I’m convinced we’re all eccentric and guilt-ridden and neurotic about money. If we have any to spare, we spend it in ways we can barely justify to ourselves. But how we try to save money, I think, is even stranger. What do you say no to to economize?
I speak from personal experience, of course. In the midst of spending several months in one of the most expensive cities in the world, my husband and I are pulling out the stops. We’ll live more frugally next year, when we’re back in Texas.
But not this year, not now, not in New York. We go to Broadway shows and we eat out every day, twice a day. Our apartment has a stove and oven, but who cares? We’re around some of the most diverse and delicious food in the world and we’re out to sample as much of it as we can. At the moment, we’re shameless. But we’ll barbecue in the backyard almost every night, the way we used to, when we go home this summer.
But, having said that, we still have our slithery little notions of economy. This month, we aren’t buying anything to drink at meals. Think of all the dough we’re saving, we say, congratulating ourselves and toasting with our glasses of water (tap water, not that bottled crud). Well done!
That’s not all, though. Our other little financial secret is that we almost never take taxis. We walk or take the subway or an occasional cross-town bus. Over the months, we’ve avoided taxis more and more. Now, they’ve begun to seem like a ridiculous waste of money. Forget them. We’ll economize.
I would pat us on the backs for this, but the truth is, it’s not purely an economic decision. It’s something more complicated.
Wherever I’ve traveled, I’ve always looked forward to the taxi drivers — talking to them, hearing about their lives, learning what they think about their city, what they recommend. They see the world in a different way, ferrying all kinds of people and their dilemmas and neuroses from stop to stop. They overhear conversations. They know who tips well, who doesn’t. Day after day, they see their city through a windshield, driving in searing heat waves, ice, pelting rain, you name it.
I especially loved New York taxi drivers — their brashness, knowledge of the teeming area, street-savvy observations. To me, they were one of the best parts of the trip.
No more. I hate to go all those were the good old days on you, but something’s changed and it’s not for the better. These days, you jump in a New York taxi and an obnoxious video starts spewing forth, unless you turn it off. Good lord — just what I don’t need when the streets of Manhattan (the most entertaining sights in the world) are flying past me.
But, you can turn off the video, as I said. The taxi drivers are a different matter. They’re hunkered down in the front seat, constantly talking on cell phones. When you ask them a question, it’s often an irritation to them. It’s enough they’ve opened the back seat of their vehicles to you, the message seems to be. Now will you just shut up and stop interrupting their phone conversations? Or their obvious brooding?
You learn not to try to engage them after a while — since most of them don’t seem to want to be engaged. Which is a shame and is another reason we’ve learned to avoid taxis. We sit silently in the back seat, watching the back of a stranger’s head. He could have told us something about himself — where he’s from, whether he has kids, what business is like for him. Maybe we could have talked a little, too, about what we think about the city. Or maybe we would have just listened.
It doesn’t seem like much to complain about, but to me, it is. I miss the exchanges, the warmth, the vital human connections. The price is too high and the pleasure is gone.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about taking the soap opera over the opera