Last New York Cabbie

(There is also a new episode for the serial novel, Stranger in the Mind.)

(Like a story on the radio)

(Background echoing crowd noises with louder garbled announcements from time to time)

“Grandpa, I’ve heard so much about Grand Central Station.  It really is grand and yet so old fashioned.  Look way up there at the ceiling.  Wow.  It looks just like it does on National Geographic Virtual.  Thanks taking me on this trip to New York.”

“Yes Tommy.  I remembered how my grandpa took me to New York City on the train for the first time when I was your age, and I wanted to do the same for you.  Of course back then, the trip from Boston took almost four hours and now the Mag-lev does it in just seventy minutes.”

“Yes.  Things were whizzing by so fast outside I got dizzy looking out the windows.”

  (A stranger’s voice)  “Watch where you’re going kid!”

“Sorry mister.”

“One thing about New Yorkers, Tommy, they are always in a hurry and sometimes a little rude, so you have to pay attention as you walk along.  And on the sidewalks outside the station, it gets even more busy and more crowded.”

(Two pairs of footsteps, one faster and lighter, one slower and heavier, on a hard floor as background to their conversation)

“I’ve been looking forward to going to the Museum of Natural History.  We did the virtual tour at school, but I want to see it for real.”

“Tommy, I’m very glad to hear you say that.  So much of what we do now is simulated or virtual  that I think it’s good that you want to visit the real thing.”

“That’s what Mom said too.  How are we going to get there?  By subway?”

“Let’s save the subway for later.  Since this is your first trip to the City, let’s go by UberYellow so you can see how New York looks above ground.”

“And how about the Statue of Liberty, grandpa?  Will we be able to see her today too?” 

“Maybe not today, Tommy.  I think once you get to the Museum. you’ll want to spend the whole day there.  At least that’s the way I felt the first time, and so did your Mom when I took her.  And anyway, to visit the Statue, we’ll have to look at the tide schedule.  With the rise in sea level and the high dikes built up around around the island, the tour boats can only dock there at low and medium tides.”

(Hiss of station doors opening to the street, street noises, car tires on wet pavement, voices)

“Okay Tommy, now that we’re outside, let me check the headsup display in my glasses and see if I can find an Ubey (UberYellow cab) close by.”

“Look grandpa, there’s a yellow car right across the street and the sign on it says it’s a cab.  Ah, but it’s got someone sitting in it already.”

“What is that?!  Why it looks like an old Yellow cab from when I was a kid.  And I don’t think that’s a passenger, I think that old man man is sitting in what used to be the driver’s seat!”

“Do you think that it’s for real?  I mean an Ubey?  The man saw me pointing at him and he looks like he’s asking if we want him to come over, grandpa.”

“Well this is an exciting start to our visit.  Yes, let’s get him over.  I’ll wave to him.  A real old-time Yellow Cab with a driver!”

(Sound of car pulling up to the curb, on wet pavement.  Window rolling down.)

“Are you for hire?”

“Sure.  You think I’m sitting around in the rain outside the station to wash my cab?  Where do you want to go?”

“To the Museum of Natural History.”

“Okay, get in.”

(Sound of car door opening, two people getting in, then door slamming)

(Sound of meter being started.  Then the sound of a gasoline motor starting up)

“Why’s the car making that weird sound, grandpa?”

“That’s the sound of the car’s gasoline motor, Tommy.  Most all cars before electrics had engines like that.”

“Oh yeah.  We learned about them in our history of science class.”

“But this is a treat, riding with you today.  Takes me back to my childhood.  There can’t be many honest-to-God cabbies still working.”

“You’re right, there aren’t.  In fact there’s maybe just me.  Now we can talk or ride in silence while you work, socialize, or play games on your gizmo.  If you want to talk, let me know if you want me to agree or disagree with you.”

“Just some questions.  How come you’re still driving even after Uber bought out Yellow Cab?And how come you’re still driving this old gas guzzler when the cab companies went to self-driving, all-electric cars?  In fact, where do you gas up?”

“Okay, one thing at a time.  I paid off my taxi medallion a long time before the prices on them went bust and so I didn’t have to worry about making payments on them like some of the guys who went into hock to buy one and then couldn’t keep up the payments.  Even when them Uber pirates horned in and the politicos did nothing to help us cabbies, I could make a living, just not as good as before.”

“But Uber bought out Yellow Cab.”

“Remember, I had my medallion, so I run independent.  I had to laugh when Uber went to a fleet of self-driving cars and screwed—sorry about that, kid—”

“That’s okay, I hear that at school a lot.”

“Okay.  So where was I?  Oh yeah, Uber fu— ah— ruined all their Uber drivers like them guys did to us cabbies.  Now all of them are out of work too.  Like they say, ‘what goes around, comes around.’”

“So how come you kept driving—you could have retired and gone to Florida?”

“What, to hurricane and flood alley, and rain all the time?  With the Warming, it’s like a steaming jungle down there now with all them pythons, alligators, and Caymans.   No thanks.  I’m a city guy—no better place.  And what am I going to do if I stop driving?  Out here on the streets I get to meet people like you.  You know, real people who like to talk and ask questions.”

“How do you get gas?  Everything is electric or hydrogen.”

“Eh, this is New York City.  Not Dinksville.  Where are you from, by the way.”


“Okay, that’s pretty big.  Like a suburb of New York.  But you guys are so Enviro up there, you probably don’t have gas stations any more.  Well here in the City, we still got a few—but not cheap.  In fact I get fares like you who take me just to kind of remember what riding a real cab was like.  And for you too kid, to learn.”

“Oh yeah, I’ve never been in an old gasoline car before.  You keep it fixed up pretty good.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty handy with tools and there’s guys around who help me keep her running.  It’s like long ago when we didn’t get along with Cuba and them Cubans kept their old cars going for 50-60 years.”

“Wait, we didn’t get along with Cuba?”

“It’s a long story, kid, but yeah, you’ll probably learn about it in school sometime.  Like when they talk about how people and governments make mistakes and then don’t want to admit it.”

“But that’s so stupid.”

“Kid, just remember that as you get older and you’ll be smarter than 90% of people.”

“That’s good advice, Tommy.  (Pause)  You know, I notice people in other cars staring at you as we go by.  You get that a lot?”

“Oh yeah.  I’m used to it.  Not many drivers still around and in a non-electric.”

“With all the cars are driverless and computer controlled, isn’t it hard for you, to be driving manually?”

“You know that old saying, ‘in the country of the blind, the sighted man is king?’  Well now, I like to think that in a city full of computer cars, the driving man is king, because them car computers will do anything to avoid a ding or anything close to one.  So I don’t have to really look out for other cars; them other cars all look out for me.”

“But what about the pedestrians?”

“They all have personal protective apps built into their phones, so they get stopped before they can step into danger.  I could drive like an idiot and the street would open up in front of me like Moses parting the Red Sea.  Except that with surveillence cams and enforcement drones everywhere, I would get nailed before I went a block.”

“The streets are so quiet now.  There used to be so much horn blowing.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s an improvement.  With the traffic lights all computer controlled to even out the traffic flow and cars that always maintain the right speed and distance from each other, there are almost no traffic jams now even at rush hours.  And no accidents, except when a car has a software glitch.”

(A short pause in the conversation.)

“What do you like on Broadway?”

“He’s your grandson, right?”

“Yes, Tommy’s my grandson.”

“I hear Lion King VI is pretty good.  Both the kids and adults seem to enjoy it.  You can pick the avatar you want to be.”

“Look, I think I see the Museum, grandpa!”

“Yes, that’s it, Tommy.”

(Sound of car coming to a stop)

“And here we are.  The meter takes all the payment cards.  Just stick your card in the slot on the meter and then it’ll give you a receipt too.”

(Sound of meter pinging, then car door opening)

“Nice talking with you two.  Have a good time at the museum.”

“Yes, and I hope you can keep driving for a long time more.  You said Lion King VI, right?”

“Right. and thanks for the tip.  Bye.”

(Sound of car driving away)



        Before going on to the overconsumption of Thanksgiving and the frenetic rush of Christmas, here’s a look back at the holiday just past.

He approached the concrete walkway leading across the lawn towards his home at dusk.  Sales trips were getting harder to take now that he was getting along in years and he was glad to be back home.  

The “For Sale” sign on the front lawn stopped him.  What the heck is going on, he thought with irritation and just a slight feeling of disorientation.  There must be a mistake.  Or somebody must have put this up as prank.  Yeah, with Halloween just around the corner, some kid or kids must have jumped the gun and gotten an early start.  Tricks!  Didn’t Martha see them and put a stop to this nonsense?  He put his carryon and sample case down on the walkway and angrily walked over to the sign, pulled it out of the ground, and tossed it aside behind the front hedge.  I’ll put it out with the trash for the next pickup.  If I find out who did this, I’ll show them a thing or two about treats or tricks. 

Looking more closely around the front yard, he noted that the grass had grown a lot taller during the week that he’d been gone.  When we skyped, Martha didn’t say anything about it raining a lot.

He walked up the front stairs and put down his bags while he fumbled out his key.  It didn’t seem to quite fit in the lock at first and he pulled it back to see whether it was the right one.  After reinserting it and jiggling it back and forth, the lock finally turned and he swung the door open.  Funny Martha didn’t hear all of this commotion with the lock and come to the door.  The house was dark and silent.  Hey Martha, I’m home.  Didn’t you hear me rattling the lock?  Still silent and dark.  He switched on the hall light.  Where’s the runner on the floor?  And where’s the bench by the wall.  And the pictures?

He proceeded to the living room.  The air smelled stale and he turned on the light.  The room was empty.  What happen to all  the furniture?  Where’s Martha?  What’s going on? Confused and now anxious, beginning to sweat profusely, he went from room to room calling out to his wife and turning on the lights.  Each room was empty of furnishings.  Martha and I had an argument before leaving.  I didn’t think it was any big deal.  She didn’t mention it again when we skyped.  Could she have just walked out with everything while I was gone?  Maybe it was a much bigger deal to her than I thought.  Oh my God, is that what’s happened?  Or did something happen to her while I was gone and no one notified me?  That’s not possible.  What is going on?!

He searched his memory.  Wait, how did I get home from the airport?  And what flight did I take back?  Was I in Chicago yesterday or was that on another trip?  When did I leave on this trip?  He searched his pockets for the ticket stubs and found none.  Why can’t I remember?  What’s happening to me?  Am I having a stroke?  Was it in the summer, in July when I left; isn’t that right?  Or was that another trip?  I think it’s October now, just before Halloween.  Now how do I know that?  He looked around—no chair—and sat down heavily on the floor, drenched in a cold sweat.

What was he remembering?  —-A jumble of sounds, sensations, and sights began to jostle in his memory—-

Swaying, bumpy ride  Blaring siren This is the front desk, how may we help you? A dark unfamiliar generic room

Blinding bright lights.

The feeling of heavy pressure on the front of his chest. 

Please come to my room, I think I need help.

That’s twenty minutes and there’s been no response.  Should we keep going?

What is all of that about?  Confused, he pushed himself up from the floor and made his way to the bathroom to wash the sweat off his face, to gather his thoughts.  He glanced up to look at himself in the mirror over the sink and saw only the door and room behind him. 

Where’s my reflection?  I can’t see me!  What happened to me?  Then the realization dawned—-

I came home all right.  And I’ll never leave the house again.  I guess whoever buys my home will get me with it.  This Halloween, the neighborhood kids will have a real haunted house.