November 09, 2004
Stuart’s Taxi – Yellow Cab
...A REAL WORLD ADVENTURE
You know, just once I'd like to take a trip and have it be uneventful...just once I'd like to be able to attend a seminar in peace and quiet...and then to be able to arrive home and truthfully respond to the perfunctory question, "How was your trip?" with "Fine...", "Boring as usual" or even "Nice..." but nnnnoooooooooooooooo. It just isn't in the cards for me. This past Monday I said my goodbye's to the Glitches forum, Gave "Solver” one more word of advice about Light House, kissed my Braveheart(sigh!) squarely on his beautiful Scots lips and headed out to Terminal C at DFW airport for a quick sojourn up to the Big Apple for a Lufty Travel Seminar.
What was the topic this time? It was entitled: “HOW TO QUICKLY GET YOUR POINT ACROSS TO AN UNRULY PASSENGER”. Now this was only supposed to last two days... Nothing special: In: Monday afternoon to the hotel to relax ... play some Bad Mojo and then Tuesday and Wednesday: off to The Lufthansa Training Center for North America for the seminar and then back home to Texas. A piece of cake, right??? Right, I ask you? Weeeeelllll, not exactly... at least, not if your name happens to be Inferno.
If you'll remember, last March, when I traveled up to The Big Bad...... on St Patty's Day....in the middle of a snowstorm, which took me roughly twenty four hours to get there........ and then had a fight with a Taxi Driver (what is it with me and Cabbies?)....and wound up in the middle of the St. Patty's Day Parade with my son's Fiancée and my luggage in tow... Why should this trip be any different???
True to form, it wasn't.
Before I boarded the sturdy Boeing 737, I called up to New York and ordered a car from my colleague Pete at Stuart’s Taxi in East Meadow, that’s the ground transportation company we Lufty people use when we’re up there. As expected it would be $45.00 to get me from LGA to The Red Roof Inn (don’t get me started on the hotel…) in Westbury, and would I please be sure to give him a call as soon as I arrive.
“Sure,” I said, “No problem. Talk to ya’ later.” And flipped my cell phone closed and shut it down for the flight.
Actually the flight really was pretty non eventful… no drunks, no heart attacks, no nasty, condescending flight attendants and yes, it really was American Airlines. I even got an entire row to myself with a working electrical outlet for my laptop… Life was grand, I thought as I settled into my seat and began to hear the off-beat minor key of the opening music to Bad Mojo. I took the 11:59 Flight and for the next three hours I entertained myself with “life as a cockroach”. The plane arrived into La Guardia Airport just five minutes delayed because of high winds in NYC, but I didn’t mind, even my bag was waiting for me when I got downstairs to the bag carousel. I dutifully turned on my cell phone, walked outside on the second level and called “Stuart’s Taxi” to let Pete know that I had arrived.
“Hi, is that you Pete? This is Inferno… the lady from Lufthansa, DFW. I’m here at La Guardia.”
“How’ ya doin' ? Are youse upstairs like ‘a tole’ ya”?
“Yes… I’m upstairs and outside of American’s Departure Area. How long until the car comes?”
“Should be no longer than five minutes, tops. Steve’s already there, he just has to pull the car around outta’ the Taxi bay. It’ll be a Yellow Cab mini van, taxi light up on the roof and “STUART’S TAXI” written on the side. He’s lookin for you now.”
“OK, Thanks,” I replied and hung up.
With that wonderfully glib conversation ended, I flipped back the receiver of my cell phone and placed it in my coat pocket and noticed that there was a cab fitting Pete’s description speeding towards me, cutting off three other cabs and limos in the process. As the Yellow Cab mini van with the taxi light on the top screeched to a halt on front of me, I shook my head and laughed while the following conversation about the “political correctness” and “driver etiquette” of Cab Drivers everywhere ensued:
“WHAT ARE YA’ STUPID OR SUMP’ IN???”
(Actually that isn’t what this guy was being called as he alighted from his cab… but decorum prevents me from quoting verbatim)
“LOOK PAL! YOU MO&*^%$% F&*^%NG C%^$#ER WHY DON’T YOUSE &*#^$ ON THE &^#$$% AND *&%^$%, YOU BOZO!
Haahaaa…I loved it. The honking horns, the screaming, the arguing, the various and quite imaginative suggestions of what he could do with various parts of his anatomy… the hustle and bustle of the city at it’s best. Ahhh, yes folks, I was home in my beloved New York once again.
But I digress…
So, this cabbie hops out of his van and darts around his yellow mini van over to me and makes a grab for my IAIRB (or International Airline Issued Overnight Roller Bag for those of us in the "business").
“Hold on there, Chief.”
Not seeing the “Stuart’s Taxi” painted on the side, I figured I’d ask him, just to be sure because, well, a girl can’t be too careful nowadays.
“Are you “Stuart’s Taxi?”
“Yes, yes! Stuart Taxi – Yellow Cab”
The Cabbie picked up my bag and tossed it into the boot and I got into the backseat. It was now 4:35PM.
“Where you go?” he asked in his heavy Nigerian accent as we circled out of the airport and onto the Expressway.
An ever so slight chill crawled up my spine.
“What do you mean, 'Where you go'?” I stammered.
“You know fine well where I go since I ordered this car! You ARE Stuart’s Taxi, AREN'T YOU???” My voice was louder now and had a decided edge to it.
“Yes, Yes, Stuart’s Taxi – Yellow Cab. So...uh … Where you go?”
“Red Roof Inn, Westbury”
“Is that on Island?”
“How we get there?”
“Get on the Cross Island …”
“Which exit we get off?”
The next stream of words that emanated from my normally genteel Nuevo-southern lady-like mouth came with such a torrent, it would have made a sailor blush. Suffice it to say I advised the gentleman that I was calling his boss. I grabbed my cell phone out of my pocket…Flipped it open with one hand (Ticket Agents are really adept at this, by the way) and hit the speed dial to connect:
“Yo! Stuarts Taxi...”
“Inferno? Where the ^$%# are you!”
“I’m in the &*#^$%ng cab” was my quiet reply." Pete, this Yahoo says he doesn’t know where Westbury is …let alone the Red Roof Inn!”
“That *$^$ing idiot! He’s been drivin’ for me for the past twenty-seven years now, he better know! Ask him if his name is “Steve-The-Meatball-Meniotta”
Pete said this to me as I watched us pass by Shea Stadium and on into traffic on the Cross Island Parkway as the November sun began to set behind me over the city.
“Excuse me… Your boss says that you’d better know where Westbury is….He wants me to ask you if you are “Steve-the-Meatball-Meniotta”."
Now I was laughing at this …at first, but my laugh was abruptly cut short when I spied the picture ID card and Yellow Cab Medallion facing me on the left side of the divider window and the strange smirk in the eyes of the face which stared back at me through the rear view mirror...
The ID Card read:
Mwabgwaye Anish Claude
I could see the remains of the 1964 World’s Fair. Such fond memories from my childhood began to emerge from the inner recesses of my mind and I began to wander to thoughts of Carvel and Wetson's as the Taxi whizzed by in the cold November twilight. It was now 5:00PM and I came to the realization that no matter how I might have changed the order of the name printed in front of me, there was no way that “Steve”, “Meniotta” or even “Meatball” could be derived from its spelling.
“Pete… his name isn’t Steve.”
I whispered into my cell phone. I repeated the name, medallion number and license plate number to Pete quietly and calmly into the phone…thinking all the while that Airline Passenger Service Emergency Training had better be good for something. Because, I was about to need it.
There was a horrible silence from Pete on the other end of the phone for about 3 excruciatingly long seconds. It seemed like an eternity...and then finally that familiar grating, cigar-chewing voice blurted into my cell’s receiver:
“GET OUT OF THE CAR NOW, INFERNO! YOUR BEING FARE-NAPPED!!!”
“Well, I’d really love to except we’re on the Cross Island right now doing about 60 miles an hour. Pete.”
Was my terse but calm reply. My mind was racing.
“OK, I’m staying on the line with you till this is over. Start screaming at him and don’t let up until you get him to take you back to the airport! Steve is there, waiting for you. You got in the wrong cab! You're being "Fare-Napped"!”
“But I asked him. I ASKED him three times if he was from Stuart's Taxi!”
“Use it…. Tell him I’m calling the cops on him now.”
“Don’t be frightened, Doll-Face. We’ll get’em. I won’t hangup. I’m putting you on the speaker.”
Frightened??? Moi??? Actually, no, at that moment I was too furious to be merely frightened. I swear to you, if I had been a cartoon character at the time you would have seen the smoke rising from my ears and sparks flying from my eyes.
“Turn this car around and take me back to the airport. ” I said in a clear voice.
“Sorry, You must be deaf as well as a liar and a thief. I’ll repeat it for your benefit. I said: TURN THIS CAR AROUND AND TAKE ME BACK TO THE AIRPORT . YOU ARE NOT STUART’S TAXI!
“Yes, yes Stuart’s Taxi - Yellow Cab.”
But this time, I shouted in my best deeply clear no nonsense "you-are-going- to-pay-every-penny-for-that-excess-baggage-buddyboy-Ticket-Agent-Voice", which I have culled over the years to absolute perfection.
“I SAID, TURN THIS CAR AROUND AND TAKE ME BACK TO THE AIRPORT, NOW !!! YOU LIED TO ME! I ASKED YOU THREE TIMES IF YOU WERE FROM STUART’S TAXI, THREE TIMES!!! AND YOU SAID YOU WERE, YOU THIEF!!!”
He started to argue but I had drowned him out, reminding him:
“LISTEN MR MWABGWAYE ANISH CLAUDE. MEDALLION NUMBER E143, DRIVER ID 235785. THE POLICE HAVE ALREADY BEEN CALLED!!! YOU GET ME BACK TO THE AIRPORT WITHIN THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES OR AS GOD IS MY WITNESS; YOUR BUTT WILL BE IN SO MUCH DANGER YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO SIT ON IT FOR A WEEK!!!”
I kept up this oratorical onslaught as he navigated through Flushing’s back streets. It was now quite dark and populated with isolated abandoned buildings in various degrees of decay, a few sorted drug dealers and the odd streetwalker or two. I think we stopped at every red light along the way. There were only two things which kept my hopes going. Pete’s gruff but reassuring voice as I announced to the poor but misguided cab driver each and every cross street we past, and the NYCTA Patrol Car (New York City Transit Authority) which I had noticed began to follow us close behind when we turned onto 120th Street. I was sure that the only thing, which kept him from tossing me out of that cab and into the now darkened streets (it was 5:30PM) was that blue and white patrol car. That and the small fact that I kept calling him by his full name and Medallion number might have had something to do with it as well..
I kept the cell phone to my ear… and could hear Pete’s voice hooting and hollering,
“Inferno, you’re on our speaker phone… all my Cabbies can hear you. There're pullin' for ya, kid. You’re our hero!”
Ha! Trust me, I didn’t need to be on anyone’s PA System… Jeez Louise, I bet they could hear my voice in all five boroughs… and probably clear over to Canarsie as well!
Ah yes, being a ticket agent does have its finer points... Heeheehee. Then Pete said through one of my more pointed voracious attacks,
“Youse said that you was at 94th St?? Great! You’re at the beginning of the Airport. Not much longer to go.”
It was the inspiration I needed to spur me onwards into yet another sonorous assault.
“All right, lady. Calm down …please, no more to please shout with me. I sorry….I sorry.”
“PAL, YOU DON'T KNOW THE MEANING OF SORRY, NOW…BUT WHEN I GET THROUGH WITH YOU, I PROMISE YOU, YOU WILL!! IF YOU THINK FOR ONE MINUTE THAT I’M GOING TO TOLERATE THIS, YOU’VE GOT ANOTHER THING COMING. YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN A CHEAT AND A LIAR. I’LL HAVE YOUR MEDALLION FOR THIS YOU SONOFADEADTURKEY! (that always gets ‘em) …AND DON’T EVEN THINK I’M GOING TO PAY YOU ANYTHING FOR YOUR TIME. YOU CAN JUST FORGET ABOUT THAT METER RUNNING BECAUSE YOU AREN’T GETTING A PENNY FROM ME!
The meter was now reading at $57.34, which really didn’t surprise me one iota. After all, I had been in his cab for one hour. I kept up my verbal diatribe with nary a breath between sentences as he turned off of 94th Street and finally sped up the entrance ramp of LaGuardia Airport and into the second floor Departure Level.
“…AND ANOTHER THING…” I droned on
… at this point I was exhausted… And then I realized... my cell phone had just died. No more Pete...No more link with salvation. I was alone with nothing but my wits and my voice to keep me from harm's way. My heart felt as though it would burst right out of my chest as the fingers of my left hand deftly searched the contents of my purse for my heart pills. I began shaking… I knew this whole episode could bring on a nasty thyroid attack which won’t be good for my health at all and I wondered how much longer I’d be able to keep up this thunderous harangue and whether or not I’d be able to jump out of the cab when our misbegotten journey had finally reached it’s conclusion...
“…WHEN I GET OUT OF THIS CAB, IF YOU TAKE OFF WITH MY BAG IN THE BACK OF YOUR VAN, YOU’LL BE SPENDING THE IRIJI-MMANWU FESTIVAL NEXT YEAR ON RICHER’S ISLAND. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME, MWABGWAYE ANISH CLAUDE???”
I pronounced his name with effortless simplicity.
“How you know about Iriji-Mmanwu festival? You not Nigerian.”
Without missing a beat, I moved in for the kill.
“I am an International Ticket Agent, and I work for the largest European Carrier in the world…” I said as quietly as possible, which really must have scared him into thinking I was now totally out of my mind, for his eyes grew a round as saucers.
“It’s my business to know about different peoples and their many wondrous and interesting cultures.” I smiled broadly as I remarked this as sweetly as if I had just greeted him at My First Class Check-in Counter back home in Texas. I looked out the window and saw that the curb was just within my reach and the police vehicle had parked along side the van blocking any hope of escape.
“Yes, Ma'am. I not thief. You not pay… I very tired.”
“Yeah, I bet you are, buddy. Hope the beds are comfortable where you’re going.” I thought quietly to myself. My head was pounding, and I was sick to my stomach.
What happened next, seemed to be in slow motion for me. Mr. Claude slowly pulled to the curb... opened the driver’s side door and jumped out, I heard the boot pop open at the same time, along with the unmistakable “war hoop” sounds of the Patrol car sirens that was following us for the past thirty minutes or so as they quickly moved in for their "collar". I could also hear the Cabbie’s protests and arguments, which fell on deaf ears as he was searched (they found an illegal handgun under his seat.) and handcuffed. My passenger door slid open and I was pulled out by a short, but very stocky, kindly looking older gentleman who reminded me a lot of my Uncle Louie, the Longshoreman.
“Inferno? You OK?”
“Yes… are you Steve?”
“Yup. That’s me, Steve “The Meatball” Meniotta, at youse service!”
I removed his gray felt racing cap from atop his balding head and planted a kiss in its replacement as he bent down to grab my roller bag.
“Awww Geez!“ He blushed as I handed him back his cap. And then leading me over to his Stuart’s Taxi Cab, he clicked the handle and slid back the side passenger door to the van.
“Madam,” he said in his best Brooklyneese “Yer carriage awaits youse!”
I glanced over at the Yellow Medallion Cabbie turned “Gypsy”; the term I later found out used for those legitimate professional cabbie drivers who try to steal fares from hired cars, whose bad decision it was to let one crazy International Ticket Agent from Texas into his cab that afternoon. Two officers were already leading him in handcuffs over to their patrol car. I assumed he was going to have an evening much worse than he had planned.
As Steve helped me into the backseat of his car, one of the officers came over to me.
Geez…but I was getting famous…I mused to myself. How did he know my name?
“I’m Mike Stuart, Pete’s older brother. He called me right after you called him. Wow, We was listening to youse over his “two way” the whole time! You was fantastic! Youse're really sump’n else. We’ve been lookin’ for this Bozo for weeks…likes to pick on the ladies from outta' town, figures he’ll intimidate’em, then charge ‘em double the fare, sometimes triple. Usually if they squawk he pulls the gun and robs ‘em blind. It’s a coercion game he like’s to play.”
“Yes, well, not with me.”
“Looks like youse’ve had yerself quite an adventure. We’ll send a Detective over to your hotel later this evening to take down yer statement.”
“Sure, no problem.”
He spied the US Customs ID Badge I was still wearing. I wear it when I have to “Deadhead” for duty travel.
“Oh, that explains it.” he nodded at the badge.
“No,” I winked at him. “I’m not a Customs Agent. I’m just a ticket agent who has had a lot of experience with all "sorts" of Adventure Games.”
He smiled at me, shook my hand and said,
“My brother sure had you pegged right. He said youse’re one heck of a tough lady…. Adventure Games, huh? Great way to put it. I’ll have to tell Pete that, he’d love it.”
Officer Stuart chuckled softly to himself as he closed the cab door and walked off back to his car.
… if he only knew the truth.