Sliding Doors

Mind the gap!

“So where do you go when you’re driving this? I”m guessing Manhattan.”

“Well yes, that’s where I spend a majority of my time. Of course, I go wherever my passengers ask me to take them.”

“Which is anywhere in the 5 Boroughs, right?”

“Correct.”

“And you can pick up anywhere in New York as well, right?”

“Correct, that’s what yellow means – licensed to take street hails anywhere in the City of New York.”

“Unlike the Livery Cabs (black cars).”

“That’s also correct, but you don’t want to get me started on them.”

I’ll admit, I don’t go to the movies. Ever. I can’t remember the last time I plopped down $10 of my hard-earned money in order to have the pleasure of sitting in a dark room with sticky floors, random cellphone conversations, and unruly kids. I don’t get a lot of free time during the week and when I do, I tend to be a bit more interactive with the forms of entertainment that I enjoy.

However, I *did* see the movie that is also the title of this posting. Most of you are unaware that I attended Vanderbilt University in the late 90’s before I was unceremoniously asked to leave for academic reasons. During my 3 years in the buckle of the Bible belt, I struggled with many facets of my life, including my studies, my social life, my identity, and dating. On one of the few occasions that I headed off-campus with someone  I was interested in, we went to the movies and of course, the feature we ended up seeing was Sliding Doors.

The premise was simple – Gwyneth Paltrow plays a young Londoner who got fired from her job and had to take the Tube home afterward. The plot splits in two as she made the train in one scene and when it was replayed, she ended up missing it. The concept of a parallel universe came to life as the rest of the film alternated back and forth between the two tales that result from the incident in London’s underground. What started of as an incident that millions of urbanites endure on a daily basis reverberated throughout her life, affecting her image, love life, and vocation following her termination of employment.

The film itself was interesting and came out at the height of Paltrow’s Shakespeare in Love-induced popularity. While I can’t remember every detail about the movie or the person I was with that day, the idea behind the plot stuck with me. Every day, there are tons of decisions and services that rely on a set schedule that I use to traverse the Big Apple and surrounds. Most of these run like clockwork but in an imperfect world, obstructions and unplanned events always seem to throw a monkey wrench into the best of my intentions.

Then of course, there’s my work environment. From the moment I pull out of the garage and start my shift, there are big decisions to be made. Car Wash? If so, now or later? Queensboro or Willy B. to enter Manhattan? Uptown? Downtown? Should I just follow the traffic and not fight it? Many people think that drivers such as myself have a set pattern that I follow to start my day out but more than any other job that I’ve had, this vocation quickly puts to death the notion of monotony and normalcy.

The conversation that I penned above is one that I have quite often. As I’ve mentioned before, passengers love to ask me questions once they realize that I’m not typical and the ones dealing with where I go when I’m available is one that comes up often. Each day has a different pattern when it comes to human and vehicular traffic. If every person and form of transportation could be tracked, I’m sure that it would be easy to see where everyone went after work, and how the social life in the City proceeds on a given night. In an ideal world, all the cabs would start off in Midtown or Downtown and eventually work their way to the residential and cultural areas before heading to the trendy neighborhoods that people eat, drink, and socialize in.

Of course, that’s much easier said than done. Nights don’t progress linearly like that. Where my first fare takes me determines where I go pick up my second one, and that one has a hand in determining where my third one will be found, and so on. Since I average 30 fares in a 12-hour span, it’s easy to envision how the beginning of my shift can determine where I’ll end up physically and financially at the end of the night.

Last week, the traffic was some of the worst I had seen since Christmas. 20 minutes and change to cross the Willy B, only to have my first fare hop into my cab and send me back across the bridge to Williamsburg. I had a feeling that I was going to a less-than-desirable locale during the rush, given that the cab in front of me sped away from the couple when they told him where to go. Sure enough, I cut through the narrow grid of lanes that the Lower East Side consists of and 10 minutes later, I dropped them off.

The beauty of all of this was that my next fare was only a block away and wanted to go to the Upper East Side. At that hour, the Queensboro Bridge was starting to free up and since I had very little turnover time and traffic to impede me, I brought my two passengers and their bags up to 1 Ave in decent time. Within an hour, I was flipping my fares over relatively easily and on my way to a solid weekday night.

So many times, I’ve had to take someone that I despise. Too many people have zero patience during the time of day where many of the arteries of the city are clogged up. Now that I’m pushing a year of doing this job, I let most of it slide off but I have to constantly remind myself that everything evens out in the end. For every bad fare or passenger that has absolutely ZERO idea where he or she is going, somebody will come along later in the night to make up for it. What always amazes me is that I hated having the person early on that added to the Hell of Rush Hour but without that first or second domino being pushed, the ride that made me laugh, smile, and think at 2 in the morning would never have fallen into place.

Even when I don’t have someone, there are always decisions to be made that have ramifications. Touching down on Delancey Street from the Willy B brings a plethora of choices when it comes to where to turn. A majority of the vehicles will be headed crosstown to the Holland Tunnel so my objective is to move away, and toward a street without any empty Taxis on it. This is how I work for much of the night – separating myself out from the pack. More often that I first would have guessed at, marching to my own beat has resulted in finding a fare that was so close, and yet so far from the nearest available Taxi. Waiting in line has its benefits late at night but for the most part, avoiding the lemmings pays off in the end.

People think that my job is easy, since Manhattan is just “one big grid” and most of the streets are numbered and logical. To some extent, that’s true. However, what was an open way could have an accident, a parked bus, or a work truck on it the next time I have to go on it. Like a giant maze with movable partitions, the city is always changing. It brings new meaning to the term “rat race” since all of us are always trying to get ahead on a playing field that is constantly testing our memory and patience.

Some of my most memorable rides have come when I had an instinct to turn the corner, wait a minute in front of a busy establishment, or go a certain way just because nobody else was cruising in that direction. Whether it’s fate or divine intervention, those fares often tell me how I came at the right time and how lucky they were to have finally found someone. It’s on those nights when I feel that everything falls into place, and I don’t have to worry about any numbers that I need to hit.

A few years after the movie came out, there was an episode of my favorite show called Sliding Frasiers. Instead of the train, it’s clothing that makes Frasier’s day split into two. One day in the life of Doctor Crane has a wildly divergent sequence of events that are shown in alternating scenes until the end of the episode, when both parallel takes converge into the same end result. For all of the time making a decision and the  effects of it, Frasier still ends up at home, content at the end of the 24 minutes and change. In a way, it’s similar to how my day winds down. Every morning at around 4:55, I end up at the gas station. There, I break down the contents of my cab while filling up and then head over to the garage to cash out for the night. All of the runs around the Big Apple and surrounds, even with the accidents and wild rides tossed in for good measure, still tie up nice and neat when all is said and done.

Like my passengers, I always arrive at my destination safely – even if I never take the same way twice to it.

Stand clear?!?!?!…

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One thought on “Sliding Doors

  1. Zan charisse says:

    Being a born New Yorker, I enjoy this peek into a life I’ve never known. Years ago, the drivers were cigar smoking older white guys who spouted off about the mayor. Now the drivers are so diverse that I spend more time explaining where I want to go and then listening to them on their damn cell phones. Irked?… Uh, yes I usually am. This story is not only enlightening, it makes me want to know more about the author, who is so well written and well spoken.. Why is he a cab driver?

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