It rained like mad on Wednesday – to the point where another in a string of endless flood watches was issued here in New Jersey and the streets of the Big Apple turned into a paste that only the most grizzled of drivers could successfully navigate. My third fare that day took me to Maspeth, Queens and rather than turn around and brave the L.I.E. and Queensboro Bridge coming back into Manhattan, yours truly took the back way to J.F.K. in order to pick up his next fare. Normally, the wait at the dispatch line there can be well over a half and hour but since Taxis would be in high demand that day, I zipped through in 10 seconds and grabbed my ticket.
It was at Terminal 7 that I picked up my next fare. She was nice lady from Down Under who had a conference to go to at the Marriot Marquis in Times Square. Thankfully, she didn’t mind paying the toll for the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and aside from the usual 20 questions (Do you own this cab? What nights do you work? etc…), I had no problem engaging in a meaningful conversation as we headed towards the crowds on matinee night. After receiving three $20’s in my hand upon arrival, the dispatcher at the hotel led my next fare into my Taxi, amazingly with a smile and a good attitude.They were a nuclear family from the city of Brotherly Love who were in town visiting relatives.
Me – “Hey there, where to?”
Mom – “The Strand Bookstore on Broadway”
Me – “I know it well. Spent many a day there and it’s the best in the city”
Mom – “Glad to hear.”
Me – “Mind if we take 9 Ave down? The traffic in Times Square and by Penn Station has been horrid tonight and I don’t have to loop around either”
Dad – “You’re the boss and you make the call.”
So I made the call and after a few minutes stuck at lights behind tourists and buses, we were on our way.
Me – “So what you seeing while you’re in town?”
Mom – “Well, last year when we were here, it was really bad out. This year, we’re hoping to see the tree and the holiday displays. Whatever happened to all of the activity down by Wall Street?”
Me – “Oh, those protestors? They were down there for a while until Bloomberg and Ray Kelly kicked them out a few weeks back.”
Mom – “So where are they now?”
Me – “They don’t have really have a home. They pop up in various spots and last week, they had a march with one of labor unions uptown.”
Son – “It’s all a bunch of mamby-pamby anyway!”
Mom – “Watch what you’re saying!”
Surely, Norman Rockwell would not have been offended by what I heard but the couple I had that night repeated the question I’ve heard the most over the last two months that didn’t have to do with my job. Even with the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, UN week, the NBA lockout, the bike lanes, the mild November, the President being in town, and the shitty economy, there wasn’t anything that came up more often than the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Hell, I’ve called this area home since the late 70’s and I had *never* heard of Zuccotti Park until a bunch of disenfranchised people decided to set up shop there and became angry with the world. A simple wikipedia search gave me all the info on it but that was all I needed to know and cared about until my second fare a few months back:
“I need to go to Broadway and Wall Street.”
And so it began…
I didn’t give a crap that I had to go to Lower Manhattan, even though the streets are narrow, bumpy, and have been under constant construction sine the World Trade Center Towers became dust. As you’re well aware of, we’re supposed to take people anywhere in the 5 Boroughs and that I did. What sucked about it was the massive police presence, the endless traffic that worsened as Broadway narrowed, and the noise that the protestors made – constantly, no less. The Canyon of Heroes that was home to so many parades honoring those that pushed the boundaries of the possible and championship sports teams became nothing more than a glorified cattle chute and even the people I took home that day commented on how much the protestors stunk, literally. Much was made about the lack of facilities for them down there, to the point where the heaters for them were deemed a fire hazard.
Invariably, many of my passengers would comment on what was taking place. Some were nonchalant but many had an opinion on it and thankfully, they had someone in the front seat of their Taxi who would be happy to listen as he navigated his was through the streets of New York. A few even asked me what I thought of the mess, aside from having to pass by it when dropping people home.
Every time that came up, I quoted Emma Lazarus’ sonnet with is engraved on the bottom of the Statue of Liberty.
“Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled…”
which led to:
“…dirty, unkept, disenfranchised, angry, bitter, disillusioned masses looking for an easy way…”
And off I went.
Most passengers seemed to agree with me that things got way out of hand. I had no problem with the intent of the original dissenters. The First Amendment gave them the right to assemble and petition their grievances and after the bailouts that Citi and AIG received, they had every reason to be upset. Hell, I did too. Columbia, and the rest of society have let me down to some extent since I ended up driving a cab upon my graduation.
But I never let my anger get the best of me.
When people couldn’t get out of the Subway downtown, or go to the Deli for milk or bread, or patronize their favorite restaurant because of the never-ending three-ring circus, that’s where the line should have been drawn. Bloomberg lacked the fortitude of his predecessor until he finally got the gumption and called in the choppers a few weeks back. Why the Protestors were upset was beyond me.
Take it from your cabdriver who has given these 1 Percenters a ride home every now and then:
They don’t give a fuck about you.
They work in those towers high above the streets, and then they go home, which tends not to be anywhere near the Financial District.
The people who live down there are part of the 99% that you claimed to have represented, even though there was never a popular election. Not all of them agreed with your intentions and nearly all of them were inconvenienced by your inconsiderate actions.
Those you were railing against were merely playing in the rules, however unfair they may have been. If you weren’t happy with it, that’s fine…but you were stupid to be protesting that 240 miles northeast of where your anger could have been channeled into something better.
Sadly enough, every time I was down there and yelled out my Taxi window for a list of demands, I was given silence in return. Even Thomas Paine was smart enough to hand out his Common Sense pamphlet during the days of British oppression before the revolution. Amazingly, I didn’t see any common sense or pamphlets being handed out in Lower Manhattan, not even when Michael Moore or Susan Surandon were looking for their photo ops.
Now, I read about how the movement will grow and change, sowing its gospel throughout the land. Sure, the City probably overstepped its bounds when it came to how several demonstrators were treated upon arrest but as I always say, get in line.
Lots of us have had a lot of shit to put up with in life.
The night I went down to Zuccotti Park was relatively nondescript. There were barricades up and Police watching over everything and even the food trucks across the street were conducting business as usual. Noguchi’s sculpture at 140 Broadway looked just as home as ever and for all the muss and fuss, I finally got a chance to walk through the place and see firsthand what I had been missing. More importantly, it was at the end of a long shift that reminded me of all the others I had worked, serving as further proof of how little things had really changed.
Me – “Well, here we are Broadway and 10 St…right by that bend I told you about where the Church is. The Strand’s a block back.”
Dad – “Thank you. Keep the change (of a $20).”
Me – Thank you too and God Bless. Oh – and kid,you were right before when talking to your Mom. Watch out for those mamby-pamby’s – they could arise at any time and they sure don’t represent me of most of the other 99%, even if I’m not happy with where our country is heading.”
With that, I was off into the night, hoping to change things for the better one fare at a time.