Someone Like You

“We’re having the time of our lives
We’re lost in a cruel paradise”

-New Order

Match-Maker - Times Square

Match-Maker – Times Square

“We’re here. That’ll be $23.”

“I’m not leaving your cab until you kiss me.”

“Um…I’m alright. I have to get back to work and besides, you don’t want to do that. I have cooties.”

Love.

It’s something that supposedly exists in the Big Apple. I’m not referring to how I feel about the city that has become a cratered, frozen wasteland in recent weeks but the actual emotion that two people can feel between each other. Once in a blue moon, I get to see it actually take place in the back seat of my Taxi and no, I’m not talking about those rare instances where couples are getting it on. I mean the real thing – actual love between two people who aren’t exchanging cash for favors as part of the relationship.

It’s not everyday that I feel that New Yorkers are capable of loving each other. The Bible teaches us to do that but hate is so much easier to find on the streets, certainly from behind the wheel. I see enough middle fingers, angry drivers, and pedestrians who are caught up in their own little worlds all the time, to the point where I just brush it off and move on as soon as the light turns green. It even happened on Saturday night when a livery cab driver got pissed off at me as if I ruined his entire evening. Tossing his bottle of water at my windshield may have made his night easier to swallow, but I just turned the wipers on and stared ahead, undeterred by his growing rage.

Gotham can be a form of cruel and unusual punishment underneath the glitz and glamour. As I’ve mentioned time and time again, a vast majority of New Yorkers work hours that put my 12-hour shifts to shame, all the name of building a career, identity, or name for themselves. The upside is that many people leave the city in search of greener (and calmer) pastures once they’ve established their vocational track, as a chef from Austin also reminded me on Saturday night. For all of the exhaustion that I could see and feel emanating from her as we made our way to Bushwick under the El, it was all worth it for her if and when she returned home to the Lone Star State, since she knew that she’d call all the shots once it came time to open a restaurant there.

That’s one of the rare instances where love of someone else has been trumped by a love of self, and I don’t mean that in a selfish way. A career is how every working New Yorker finds identity and self-fulfillment – from the lowly dishwasher to the Lawyer who wants the corner office on the top floor. There’s a reason why I ask my passengers what they do and it goes beyond finding out about people’s occupations or wondering if a certain career track is right for me. It’s because far too many people that I’ve been entrusted to take home or out on the town do nothing but work during their waking hours, and that job ends up becoming their entire existence.

In the process, they lose themselves in that particular field. A certain asexuality takes hold over many New Yorkers as their day becomes nothing more than a means to an end. Leisure time, jaunts on the town, and goofing off disappear completely from a person’s schedule, only to be replaced by overtime and more billable hours. While I do not receive any of the latter perks as part of my job, I certainly know what it’s like to lose yourself in what you do. The old saying of “moonlighting becomes you” implies that that person’s day job has not already become their life while their night job slowly creeps in and crowds out everything else. In New York, the day job has already choked off all other forms of life before that even has a chance to happen.

Naturally, this also includes romantic relationships. There have been many, many instances where the person that’s gotten in the back seat of my Taxi has captivated me – because of that person’s looks, ambitions, position, personality, or je ne sais quoi. More often that not, she has someone that has gone out with her for the night but when she hasn’t, I do my best to get to know her without being overtly forward. While not easy to do while battling traffic, the process of learning about a passenger is almost always sobering at best.

More often than not, that person is tired, stressed, or just uninterested. A smart phone may give her an excuse to ignore me and the outside world but it ends up making the person using it pretty dumb when there’s so much to be gained by looking out onto the streets of the Big Apple and pondering over thoughts with the driver that’s taking that person home. Even if I never speak to her again, I do believe that I have something to offer and something to learn from every passenger that gets in my vehicle and communicates with me, no matter the level of romantic interest. Given how rare it is that I feel a spark with all of the people that I come into contact with on a daily basis, I’m amazed that anyone could find someone to settle down with in New York.

Statistics seem to back that up as well, as the average age of marriage has been creeping up for several decades now. When I was growing up, my parents got married in their early 20’s and they often told me it was because “everyone else did that”. I never thought that they were lemmings but I was well aware that the Baby Boom generation tied the knot young and for the marriages that lasted, quite a few offspring resulted from those celebrating the sacrament of Matrimony fresh out of High School. Hearing that someone is a stay-at-home-Mom or wants to remain in New York to settle down and raise a family seems so foreign to my ears now that I express my amazement during the few instances that I hear that after asking someone what they do for a living or wish to do in the future.

Courtship is a lost art in New York, as evidenced by the utter buffoonery that many males practice when going out on the town and finding someone to take home that night. While I don’t dispense relationship advice unless asked (yeah, it’s not that often), I usually come to an opinion on the couple that gets into the back seat, and not just on Saturday nights. Nearly all of the time, it’s a business relationship and nothing more. People have something that others want, and whether it’s money, sex appeal, an enviable status, or just a superficial return of their infatuation, New Yorkers are good at consummating relationships that disappear as quick as nearby locals on Tinder.

When I was growing up, New York was romantic. Fred and Ginger danced in fancy supper clubs, Art Deco made a nice revival in the 1970’s, Woody Allen’s Manhattan provided the soundtrack to anyone’s romantic dreams in the era of Municipal Bankruptcy, and even The Wiz soulfully asked us to Ease on Down the Road, right toward the Chrysler Building. Like so much of New York yesteryear, those dreamy scenes and scores have been replaced by the almighty dollar. Tourism may have helped the city reach new highs but it’s brought about an economy based on comfort, accommodation, and familiarity.

And we all know what that breeds.

Unbeknownst to anyone, the rebound in the city’s economy along with the gradual depreciation in manufacturing only made matters worse for those who provided the labor in the postindustrial economy. Housing prices skyrocketed, job requirements became more strict, and white-collar industries rose in prominence. All of those combined to make standards of living increase but the correlating rise in life expectancy came with a heavy price:

Longer working hours.

And with it, the fall of romance in New York.

I can see it in my job – in the faces of those who put in grueling hours, year after year. Driving a Taxi wasn’t always a 12-hour shift and the older guys in my garage and in the business always talk about how they used to do well financially driving a cab and how they had free time during their shift to eat and take breaks. For me, it’s a big game of beat-the-clock once I pull out of my garage and fly over one of the East River crossings to start another night of fare-finding. Too many times, I have to stop and look up when I get to a red light or sit in traffic.

At the buildings.

At the skyline.

At the people going by.

And at the proverbial sand in the hourglass of my life going from the top to the bottom.

I’d always hoped that everything that I put in would be worth it – that one day, someone would come into my Taxi and fulfill the promise that I’ve heard for so many years; that that person would be the one that I’d spend the rest of my life with, that that person would make me feel that I’d always known her, and would make me forget about every heartache, breakup, and rejection that I’ve endured time and time again. That she’d make me forget about every ticket, pothole, fender-bender, nonpaying fare, and ungrateful passenger that has made me want to turn the meter off and pull back into the garage for the last time and most of all, for all the tears that I shed for those who exited my life far, far too soon.

To this day, I’m still hoping to come across her.

For now, I hold out hope – that New Yorkers will not be so jaded that they cannot see the beauty in the architecture, natural world, and people around them and will take the time out to stop and smell the roses in the midst of their packed-to-the-gills schedule that they live day in and day out. While a cabdriver like me cannot force them to put their phones and Blackberry’s down for a moment, it is possible to get them to slow down for a while, unplug from the potential to land another client or make another sale, and just take some time out to get to know someone on a personal level. It’s a futile task but during the rare instances where I make a connection, it’s worth all of the frustration and effort that went in to brightening someone’s day.

And that’s the part of my job that I love the most.

Love - Midtown

Love – Midtown

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Stupor Bowl

Super Bowl Ticket - East Side

Super Bowl Ticket – East Side

“What happened?”

“What do you mean? Are you not taking passengers at the time?”

“No, your team. What happened? You guys realize that you had a game to play and had to show up for it today, right?”

“Oh, just take us to our garage – 40 St and 2 Ave.”

“No problem.”

That was the scene between me and the gentleman pictured above and his friend. One flew in Denver and the other from Omaha (no, I’m not making that up) and they were quite despondent after the beatdown that their Broncos were on the wrong end of a few hours beforehand. They didn’t even make it to Penn until nearly Midnight and I had to feel sorry that they were subjected to the cattle car that their experience on New Jersey Transit had turned into.

That, and many more like it, were all a part of the 48th rendition of the game formerly known as the AFL-NFL World Championship, which was played in my home state last Sunday. For all the hype, pomp, pageantry, buildup, and excitement over it, the contest turned out to be colossal letdown – unless you were one of the people I saw walking around with a green and blue mohawk. Even though it paled in comparison to the some of the more exciting finishes to the NFL season that have taken place in recent years, the week leading up to it was also a dud in some regards. Ticket prices had to be slashed because the face values were set too high, hotels and motels on this side of the Hudson didn’t full up as many had predicted, and of course, the governor of my home state was given a nice big Bronx cheer when introduced on Super Bowl Boulevard during the week leading up to the game.

Then there was the multiplier effect…or lack thereof. Traditionally, the two worst times of the year to be driving a yellow vehicle around the streets of New York are the dog days of summer and the dead of winter and as anyone up here can still attest too, this year’s ranks with the worst that New York has seen in quite some time. Once the confetti and streamers were cleaned up from the ball drop, it’s usually 2 to 2 1/2 months of sleepy weeknights and relaxed weekends, until the equinox and shamrocks come into view. This year would be different though, since throngs of fans from the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, and lots of places in between would descend upon the Big Apple, eager to participate in the first Super Bowl played in a outdoor, cold-weather site.

Super Bowl Bus - Weekhawken

Super Bowl Bus – Weehawken

Like so many other promises that come with big-time sporting events, this one also didn’t live up to the hype. It should have come as no surprise that earlier in the day, both Punxatawney Phil and Staten Island Chuck saw their respective shadows, ensuring that according to lore, that there would be six more weeks of winter. While the weather turned out to be relatively mild that day, their harbingers were correct in the sense that the windfall that many in my profession hoped to see never fully materialized. Monday and Tuesday of that week were some of the worst weeknights that I had experienced in months and it wasn’t until the night before the game that I felt like I was running around at full steam. That’s how most of my Summer nights play out, regardless of the day of the week. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the seeds that failed to grow into a financial bloom were sown months before the game, however.

Super Bowl Boulevard - Garment District

Super Bowl Boulevard – Garment District

The TLC and the city DOT had made it pretty clear that this was to be a “mass transit” Super Bowl. Traffic would be bad! Get there early! Don’t even *think* of driving to the game! These phrases and anything of the like were drilled ad nauseum for weeks. Forget dropping off anyone, anywhere near the Stadium, as passenger vehicles weren’t even allowed into the lot for parking and tailgating. Of course, plenty of shuttles were available for those who would fork out 3 or 4 times the normal going rate for a Giants or Jets game. Traffic? There was tons of that too as Super Bowl Boulevard closed off Broadway from 47 St down to Macy’s. Most Taxis have no use for what’s left of the Great White Way but the extra pedestrians that crowded it for the rides and attractions made getting around Midtown hellish at times. This was especially the case when the theaters were open and compounding the problem was the brilliant idea of scheduling “Broadway Week” in the midst of the 5-ring circus. Not only did I have to hear the ad for that in the back of my Taxi, but I had to laugh at the city’s attempt to counter the throngs of sports fans roaming around and to lift up sales during a weak time of the year, by having this promotion at the same time that the Super Bowl festivities were in full swing.

Super Bowl Pocket Guide

Super Bowl Pocket Guide

I still had to work as much as I could that week, since Mother Nature has done her best to keep me home as much as possible this winter. Even if I didn’t have an uptick in business, it was a chance to soak in all that was done to build up attention for the game. The four metrocards shown below were randomly distributed to Subway stations around Manhattan, and while most New Yorkers didn’t think twice about them, I managed to snag all four after some intrepid scouring. There was also a handy map that was handed out for free outside many of the stations and on the Boulevard itself and while I have enough subway and rail maps here to satisfy any transit buff, it was nice to finally see one that showed all of the regional rail links on one page, with helvetica to boot. Billboards, ads on other Taxis, bags, shirts, a countdown clock in Times Square and yes, even the stadium that I have to pass twice a day during my commute, were all done up with large roman numerals to drive the point home.

Super Bowl Metrocards

Super Bowl Metrocards

Naturally, I ended up working the night of the Super Bowl. A few of my passengers noted that I missed the game but I countered that I also missed the chance to tack on two or three pounds in a day. More importantly, I knew that the West Side would be hopping throughout much of the night and since the “mass transit” Super Bowl turned into a mass headache for so many like the Broncos fans I mentioned above, it ended up working out in my favor. I normally keep the radio off during work and given that the game was seemingly in Seattle’s hands from the first play onward, it was nice to ride around in peace for much of the night.

No one has any idea if the final contest of the NFL season will ever return to New York. The owners will meet in the off-season to discuss league issues, rule changes, and potential Super Bowl sites starting with the first open date four years from now. Chicago, New England, and Washington have all expressed interest in hosting the game and since the weather cooperated this year, that remains a possibility should the league decide to give it another go. In a place like New York, even the Super Bowl isn’t enough to stop the city in its tracks. Fashion Week, Restaurant Week, New Year’s, the Dog Show, UN Week, and other annual events may bring parts of town to a standstill but in the Outer Boroughs or even on the Upper East Side, one would hardly know that anything was going on unless someone brought up current events. It’s a testament to how large and diverse New York is that one can get away from the madness without having to get far out of town and during Super Bowl Week, at least a third of my passengers didn’t express any interest in the game or had the slightest clue which two teams were vying for the privilege to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

Super Bowl Trophy - Times Square

Super Bowl Trophy – Times Square

“Hey there, where to?”

“Front St. in Dumbo.”

“Sure thing – I’m going to cut over to Broadway to get over to the Manhattan Bridge since the area by Greenhouse and the Holland Tunnel is a zoo tonight.”

“Is it all because of the game?”

“A lot of is, for sure.”

My passenger and I got to talking and a few minutes later, she had this to say in the midst of our conversation:

“You know, we’re really lucky to be here. I’ve done a ton of traveling overseas and priorities there aren’t like what they are in America. We don’t value what’s important here and instead, we focus on luxuries like the Kardashians or sports.”

“You’re 100% right, and I hate saying this but I’m a bit guilty of this myself.”

Super Bowl Numerals - Times Square

Super Bowl Numerals – Times Square

It would be great if there was a countdown clock in Times Square that gave the hours and minutes until hunger was eradicated in the Big Apple, or until enough apartment units were constructed to house the homeless and those living in overcrowded, subdivided spaces. Landing the Super Bowl three years ago or the failed attempt at the Olympics was the lead story on the local news on that particular night but most New Yorkers have no idea where the Cornell Tech Campus is set to rise in the coming years (It’s Roosevelt Island for anyone interested). Throngs of people waited in line for hours to see the Lombardi Trophy, the Rockettes, or former players but how many New Yorkers have been to a vest pocket park within the last year, or to one of the scores of new museums that are popping up all over town? For all the amazing, wonderful, and diverse people that I see in a given week, too many of them would rather focus on the trivialities of life instead of the arts and sciences that are incubated in the Big Apple. While I love what sports is capable of and the way that it is still the ultimate and purest form of meritocracy in the 21 Century, there’s so much more that needs to be touted in New York. Now that the game is over and things are mostly back to normal for the rest of the winter, nothing would make me smile more than to hear that innovation, sustainability, and affordability will be what New Yorkers demand and ultimately, take pride in as the icy doldrums slowly recede and the new Mayor starts to leave his mark for future generations.

Who knows? Maybe the city will become so desirable that the announcement of the next Super Bowl awarded to the Meadowlands will take a back seat to something much more likely to improve the quality of life for the residents of Gotham.

Super Bowl 50 - East Rutherford

Super Bowl 50 – East Rutherford