Thursday, September 13, 2012

Breaking Out

I'm in White Plains, New York, a suburb whose only distinction seems to be its proximity to the city. At one time the town may have had some sort of character. Today it seems to be nothing but glass office towers, an enclosed shopping mall, parking garages and gigantic walls of stone. White Plains today seems to be some sort of retro-futuristic ideal from the '60s urban renewal movement--a hub for commuters and a monument to suburban living.

It's morning, and I'm on the street, searching for a Starbucks. My smartphone tells me there's one up the street, just around the corner. I walk in that direction, cross the street, and continue along the sidewalk. But there's nothing here. No Starbucks, no storefronts, just a noisy four-lane boulevard on one side and a huge wall lined with some scraggly looking ash trees in a trash-strewn moat. Where am I? I look down at my phone. I seemed to have walked past my promised Starbucks. No, not just beyond it it. The map shows me it's not even on the street. It's behind the wall, in the mall. I continue walking, expecting to find an entrance to the mall. Nope. Nothing but stone. It's like the reverse of being in prison. You have to break in.

I give up, retrace my steps back to my hotel, another monstrosity made of pre-formed concrete and a few potted trees. I gather my things and hail a cab.

"To the airport?" I ask.

 "Yes, very good." the driver says in slightly broken English. He puts the car in gear and we pull away. We pull out onto the boulevard, make a turn and go through a light.

"Do you have an address?" he asks.

He can't be serious. If there's one place that every cab driver in the world knows it's how to get to the airport.

"No," I answer increduously. "Do I need to get another cab?"

"It's okay. It's okay," he pleads. "I get you there. Do you have an Iphone?"

As it happens, I do. But obviously this is not a good sign. We are moving, the hotel is somewhere behind us. We are away from the center of town, away from a place I might get another cab. I then notice something on his dashboard.

"But you have a GPS," I declare impatiently. "Don't you know how to use it?"

"Yes, yes," he says. "But please..."

So now I'm not only in the middle of some unfamiliar place where there are no other cabs, but he has got me feeling sorry for him.

"Okay," I say. "Give me a sec..."

I am now trying to operate my phone in a jolting cab, trying to type out directions using my fat thumbs on the tiny keyboard. I am trying to make corrections. I am getting frustrated. I can feel my jaw tighten and my forehead throb.

"Keep going," I tell him. "Make the second the left and go straight. You can't miss it."

I recline and exhale a deep breath. I aimlessly look out the window at the blur Colonial houses surrounded by manicured yards on half-acre lots when I can hear tiny bleeping sounds. I look up and see the driver holding his phone in front of his face as he races through a yellow light.

"Are you texting?" I ask in a stiffled shout, trying to keep myself together.

  "Oh, you notice," he answers sheepishly.

"Keep doing that and there's no tip," I say sternly. He understands and rests the phone on the center console, but I almost instantly regret not making him stop.

The phone rings.

He picks up cautiously, as if I might grab it out of his hands and throw it out the window.

"Yes," he says quietly, then resting it back on the console.

 "Where are you?" a voice demands over speakerphone. "I have a meeting."

"I am coming to get you," the cabbie says, ignoring the fact that he has a passenger. "I am very close."

"How long?" the voice asks.

"Not long," he answers. "Five minutes, maybe ten... tops."

"I'll have to get another cab," the voice answers, hanging up.

That's it. I should make him stop. Get out. Call the police. Call this asshole's boss. Get him fired. We've all seen the news stories, seen the television ads. Texting and driving is more dangerous than drinking and driving, more dangerous than drinking and doing drugs while driving. If I don't speak up he's likely to drive off the road and kill himself, kill someone else, kill some little kid.

But I don't I don't say anything. I just sit there, in silence, steaming. His phone continues to beep. He doesn't pick it up, but I can see his head turn each time to see who is trying to contact him.

"Twelve dollars," he says stopping at the terminal. I dig out my wallet and consider what I should say, what words might let this jerk know my displeasure, or what words might make me feel a bit better about myself. I open my wallet and pull out a ten dollar bill. The cabbie's head is turned. His brown eyes are wide, almost apologetic. I pull out another two singles.

"Thank you so much for helping me," he says.

I pull out another two singles, gather the bills, slap them into his opened hand and almost leap from the cab.

I just want to get out of White Plains. I need a cup of coffee.


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