Melissa Plaut in New York City

I Hate Second Avenue

I went back to driving a cab after a hiatus of six months. When I showed up at the garage for my first shift, my buddy Sam updated me on the situation on the streets. This is what cabbies do at my garage. They tell each other where the cops are waiting to give tickets, where there's construction, where they've been finding good fares, and so on. Knowing I hadn't driven in a while, Sam warned me about the surge in traffic: "When you get out there, you'll find it a lot harder to move than the last time you worked."

I caught my first passenger right away, at the bottom of the 59th Street Bridge. He was a young hipster guy with long bleached blond hair. He was going to Central Park West and 73rd and when he got in, he politely asked me if he could eat his sandwich in the backseat. I said, "Sure, as long as you don't get it everywhere." He promised to eat it over his bag, and I felt lucky that my first passenger in all these months was a nice guy with good manners.

Things took a turn for the worse an hour later when I had my first near-accident/near-death experience of the shift. I was on Third Avenue when a Hyundai on my left that was running into a construction area decided it wanted to be in my lane. It looked like they were about to rail right into my door, and I had no room to get out of the way; I slowed down, leaned on the horn, and braced myself for the hit.

At the last second, the Hyundai skidded to a stop in front of the orange cones and waited for the flow of traffic to break so they could get in. It's a regular occurrence on the streets of New York, but I hadn't driven in so long, I wasn't used to the aggression other drivers direct toward cabbies. I found myself a little shaken up.

Around 5:30, I decided that I despised Second Avenue. It was the third time in less than two hours that I got caught in a bad jam there, and I realized Sam hadn't exaggerated about the traffic.

The night eased on, as it always does.

At 7:00, I passed another female cab driver as we were inching down Broadway. She looked miserable, so I didn't say hi.

At 7:45, I was turning past some people standing on the median on West Street and overheard someone say, "She's kind of young to be driving a cab."

At 9:30, I dropped off a passenger in Elmhurst, Queens. Without a fare in the car, I decided to call my buddy Diego to chat. Turned out that he was dropping off just a few blocks away from where I was. We decided to race down to JFK Airport together. It would give us a chance to park the cabs and hang out while waiting for passengers.

When we got there, it was like a big family reunion. I ran into another female cabbie I had met three years before, right after I got my hack license. We caught up for a few minutes and then Diego and I went to get food in the cafeteria. The place was a madhouse, sort of like a Moroccan souk or something, with the Greek guys behind the counter calling out prices and food items as fast as auctioneers and a motley crew of drivers mobbing the coffee urns and cash registers.

Outside, I ran into another cabbie I knew, an old Jamaican dude who does a reggae radio show late at night after his shifts. We all stood around talking shop and cracking jokes. And it was this moment when I realized that I hadn't missed driving the cab those months, but I missed the drivers; I missed the culture, and I missed the city.

I got a good fare out of the airport after about a half hour, and the night ended without any real mishaps or shake-ups. I considered it a good welcome back, which reminded of something else Sam told me that afternoon at the garage: "This job is like being a drug addict. You have one great night and you're hooked and keep coming back for more. But when you have those bad nights, you just wish you could quit."

I had a decent night. I'd be back for more.


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