A young professional's take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
By Nina Pajak
As I was saying yesterday, New Yorkers are friendlier than our reputation would have others believe. I am walking proof of this. Not because I, myself, am friendly (I am, to a point), but because I am the frequent recipient of unsolicited familiarity. Especially where taxi drivers are concerned.
Partly, I invite it. But not overmuch so. I exchange the usual "hi, how are you, good thanks, how are you" pleasantries, give my destination, and then wait to see if the driver engages me any further. If he doesn't, fine. I am very happy to tool around on my phone and sit in silence for ten minutes. If the tables were turned, I'm not sure I'd want every fare chatting my ear off either. But very frequently, the driver will ask me another question, or offer something in the way of a conversation starter, and I always take the bait. Often this leads to a perfectly nice exchange which lasts exactly as long as it needs to. But equally often, it gets really weird. Observe:
Over the summer, I was in a cab stuck in traffic going down the West Side Highway because it had just begun to storm. My driver and I were chatting about something or other, and somehow the conversation turned to my marital status. Married, I reported. Good, said the driver. Children? No, not yet I said.
"Why not?" he demanded.
"I'm still young?" I offered weakly.
"You're not that young," he said matter-of-factly. Gee, thanks a lot. "You should have babies," he continued, unaware of the massive foot which had entered his mouth.
"Okay," I said. "I'll have babies one day."
"You should have babies soon. You're not so young," he repeated.
Well. I guess that's clear.
Amazingly, it remained an upbeat conversation. I wasn't about to get all huffed and puffed about it, and he had absolutely no idea that he'd given me anything other than good advice. We moved on, and he began to tell me about how he was from the Middle East, and how he hated it and much preferred New York, and by the way when he met his (now ex-) wife, he was a virgin. At 25! A virgin! Could I believe it?
Well, yes? Wait, no. No is the right answer, right? I don't know. I don't see why anyone would lie about that to a complete stranger. "Ah, wow. Crazy," I said, hoping that was as deep as he'd follow that line of thinking. It was, kind of. He went on to tell me about the girlfriends he has now, and how he cannot believe how dumb he was when he married his wife. Virgin! At 25! Who would believe a thing like that?
Then he asked me where I was off to. Drinks with friends, I told him. He asked me where my husband was, and I said he was doing the same in another part of town. He asked me what we both like to drink. I told him I like wine and cocktails, and my husband likes scotch.
"Liquor is no good for you," he said. "Wine is okay. But scotch, that's good for your husband. Keep him nice and happy so you can make babies. Right? Amiright?" He started cracking up laughing. I did too, because what in the world else could I do? It was pretty funny. Even though he was being completely serious.
As we pulled up to my destination and I was getting out of the cab, I told him it was nice talking to him. He sent me on my way with a final word of advice.
"You're a nice girl," he said. "Go have babies."
On the next, very special episode of "Taxi Cab Driver Confessions," I will find someone who tops this guy. Stay tuned.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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