Did I ever tell you the one about my first trip to New York City?
It was the year 2000. I flew in to visit my friend Megan for a couple of days before we both went upstate to a wedding. It was a great wedding, and most of the people behind the movie C.H.U.D. were there. That’s a whole different story, though.
This trip was at the tail-end of a whirlwind European vacation, so I was coming in on an eight-hour flight from Italy, exhausted, and jet lagged as hell. Smartphones didn’t exist yet, so it was hard to navigate or get information. I was a suburban kid, and had never been to the East Coast in my life. Moreover, I had this media-created expectation that New Yorkers were going to be unsympathetic, and hostile, and that I’d be mugged at some point. On that last note, people still used cash then, so I had to carry a bunch.
It was all really intimidating. I was freaked out, and my whole game plan was to act as cool and unfazed as possible, and hope that people didn’t realize what a complete hayseed I was. I was anxious enough about it that I had almost chickened out on this part of my trip, and skipped the city altogether.
After I got through customs, I was surprised to learn just exactly how far the airport is from Manhattan. I didn’t trust myself on the subway with my luggage, so I headed for the taxi stand. I figured that, if nothing else, I’d get the NYC taxi experience, maybe have a cool conversation with some dude who’d been driving cabs in the city forever, maybe learn some things.
I got in the cab, told the driver the address, and he didn’t say even one word back to me; he just started driving.
At this point, I’d been in town something like an hour and a half, and not a single person had even spoken to me. I felt profoundly out of place. Furthermore, it was July, and there was no A/C in the cab, and I was soaked in sweat almost instantly. We inched along in painful silence for maybe thirty minutes. Then we got stuck in the tunnel going into Manhattan.
There was honking, and more honking, and I just sat there, miserably sweating, and silently checking off my mental checklist of New York tropes (“Honking: confirmed. Taxis: confirmed. Unhelpful: confirmed”). We came out of the tunnel and got stuck in more surface traffic, and that’s when the magic happened.
We were there in the gridlock, and everyone was honking, and my cabbie still hadn’t said a single word or conveyed any emotion beyond a couple of sighs and grunts. I was feeling close to the Platonic ideal of mundane misery. Then, a big white box truck pulled up alongside us on the left.
This guy who looked like a plumber or something leaned out of the passenger-side window and yelled over to my cabbie—
—now, I have to interrupt for a critical detail: it’s important that when you read his words, you imagine them in the thick high-pitched nasal accent that The One Guy In The Platoon Who’s From Brooklyn would have in a World War Two movie; the most ridiculous, stereotypical Brooklyn accent imaginable. It was exactly that, and I swear to you I am not exaggerating. Anyway, he yelled to my cabbie—
—wait, sorry, I need to interrupt myself again, to remind you that these were literally the first words I ever heard anyone speak in New York City. Anyway, the plumber yelled to my cabbie—
“Hey buddy! I got to axe you a question, can you help me with directions?”
My cabbie made some kind of noncommittal, irritated noise.
“Hey buddy! What street’s between…Pussy Place…and Ass Avenue?”
My cabbie made a gesture of resignation and long suffering.
“CUNT COURT! HAW HAW HAW!”
My cabbie did not reply. I don’t know how anyone could have. It was amazing.
And then we were still stuck in traffic. I sat there in the sweltering cab and felt entirely at peace, because in that moment I had fallen in love with NYC. It was as though God Himself had reached down out of the sky, and shown me a sign, and that sign was a reader board that read:
Kids: when you’re done reading this story, see if you can answer these questions. You can work on them by yourself, or discuss with a group in your class!