A New York Tale
A New York Tale
by Gordon Polatnick

So last night, I'm coming into JFK from a long and arduous and delayed, switched around South American plane odyssey that began with me waking up at 5 a.m. in Quito, Ecuador and racing to make my flight.

When we finally touched down in New York, I was so ready to get home I was salivating like a mad dog.  My bags got delivered down the carousel quickly and undamaged. The fat ugly customs agent  took her time taking her probe from deep within my butt cheeks,  finally letting me pass to the throng of tired flyers and hustling car services jockeying for space outside the terminal. 

I was delayed in customs with the probe and was afraid my car service driver might have split under the threat of being ticketed or shot by the stressed out curbside cops who try to keep order in that scene.  As it was, many, many baggage carts and dazzled international tourists clogged the sidewalk, not realizing that a bugged-out real New Yorker wanted to get through.  (I had years of Adventureland bumper car training under my belt) and wasnít in any mood to mind my pís and qís.  I ran the gauntlet with my three travel bags in tow, having noticed a limo driver waving a yellow laminated sign outside his window as he slowly progressed to the end of the pick up area and out of my life forever.  A cop was hollering at him the whole time, and I'm shouting over the din to get their attention.  I didnít even know if it was my car, but I had a hunch because the drama was so high and my day so far dictated that I was to be put to the test until I reached my door. 

I really wanted to get home. 

It was bad enough that my arrival was delayed six hours, now I was also going to be too late to catch Garth Brookís last song in Central Park.  Back to the action: I finally got the attention of the cop and the driver with the sign, I communicated from a distance that I wanted to see what company he worked foróI wanted to see his sign.  He got the idea but couldnít rise to the occasion, couldnít figure out how to face the sign in his hand so that a person at a 45 degree angle behind him could read it, he kept waving it toward the imaginary people in front of him on the slowly approaching exit ramp, possibly being thrown off by the constant badgering of the cop to move his ass out of the terminal area. 

I channeled the old OJ of Avis days and managed to get in front of him and indeed he was my man and soon enough I was in a Lincoln Town Car and feeling like the guy on the Wheaties box.  My mood changed and I got into the spirit of "friend of the working man"...one conquering New Yorker to another. 

The driver, a man of Indian distraction (sic), couldnít understand the concept of "217th St. in Upper Manhattan," he kept pulling off to the side of the road to ask me what I meant. Finally, writing it down for himóhand signals and voice clues proving useless forms of communication ó he still had trouble getting it. I begged with him to drive on and Iíd help him along as we got closer to NY. 

He got on the Van Wyck and again turned around to make sure I was his fare. He had my name, my address, and a description of what I was wearing dispatched to him on a sophisticated beeper, but he wanted to be sure. Then he quoted me a price five dollars higher than what was agreed to over the phone when I made the reservation with his company. When I mentioned this, he took it as a personal assault on his character and assured me he was not ripping me off and pocketing the extra cash ó frantically pointing to his shirt pocket where the extra money would never go. I was calmly letting him defend himself and during a break in his defense I suggested he radio the dispatcher (with whom I had spoken over the phone to make the reservation 10 minutes prior).

He pulled off the side of the road to do this, against the sounds of my gentle urging and encouraging that this could be done on the run.  I really just wanted to get home...and if it took a few extra bucks, that was understandable -- 217th street is far away. So he radio's the office and says into the mic that the passenger is very upset with him and refuses to pay the 34 dollar charge to go up to 217th street. The dispatcher (a different one than I had spoken to) gets back to him and she calls "the passenger" a cheapskate, and advises that he go try to find a better price anywhere in New York.  I'm sitting there amazed that this guy is not even going to present my case about being quoted $29, and wondering how I got behind the looking glass all day and how do I get back to the other side. He turns around to me gloatingly saying, "You heard what she said! $34 dollars if youíre going up over 125th street.  I began to channel Jack Polatnick and got very hot. 

ARE YOU FUCKING NUTS, YOUíRE NOT EVEN LISTENING TO ME. YOU DIDNíT TELL HER THAT I WAS GIVEN ANOTHER PRICE OVER THE PHONE. THATíS WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT! He got defensive. (Actually, if I had more control over font size, those words would have been a lot bigger to describe how loudly I was shouting). He repeated his argument that if the company charged $15 he would charge me $15, it wasnít him, it was the company that sets the price and he wouldnít take a penny more ó itís not his fault, itís the companyís, heís innocent... he went on and on and I said, "YOUíRE THE MOST FRUSTRATING MAN IN THE WORLD, OF COURSE ITíS NOT YOUR FAULT, BUT THATíS NOT THE PRICE THEY GAVE ME ON THE PHONE, WHY DIDNíT YOU MENTION THAT?" 

Unfortunately for the sanity-level in that Lincoln pulled to the side of the Van Wyck, the driver went back into his bag of tricks and came out with the same argument ignoring mine and adding, "You heard lady, the price is 34 dollars."  "THATíS FINE IíLL PAY 100 DOLLARS JUST PLEASE START DRIVING AGAIN. I BEG YOU!" and now I'm really losing it because he starts going into his glove compartment like heís looking for a gun and shouting back, "IíM TAKING YOU BACK TO THE AIRPORT, IíM GOING TO CALL THE POLICE!" and he keeps searching the glove box, I donít know for what. 

But I go super berserk, "PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE JUST TAKE ME HOME IíLL DO ANYTHING.  IíLL GIVE YOU MY WATCH, IíLL GIVE YOU $34 AND A 1000 MORE. PLEASE JUST START DRIVING!" and then I go into this pathetic supplicant routine in the back seat praying to God with my hands together and my head pressed against the back of the passenger seat head rest, "Oh mighty God in heaven if you can just get this guy to drive me home, I beg of you, if thereís anyone up there please get this car moving toward Manhattan."  Heís really freaked by this and threatens to call the police again having excavated his cellular from the glove compartment. 

Then something cosmic happened, I caught a look in his eye that gave me hope. He started driving. I asked if he was taking me back to the airport, he said of course not. It was over. I was exhausted. I slumped back and realized I was in a leather clad comfort car not an airplane or a waiting area and I was heading home. I closed my eyes and started playing back what had just happened for the purposes of retelling the scenario as truthfully as it occurred, and assessing how my part would come out. I felt satisfied. Oh yeah, I also remember having had the presence of mind during one outburst to yell, "LOOK AT WHAT YOUíRE DOING TO ME, I NEVER LOSE MY TEMPER LIKE THIS!"

Ultimately, it felt great to lose my temper at this guy who must have gotten this kind of reaction a lot, and probably feeds on it like a passive-aggressive urban vampire. 

Getting on the Tri-boro he got a call from his dispatcher that broke the silence in the car.  I just listened quietly, determined to not let them get me going again, and just enjoy the surreality of the moment. She assumed from his earlier report that we were still haggling over the price from the terminal curbside, and he was wasting his time with me still arguing after 20 minutes. She offered him another fare that would be worth more to him and kept referring to me disparagingly not knowing if I was listening in or not, and not caring if I was. Instead of setting her straight and saying that Iíd agreed to pay a million dollars and we were on our way across the bridge already, he kept it vague and continued his point that the passenger was very angry with him and that I didnít want to pay the 34 dollars. This got her hot and she was really ripping into me, saying that three days prior (while I was still in Peru, by the way) I had tried to pull this same stunt and she told me then that rides north of 125th street were 5 bucks more. 

I was starting to enjoy this and my silent commitment to not get involved. The driver, so as not to lose face kept asking her to repeat her transmission which added to my perverse joy... hearing me get slandered over and over but knowing I was almost home. Finally, she gave up and he turned around to me somehow feeling vindicated and said, "you hear what lady said?" I kept quiet...he asked again, "you hear what lady said?" a couple more times till I answered, "yes."  But the vampire couldnít feed on me anymore. I stayed Moon Pie mellow, and just pointed out that he didnít mention that we were on our way... why was that?  No answer. Thinking about his tip, he repeated an earlier theme that this was between the company and me and the driver was faultless. I agreed. He repeated. I agreed. He repeated. I agreed. You know how sometimes these things go on like that? I counted 4 repeats followed by four "I agreeís." 

When we got to my front door, I asked for a receipt and he wanted to know if I wanted to write it myself ó presumably, to cheat my company out of a few bucks on an expense account. I declined. He wanted to know what he should put down for a tip. I told him to leave it blank as I counted out 36 bucks to give him. When he counted the dough and realized he only got 2 bucks for a tip he looked confused and told me 2 dollars was nothing. I said, "Youíre Welcome." He repeated that it wasnít the driverís fault. And I said,  "Maybe not but Iíve received better service in the past, and I remember what that feels like.  Maybe next time Iíll be encouraged to give a little more.  By the way, it's not the driver's fault." 

A nice looking woman was walking her dog by and seemed captivated by our interchange.  I looked over to my apartment building, my home, and noticed that some heavy duty scaffolding had been erected while I was gone, which could only mean months of construction and months of high decibel noises during my sleeping-in hours. 

I was home.


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