I am terrified of public transportation. With three trembling fingers left over, I can count the amount of times I’ve ridden in a taxicab. It seems as though, in the name of convenience and adulthood, I should be able to overcome my fear of chaufferism, but when I actually think about my past experiences, it doesn’t seem too strange to me that I’ve ousted it as an option.
Cab Ride #1: I overslept one morning in my Freshman year of high school. My mom took this as an opportunity to teach me a lesson about responsibility, so instead of driving me to school, she made me call a cab and pay for it myself. I’ll spare you the details about my stuttering and inability to remember my address while I was on the phone with said cab company. When the taxi arrived, I stumbled outside, close to tears. I had a giant guitar with me since my music teacher wanted us to bring random instruments to fill up the space created by her failure to concoct a lesson plan, so I’m sure the cab driver was amused at the juggling act I performed all the way down the sidewalk. I approached the front passenger door and wriggled my guitar, bookbag, purse, armload of texts, and loose papers full of shitty poems about dragons and medieval wars (a “book” I was “writing”) into the seat. The cab driver snorted a little and asked me if I wanted to put my shit in the back. But I did not trust this man, so I told him no. It wasn’t until halfway down my street that I remembered a movie I saw where a whore flagged a cab and put her spangled, spandexed butt in the front seat. The driver said, “You know what it means to be in the front seat, honey.” And she proceeded to give him a blowjob while he drove through the rainy meat-packing district. I spent the remainder of the ride with my face plastered against the window, my plaid skirt bunched up in my fists and dragged down to cover my knees while the cab driver attempted to hurl pleasantries at me. Every word out of his mouth, I construed as a proposition. I still feel bad about this.
Cab Ride #2: Fast-forward twelve years. My parents were living in New York, and at the end of one my visits, they accompanied me to the airport via taxi. It was 4am and we hailed a cab and (thank god) piled into the backseat. The driver was a very foreign man, and, peering at us in the rearview, said, “VAIR?” We said, “JFK, please.” And he looked at us again and said, “VishTirg Nu Plmbbrklq.” Assuming he was asking us to repeat our destination, we responded in over-enunciated tandem and at a higher decibal, “J. F. K. AIR. PORT.”
What happened next has haunted me for years. The man looked close to tears as he screamed at us, “YOO STOOPEED FUCKS! I TRYING TO BE NICE MAN, ASK YOU HOW IS YOUR MORNEENK AND YOU YELL. NO HALLO, NO GOOT MORNINK. NO RESPECT, FUCK!”
My dad immediately responded to the man as though I was eight again, and he was protecting me, which I loved. “STOP THE CAB, SIR, WE WILL NOT BE NEEDING YOUR SERVICES,” he said in the whitest way imaginable. We exited the cab like a load of sleepy clowns, and the man sped off without asking for payment or even waiting for us to close the door.
The reason it haunts me is I keep getting flashes of the cab driver readying himself in the darkness of 2am, thinking of his family back at home far away and all the dollars he’s going to send them, combing his hair and straightening his collar, and practicing English in the mirror. “How do you do?” he asks his reflection. “Goot mornink,” with a little head bow. And then he gets to work, and the first white family he picks up responds to his salutations by yelling the name of an airport at him.
While I realize that this is simultaneously an unbelievably compassionate and fantastically racist way for me to imagine the situation, I still cannot seem to shake this image, and I’m pretty sure I’ll feel bad about it forever.
Anyway, I feel like I can, in fact, go through the rest of my life without riding in a taxicab again. Maybe someday I’ll tell you the story behind the reason I will never subject my future child to schoolbus rides. It’s a really harrowing account, and it involves genitalia and substitute drivers. I bet you can’t wait.