One of the benefits of driving a cab is meeting people. At least, you better think so because you are going to meet a lot of them. Most cabbies probably don't remember the first fare they ever drove. Heck, most cabbies don't remember the first fare they carried at the beginning of a shift (For the record, my first fare ever were three guys who flagged me off a street corner at 5 o'clock in the morning. They were so drunk they couldn't remember their own addresses; I drove them a couple of blocks and let them out.). As personal interactions go, these exchanges are generally brief, to the point and detached. Occasionally a fare will chat me up, something I don't mind doing, but most people prefer to sit quietly in the back, reading the paper, watching the scenery go by, talking on their cell phone or texting to a friend.
For some reason, however, when couples or groups get into a cab they become very unselfconscious. Business meetings, drug deals, marriage proposals all take place in taxi cabs. Things that people would never othewise do in public they'll do in the back of a cab, assuming a level of privacy that is extraordinary considering they're still on public streets and that a total stranger is sitting less than two feet away. There's something about the sense of anonymity of riding in cab that gives people a sense of freedom. I've had couples break up, fall in love, and even make love in the back of my cab.
Once, I had all three happen during the same cab ride. I was a new driver, and still getting to know the city. I had picked up this couple outside a club right around last call. They tumbled into the back set laughing and giggling and gave me an address downtown near the Financial District--a twisting knot of one-way streets that still confuses me. I turned on the meter, put the car into gear and headed toward town. I hadn't driven a half-block when the mood in the back suddenly changed.
"I couldn't believe you tonight," said the girl in a lilting British accent of someone perhaps from India or Pakistan.
"Whatd'ya mean?" slurred the boyfriend.
"You acted as if I wasn't there... bragging to your friends, laughing grotesquely at your stupid jokes, going on about yourself. Really, I couldn't believe it."
"You seemed to have fun."
"You became a totally different person; someone I don't even recognize."
"Really. I fell in love with a man who was gentle and sweet, a man who was sensitive and affectionate. Tonight, you were none of those things. That's not the man I love. That's not a man I can love."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying I don't love you. No, I don't even like you."
"You know, you gotta quit drinking when you take drugs," says the boyfriend with a heavy sigh, "because that's the drugs talking."
"No, I mean it. It's so sad. I just think what a horrible waste of time. I just want to go back to India."
This, I thought to myself, was going to be a long ride for these two. We still had about 10 or 15 minutes to go. There was nothing but silence from the back seat.
Then, from the back, I heard bodies shifting in the seat, the sounds of murmuring and kissing, of clothes being pulled at and unbuttoned. I glanced up at my rearview mirror, but saw nothing. They were clearly taking advantage of the rear seat couch.
"Say it," she whispered.
"Say it," she repeated, followed by the sounds of more kissing and some slurping noises.
"Never," she said. "Never ever leave me."
The goings-on in the back were becoming a serious distraction. I really needed to fixate on the road. But soon, I was faced with another problem: I didn't know where I was going. I was hoping these two would finish up so I could ask for directions, but after another couple blocks I couldn't wait.
"Excuse me," I interrupted at the next stoplight. "Can you help me out with some directions?"
The two stopped what they were doing, pulled themselves together, and checked where they were.
"Go to the next light; make a left and then drop us off," said the boyfreind. "We'll walk the rest of the way."
In the time it took to drive less than 4 miles, these two had broken up, found each other, made love and devoted the rest of their lives to each other--at least until the next cab ride. At the curb, I stopped the meter. The fair was $16.75. The boyfriend handed me a twenty and told me to keep the change. Not a bad tip, either.