and walked back out to my taxi. Before getting in though, I stopped to examine the paint splatter on it. Instead of washing it off like I had planned to do later that day, I decided to leave it.
It’s amazing how many conversations you hear from people in the back of a cab. I have heard it all; from sappy love confessions, to a high school party that was busted last night, to someone telling their spouse that they just filed for divorce that morning. Taxi drivers are the eyes and ears of this city.
“I went around and put in applications for a new job today,” one of my cabbie buddies, John announced. I nodded and took a sip of my coffee. I don’t know why he would want to leave this job, not with all the people we meet and talk to. Bookstores only have a certain type of person come in, bookworms and students. “There was one place that looked really interesting. It had a bunch of books and movies all over the place.” Barnes and Noble maybe, I thought to myself.
“Really,” I said dully. We were sitting in the taxi garage after our shifts. It was cold out that night.
“I really hope that I get that job. The woman was very nice to me.” Johnny wasn’t the smartest person I knew. As a matter of fact, he might be the dumbest person I know. He dropped out of school at the age of fifteen and ran away to the city.
“Why did you drop out?” I had asked him once.
“Why didn’t you?” he had replied. After that I never bothered to find out. Unlike Johnny, I like my job as a cabbie. It’s never boring. Like I said, I stay entertained by the people that come into my taxi, and when no one is in the backseat, I have the lights in Times Square to look at and the radio to listen to.
“Well I hope you get the job, Johnny,” I encouraged him. He gave me a gapped tooth smile.
“Thanks!” he yelled.
I pulled over to the curb to pick up a man in a suit. He was on his cell phone as he opened the door. “I can’t believe it. We need those files transferred over immediately. Why didn’t she get it done? That’s it she’s fired!” He hung up and stared at me.
“Where to?” I asked nonchalantly.
“Ugh, a bar, I need to go to a bar.” I put the car in drive and head down 5th Avenue.
“I know just where to take you, sir.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. Stress lines showed on his forehead as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. I stopped at a red light to let a group of people cross.
“Nighttime is the best time to see the city for what it really is,” the man commented as he stared out his window.
“And what is that?” I asked, confused.
“Trash,” he said bluntly. New York City was my love and home. I didn’t see it as trash at all, in fact it was the total opposite in my eyes.
“Why?” I was determined to understand how this man’s mind worked.
“Look at these girls walking. They are dressed as,” he paused to think about what he was going to say, “They aren’t dressed at all!” I examined the group of girls he was speaking of and saw more skin than cloth on their tiny frames. “How could their mothers let them leave the house like that?” I shook my head, baffled at the question.
“Maybe they are runaways,” I suggested. Glancing in the back mirror I saw a pained look in his dark eyes.
“Well why the hell would they leave a home that could offer them everything? Their home life can’t be all that bad.” I decided not to comment on the subject anymore.
He hit the window as I started down another street. “Look at those people! They are probably on drugs right now. They’re probably high as kites and they don’t even remember what it’s like not to be messed up.” I kept my mouth shut still. Hearing the words that came from this man’s mouth hurt me. New York is the greatest place I know. It offers so much. “I don’t get how people can just throw their lives away like these people do. What do they do? They come to New York to throw it away too. That’s why this city is trash! It’s filled with dead souls.”
I had to fight myself to keep my tongue tamed. I thought back to the manual I had gotten when I first started this job the very first line was, “A happy customer means a happy ride!” This man obviously had a lot of anger towards something. “Stop the car!” he shouted, interrupting my thought process. I slammed on the breaks and pulled swiftly to the side of the road. He jumped out of the cab without paying and ran down the street.
The red numbers read $10.80 on the meter. That is a lot of money to come out of my pocket. I jumped out of my taxi and ran after the man. About twenty feet in front of me I saw the man. The street was suspiciously empty for a Friday night. “Hey, you need to pay!” I yelled towards him. He moved to the side to reveal another man in front of him. My customer took the man and held him in a headlock. I stopped in my tracks and stared at what he was going to do. Out of his suit jacket he pulled out a gun and held it to the man’s head.
My heart started to beat faster. Of all the things I have seen being a cabbie, I have never seen a murder. “Sir, you don’t want to do that!” I offered my assistance.
“Shut up and drive away!” he yelled. “You don’t know what this man did to me!”
“I didn’t do anything to you!” his victim yelled, struggling against the violent embrace.
“Yes you did and you know it!” He pushed the gun into the man’s temple even harder.
“Sir, please just put the gun down,” I pleaded. Just as I was about to take a step towards him the trigger was pulled and a loud bang filled the street. The victim fell to the ground and my customer stared at the limp body.
I ran back towards my taxi, not sure what to do. I saw him run after me. He was faster than me so he caught up just as I was about to turn to open the door. “No!” I screamed, pulling open the door to get into the backseat.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized as he pointed the gun at me. I was halfway into my taxi when I heard the same deafening sound. I felt a hot bullet rip through my leg. I fell into the backseat and screamed. There was another pop of the gun, but I didn’t feel any pain. Did he kill another person? Or did he kill himself? I was going in and out of consciousness. As my eyes were open, though, I caught a glimpse of a cut out news article on the floor of my taxi. “Southern belle runaway murdered on the streets of NYC” the headline read. There was a picture of a pretty girl with her parents. I recognized the man in the picture as my customer.
My taxi was a safe place. It gave me comfort as I tried to fight through the pain in my leg. I didn’t feel any fear in my taxi. The last thing I saw was a bright light. Whether it was from the flashlight of a paramedic, or heaven, I’m not sure. I’ll just have to wait and see.