I'm a fan of gypsy cabs.
They are usually cheap, they know fast routes, and you negotiate your fare before you get in...so, if you have some idea of where you are going, you can get a decent rate. I've gone from the UWS to Tribeca for $15. They are bigger, the trunks are huge, and they are more willing to talk...usually not to you, they live on their cell phone chattering in some language sometimes known only to 627 other people in the world, all of them driving gypsy cabs...and if it's not another cab driver, it's their wives. Most of the conversations with the last group are held in a loud, angry voice.
Since my return from L.A. a week ago, I've had the occasion to use two gypsy cabs... a high percentage considering I'm a train kinda gal.
The first one was to take me from Wash Heights to my new location here in the Bronx. I had taken the 'A' up to the Heights, and slept for the morning, went to work, took the 'A' back, packed two suitcases, grabbed some bags, and schlepped them up to 180th to get a cab... before I reached that location, a gypsy found me. He was a big Russian in a big towncar. "Lady, you need a cab?"
"Sure...I'm going to blah blah in the Bronx."
He quickly calculated. "$20"
"I'll give you $10"
"Okay, lady." He stopped, put my luggage and various sundry items in the trunk, the terrier and I hopped onto the leather back seat, and we were off.
Of course, the seat belts didn't work...it's a standard for a gypsy cab, I've discovered.
I gave him directions, and with that, in his heavy Russian dialect, he started to talk about his dogs, how his wife had lost one... then, his daughter saw someone with it, and the two of them paid the guy who stole it "....much, much moneys I must work hard to pay to get dogs back. I tells them they are stupid. Man has stolen dogs. I get dogs back." He was a bad Borat, now that I think about it. He segued easily to the next dog story, and how he had to take his girlfriend's dog to the vet...hold on... his girlfriend? I listened hard. Yes..he kept talking, and it was about his girlfriend.
Okay, maybe I misunderstood the wife thing earlier, maybe he was now divorced.
The phone rang twice while he drove me....distinct rings.
Once was the wife. Once was the girlfriend. He looked back at me in the mirror and smiled his yellow toothed smile, "I must keep phone calls straight." he said, and laughed.
We are not talking Brad Pitt. We are not talking Jon Levitt. This man had skin with pores so deep, you could plant trees. The texture looked as if he washed with sandpaper....a bulbous nose, more hair spouting out of his nose and ears than on his head, and a huge paunch. I was thinking, "If he's got two on the line, and I can't get a date, I might as well go slash my wrists, fall face first and let the terrier eat me."
He fielded calls between the two women, weaving in and out of traffic, the whole time chatting with me when he wasn't on the phone.
Before I got out, he let loose the bombshell...the girlfriend and wife go to Bingo together, they pretended not to know about his arrangement.
The man must have talents I SO did not want to know about.
My second trip was the other way, from the Bronx back to Wash Heights... I had to pick up some things in order to make life a bit more comfortable in the new flat. Since my big luggage wasn't moved, and since it's beyond my abilities to move two hunking big pieces of packed stuff, I have to move bits at a time. I only had a few shirts, and needed some more, along with important things, like my credit cards and my medicines.
I flagged down a cab on Fordham, and told the driver "I need to go to 181st and Ft Washington in Manhattan... $10. Now, I only have a $100 bill, can you change that?"
"Sure, no problem."
I'd forgotten the key phrase of Russians was "Sure, no problem" for everything you ask them. "Can you fix this shoe?" "Will you be able to come out Friday?" "Do you have any whole milk?" Each question brings a nod, a pursed mouth and the phrase, "Sure, no problem.".
During the drive, he told me his life story... he was here with his wife..no girlfriend this time, thank goodness... that he was usually a driving instructor, but... sweet jesus, I still shudder at this part... but, and this sentence was said as he went on a sidewalk with two wheels around a line of stopped cars:
"I not able to instruct now the drivers, because I have 14 points against license. Friend lets me drive cab to let me pay bills. You have to have rent and eat, right?" Big laughter followed this.
14 points against his license?? And he's driving me??
I kept asking, "Where are we going? Do you know where we are? I don't reconise this area. Shouldn't you take the bridge?"
"Sure, no problem.. I know short cut." He continued to tell me of his 14 points, and how he'd get some points back soon, as we weaved back and forth in traffic, his hand never off the horn... at this point, I'd tied two sections of seat belt around my waist, and was regretting giving my St Christopher medal to a friend.
He stops, and says, "Here, missus, here is your location. You pay."
"You want 181st and Washington. Here. You are here."
"No, I said FORT Washington. I don't know where in the hell we are."
Laughter issued forth. "Oh, FORT Washington. English not so good." Of course not, you've only lived her sixteen fucking years. "I take you Ft Washington now, we go over bridge."
Oh, well, there's a good idea.
"I'm still only paying $10." I was sticking to my guns.
Careening down some road, squealing around corners, we arrived. I picked apart the square knot, scooped up the quivering terrier, and asked for change back from my hundred.
"Why you not say you have only this? I not have change."
I considered hitting him with the laptop... but, it's still working, why destroy it.
We drove to a local deli I know, and negotiated what would stay with him while I went inside for change. He wanted the laptop or the bill, I left the terrier.
I gave him a dollar tip with his $10 fare for the scenic route to my destination.
He yelled did I think that was a fair tip.... I turned around from the sidewalk and said, "Sure, no problem."