I have a way of finding talkative cab drivers. Abroad, it’s interesting because inevitably the conversation leads to politics or some variant on that theme — in Cuba, the subject was the structure of the economy since the revolution, in Italy, the question was why Bush?, and in the UK it was about Prince William’s “type” (apparently he likes brunettes who ride horses — thanks Mum & Dad for all those lessons when I was 9, but didn’t I tell you a pony would have been a better investment than a foil?).
In New York, it’s not so different, except it’s less of a conversation and more of a lecture. It’s amazing what a prompt my Columbia address is. Once I had a cab driver who was disappointed in me for studying art history. “What you need to do is make a lot of money. You need a degree in business or economics! That’s what you should be studying.” I reply: “Well, I already have a bachelors in economics from Columbia.” “Well then you should start a tutoring business! Do you know how much money those pent house mothers would pay someone like you to teach their children. You’re worth a lot of money kid. And go find yourself a rich husband while you’re at it.” (I would like to add that my pharmacist just gave me this identical advice re: husband when I told him I was planning to go after a PhD… one of these days I want someone to tell me to find a poor husband, just for some variety).
More recently, I had a driver who began to tell me what a diabolical institution Columbia is, despite its outstanding academic record. He was a character, dressed more like he was a town car driver, with neat black pants, a button down shirt and a brown toupee. He cursed at other taxis who drove too close, and he was sure to let me know all possible routes he could take from 117th street to MoMA. Next, he launched into a tirade on the Rockefellers and how they run America. And then he let me in a few secrets about our government gleaned from over twenty years of cab driving.
Apparently, there were aliens in New Mexico, the government did kill the Kennedys, and the illegal drug trade is more legal than we realize.
One day in the late 1980s, an unusual man stepped into his cab near the UN. He was tall and clandestine, sporting a long trench coat, collar pulled up and a large fedora that dipped over his eyes. Our cab driver began to talk about the various conspiracy theories he prescribed to, while his passenger squirmed with discomfort. The passenger gruffly requested an early stop, paid his fee and slammed the door as he exited the cab. But before our driver had a chance to pull away, his Dick Tracy-esque passenger was back in the cab.
“I’m going to tell you something, son,” said the Passenger. “Yes, area 51 does exists. Yes, the CIA killed Kennedy. Yes, the CIA runs the drug trade. I know, because I work for the CIA. And let me tell you something else, son: there’s nothing you, or anyone else can do about it. So forget it.”
Apparently, our driver has had several other passengers over the year who have confirmed this “CIA” agent’s claims, including an NYU student who’s dieing father told him everything (I’m willing to bet that NYU kid had a good laugh when he got out of the cab).
Luckily, when he let me out at MoMA he did not tell me to find a rich husband. Instead, he invited me to come down to Central Park on Sunday and join his free folk dancing classes.