When The Cab Ride From LaGuardia Sucks

I’ve been on the road a lot lately, with several in-and-out trips to New York City being part of the travel schedule.  New York City is a very cool place — once you get to the City itself.  Unfortunately, the cab ride in from LaGuardia usually bites.  It’s as if New York City planners decided that the best way to prepare someone for the rigors of Manhattan is to toughen them up and lower their expectations by giving them a painful ride into town.

IMG_7035I’m not the sort of person to get car sick, but Sunday night’s ride into Manhattan got me to the verge of spewing all of the old, crappy, duct-taped seats of my cab.  My driver was an angry guy (of course!) who had only two driving modes — maximum acceleration and jamming on the brakes, and he did both, alternatively, while cursing the traffic (which was heavy, of course) and gesturing angrily at the other drivers (who paid him no attention).

As a result, my fellow passenger and I were like those old Weeble toys, constantly rocked back and forth with the speeding and braking, lurching forward and careening backward and slamming into the seat behind.  Occasionally the driver modified his technique by changing lanes abruptly, so that we got that delightful unexpected lateral motion sensation, too.  Add to it all that the weather was hot, the cab had no air-conditioning, and the windows were cracked to lessen the heat factor — which only means that the back seat was filled foul-smelling, exhaust-laden air — and you will believe me when I tell you that, to put it mildly, the ride in to downtown really sucked.

It doesn’t have to be that way, of course.  Our ride from Manhattan to LaGuardia this afternoon was reasonably pleasant, with a smooth, non-jarring ride and no death-defying lane changes or unhinged gestures.  It makes me wonder — once you get a cab license, in NYC, is there ever any random, anonymous testing to see whether you should still be ferrying passengers back and forth through some of the worst traffic conditions in the United States?  And is it any wonder that so many people prefer Uber, where you know something about your driver and how they have been rated by prior passengers?

Ringtone Deductions

Ringtones are a kind of window into the soul, when you think about it.  If you’re with a person and their cellphone rings, for that brief moment you are getting a glimpse of some personal information about that individual.

IMG_2622For many people, including me, their ringtone is the default option chosen by the phone’s manufacturer.  For my iPhone 4, it’s called the “opening” ringtone — that vaguely Caribbean, quasi-steel drum trill that everyone has heard thousands of times but is so common and generic that people don’t really notice it anymore.  If someone’s cell phone uses the default option, you can reasonably conclude that the owner views the phone as a pesky, purely functional tool and hasn’t done anything to experiment with it or customize it to their tastes.

Then there are people who have rejected the default option, but choose a ringtone from the alternatives offered by the phone manufacturer.  My iPhone offers dozens of options, from dogs barking to ducks quacking to angelic harps to psychedelic snippets.  One of my friends uses the “trill” ringtone, which sounds like the noise Fred Flintstone made when he bowled on tippy-toes.  I asked if he was a big fan of the Man from Bedrock, but he says he chose it because it’s easier for him to hear.  It’s fair to infer that people who have gone beyond the default option but stayed within the manufacturer’s menu are comfortable with technology, intrigued by the different choices, and like playing around with their phones.

What about the people who’ve downloaded ringtones from the internet?  I often notice this in cabs, where I’ve been startled by driver ringtones that are a wild blast of foreign music or sound like a snippet from a sermon in an unknown tongue.  Those cabbies are making a statement — they’re in their taxis all day, they routinely take calls with passengers in the back seat, and there’s not much privacy.  They don’t care if you hear their rings or their conversations, which usually are muttered in another language, anyway.  Their ringtones are a way to stay connected to their native lands or their religions.

And finally there are the folks who have customized their ringtones so that different sounds are associated with different callers.  I was in a meeting recently where another attendee got a call and the ringtone was a portion of a Led Zeppelin song.  He explained that he had a different ringtone for his wife and each of his kids, and that was the one for his daughter.  Interesting, I thought, but I couldn’t imagine spending the time to figure out how to do that, then pick the right song, then download it from the internet into my phone.  Either that guy had a lot of time on his hands — or he got one of his kids to do it for him.

Smell Not Covered

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We got a laugh out of this painfully earnest sign on the inside of a rear passenger window of a D.C. taxi that took us to the airport today.

I’m not quite sure how a cabbie would determine “marital status” or “family responsibility” or “political affiliation” or “source of income” or other non-visible qualities. I do know that if one asked me about any of these topics he wouldn’t need to discriminate against me — I’d never get into a taxi with a complete stranger who asked me such intrusive personal questions. (It’s nerve-wracking enough to trust that complete stranger to drive you to your destination without incident, without wondering whether the personal inquisitiveness means he is a complete nutcase, if not an axe murderer.)

Although the list of protected characteristics is long, it is not exhaustive. It appears D.C cab drivers could still refuse to transport someone who smells awful, or displays visible signs of complete insanity, or is brandishing a hand grenade.

Cabbie Carols

This morning I took a cab to the Houston airport.  I was intent on catching up on email as I rode, but something kept nagging at me as I read and deleted.  It was lurking just below the level of conscious thought.

IMG_1630Then I realized what it was.

“Excuse me,” I said.  “Are those Christmas carols you’re playing on the radio?”

“Yeah, mon,” the cabbie said, with a grin.  “The station started playing them because it’s almost Christmas.”  Then he turned up the sound, mistaking my question for a request for more volume.

And so, on the day before Thanksgiving, I was treated to Willie Nelson’s rendition of Frosty the Snowman as I rode toward Terminal A.  I’m not a Willie Nelson fan, and Frosty the Snowman is right up there with Do You Hear What I Hear? as one of the worst holiday songs ever written.  Now I have another reason to wish people would wait until after Thanksgiving to start with the annual Christmas bombardment.

In The Back Seat Of The Cab

If you’ve traveled frequently for work, you’ve probably spent a lot of time in the back seats of cabs.

More time than you’d care to think, I’d wager.  If, at the moment you depart for that Great Airline Terminal in the Sky, you added up all the time spent in cabs over your working life — all those 45-minute trips from the airport to your hotel, all those crosstown rides through hopelessly snarled traffic when the UN is in town, all those half-awake dashes to catch an early bird flight — you might have spent a week or maybe even two in the back seat of a cab.

We tend not to focus on our “cab time.”  This is a good thing, because cab time sucks.  When you are in the back seat of a taxi, you’re checking your flight information, catching up on your email, or groggily wondering whether you’re overdue to experience some form of travel hell.  You don’t focus on the cabbie’s driving, and you especially don’t pay much attention to where you’re sitting. God forbid!  If you did think about such things, you’d ask some unsettling questions, and you’d start carrying a can of Lysol and a plastic sheet on every road trip.  How old is this cab, anyway?  What’s that smell?  Hey, is that a stain on the floor?  Just who were the passengers before me?  Were they doing something unsavory?  Were they suffering from some debilitating communicable disease?

I’m in a cab right now, trying not to think any of these disquieting thoughts.  It’s time to play Spider Solitaire on the iPhone, zone out, and trust the unknown professional behind the wheel to get me to the airport on time.