My heart grew three sizes that day.

16 Sep

My parents just got back from their first visit to The Big Apple. They went as part of an organized tour, not realizing that their dates would place them there for the tenth anniversary of September 11. I asked if it had impacted the trip in any way.

“Not really,” my dad said. “Just that we were greeted by the National Guard when we entered the city through the Lincoln Tunnel.”

As someone who has regularly traveled to NYC for work, I could easily imagine what impression that might make to a sweet midwestern group arriving via bus. It also reminded me of my own random experience with the Midtown Tunnel when I was relatively new to the city.

When I was 23, the company I worked for sacked everyone in our NYC office. I was asked to pinch hit for a month, flying up every Monday morning and returning home every Friday night to keep the doors open. (This was before 9/11, so flying wasn’t the chore that it is today; even so, I kick myself for not discovering the Acela earlier.)

As a 23 year-old, getting to explore the city on an expense account was hardly a bad thing, but there was one part I dreaded: having to find a taxi to the airport each Friday during rush hour. There were cabs everywhere, but – apparently due to the shift change – very few would accept passengers. Especially for a one-way fare to LaGuardia.

So imagine me, one Friday at 5:00, grateful to be sitting in the back of a cab, staring out the window as MidTown blurred past. (This was pre-cell phone, so of course I was looking out the window. No phone calls or Facebook to entertain me back then.)

Just outside the MidTown tunnel (our route out of Manhattan to LaGuardia), stood a policeman, redirecting traffic. Cars were temporarily being sent around the block while they did something in the tunnel. My driver followed the other cars.

When we approached the tunnel for the second time, I could see that the cop was generally sending cars around the block again, but was letting an occasional vehicle through the tunnel. My driver must’ve noticed this too, because when we pulled up to the cop this time, he rolled down his window, gestured at me, and said, “Airport fare…”

No dice. The cop just shook his head, blew his whistle, and gestured for us to make another lap. His mistake was in letting the car directly behind us go through the tunnel. That set my driver off, and I spent the entire block hearing him plot out his revenge.

And sure enough. When we approached the third time, my driver pretended he couldn’t see or hear the cop and just kept moving straight toward the tunnel. It wasn’t until the cop pounded on the hood of the car that my driver acknowledged him. And man, I wish he hadn’t.

Things quickly escalated, with the cop and driver yelling at each other. I tried to slouch down in the back seat and be invisible, but couldn’t help but snap to attention when my driver yelled, “Fuck you!” And the next thing I knew, he was sprawled against his own hood, getting fitted with cuffs.

If hailing a cab during rush hour on Friday was difficult, trying to find a new cab outside the MidTown tunnel – where everyone is already en route to their destination – would be impossible. I stepped from the back seat.

“Excuse me,” I timidly said to the cop. “How am I supposed to get to the airport?”

“Not my problem,” he responded. “This cab is impounded. Guy’s a real asshole.”

“That makes two of you,” I thought. But I kept my mouth shut and considered myself lucky to get my suitcase out of the trunk. I settled for mentally flipping off the cop as I walked away, heading back “inland,” away from the tunnel, wondering how I’d manage to score a second cab.

Fortunately, not all New Yorkers are like this cop. About a block away, standing in front of a small Italian grocery, I limply raised my hand, trying to grab any taxi that passed my way. Behind me, looking like a grandfather, the grocer tidied outdoor displays of fresh oranges.

He looked kind of like this.

“What are you doing?” he called with a thick Italian accent.

“Trying to get a cab to LaGuardia,” I told him. “My flight is in less than an hour and my other cab was just impounded.”

He nodded as if that were normal. Then he said, “Hang on. You’ll never have luck like that. Let me get my sons on the job for you — if we can’t get you a cab, we’ll give you a ride.”

Seriously? I heard him whistle, and two guys about my own age materialized suddenly, then – after getting the story from their dad – took off running to opposite corners of the block. They worked the street like high school cheerleaders promoting a car wash, running in traffic, whipping towels above their heads.

I stood awkwardly by, watching. Within ten minutes, they were helping stuff my suitcase into the trunk of a new cab. I held out a twenty-dollar bill to one of the brothers as a thank you tip. “Nah,” he shrugged. The other one, in perfect New York speak, piled on with, “Fuggitaboutit.”

Minutes later, as we pulled past the same cop who had impounded my last ride, instead of flipping him off, I just waved and smiled. He might have been an power-tripping asshole that day, but the real New Yorkers? They were something special.

7 Responses to “My heart grew three sizes that day.”

  1. sara September 16, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    This post was super awesome. I really enjoyed reading it. I have never been to New York but it seems so many ppl get caught up in the horror stories so it is nice to hear a good story!

  2. Kim Pugliano September 16, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    Awesome awesome post!!!!

  3. thesinglecell September 16, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    I’m a weepy mess these days, so that made me smile and cry at the same time, for some reason. Yay NYC. There’s a reason people love it.

  4. Lorna's Voice September 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    There is kindness everywhere. Most people tend to focus on the jerks of the world because, for some reason, we find them more interesting. Nothing like a good drama, right? WRONG! For me, there’s nothing like a good story about people being kind.

    Thanks for reminding me why I remain a vigilant optimist!

  5. bonnie September 16, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    I will never forget the day my mother decided I needed a special shopping trip, and took me all the way to New York to Macy’s for my senior prom dress. With the perfect dress in hand, we met my dad after work and all took a bus back to the GW bridge to get the car and drive home.

    One of the bus commuters could see I was excited and asked why. Within minutes, the entire back half of the bus was congratulating me on finding the dress, expressing their happiness that the trip had been so good, and generally all participating in a conversation which came to feel almost like a family gathering.

    I had started the day timidly, and went home in a warm, happy haze.

    • pithypants September 17, 2011 at 11:29 am #

      Great story! Only in New York can you get adopted by a bus-load of strangers!

  6. Danielle September 22, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    That’s a great story! Did you ever visit that grocery store again?

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