Along for the Ride, Just the Ride

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

14 comments… add one
  • Cindy A Link

    I will never, ever forget the taxi driver in Los Angeles who had formerly driven limos for the stars. He told us which celebs were nice to him, which ones were rude. And then there was this hysterically funny story about going to pick up Joan Collins, but she wasn’t there — just this little old lady. Turns out, it WAS her — before the magic of makeup (and that was 15 years ago!!)

    I’m with you, Ruth — how sad that we won’t be hearing any more cool stories like that.

    My budgetary sacrifice — no more booze while eating out.  Two glasses of wine (which takes no time or trouble at all to pour at home) can cost as much as the entire meal.

  • Winston Link

    What?  Economizing on your sabbatical in NYC?  How unpatriotic can you be!  Travelers are supposed to be stimulating the depressed economies from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam, in these financially uncertain times.  Goodness, what would Kate Smith think?
    Water is fine with the entrée, but I couldn’t live without an after-dinner coffee coupled with a sinful dessert to close the meal.
    The scandals you’ve revealed about NYC taxi drivers has quite simply shaken me to the core.  I always believed they were part of the fabric of Americana.  While it’s true I’ve never visited NYC, I’ve ridden many a NYC taxi and experienced its driver via the movies from the 1930’s onward.  Some of the best screen bits have transpired in cabs including interactions with the drivers!  Why, if a certain Brooklyn cabbie had had a Bluetooth wrapped around his ear, Capra would have never had a closing line for Arsenic and Old Lace:
    I’m not a cab driver, I’m a coffeepot!!!
    By the way, I’d turn off those taxi videos, too.  Probably rife with subliminal messages.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Of course, the alternative explanation is that I’ve become so boring, no driver wants to talk to me.  I don’t think I like that particular narrative, though.

  • I never take taxis usually, but will tomorrow, up in what is for me the big city.  Wonder if the Boston cabbies, circa 2010,  behave in a similar way?

  • Love the taxi rides and the drivers!  First and best introduction to the city. Last summer when we visited NYC, our cab driver couldn’t have been more gracious with his time and comments…until he got a cell phone call.

  • I envy you the Broadway shows and restaurant splurges but I do think people need to be kinder to each other, make eye contact, and turn off the music. Still, I wager that taxi drivers in New Orleans are WORSE than in New York!

  • Sheryl Link

    Yes, Ruth, sad but true. I remember having a taxi driver years ago and actually singing along with him when we passed a certain Broadway theater where a popular show was playing. It was such a fun ride. But lately? I don’t even get an answer when I get into the taxi and say “hello.”

  • The last time I was in New Orleans all the cab drivers were talking about the aftermath of Katrina and how terrible everything was.  It was enlightening and heartbreaking.

  • One answer is that they aren’t speaking in English on the cell phone and they can’t speak enough to talk to you.
    Be happy you don’t get the garrulous cabbie a friend got many years ago in Manhattan.  He was very, very drunk, and she finally jumped out of the car when he paused–fleeing for her very life.

  • on the rare occasion i’m in a cab i enjoy engaging in a chat with the driver.
    they’re usually originally from somewhere far away and have intriguing insights into the culture they came from and the alien one they’re now inhabiting.
    i hope this kind of communication isn’t lost to us now because of the wonders of the wired world.

  • As always, enjoyed reading your post Ruth. I can’t wait to read your new novel! And, BTW, I’m with Sarah: I love talking to cab drivers and learning about where they came from and why they’re driving a cab. But I’m a freak for talking to all strangers — must be the reporter in me.

  • My husband speaks Yoruba, one of the languages from Nigeria, and also West African pidgin English. Whenever we ride taxis, if the driver appears to be African, my husband starts up a conversation – asking what city he is from, asking after his family, etc. It’s usually quite interesting.
    And if you do the math and figure out a taxi for two or three is sometimes comparable to the subway, depending on your destination – well, it’s worth it.

  • Taking cabs when we visit NY is always part of the experience. Nice post here. Thanks.

  • Living in NYC, I take taxis, ride the bus, the subway and I definitely walk… a lot! With baby girl in tow, we find ourselves striking up conversations with so many different people! The other day, the entire back of the bus, protected baby girl while I ran up to the front to retrieve my forgotten metro card. Such is life in NYC:)

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