Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Connecticut? Is that in Queens?

I'm currently back in the UK. The intention is to move to New York completely in January, so until then here's my first encounter with New York's twin wonders: the immigration hall at JFK and the yellow cab.

As I stood in the Disney style 300 yard snake of immigrants awaiting finger printing, photographing and cataloguing it occurred to me that there can be few greater contrasts than Virgin Upper Class service to US Immigration in one three minute walk. I wonder if Kylie has to queue up as well? I was assigned to the queue of the slowest immigration agent in the history of the United States' border controls. When I was placed fifth in it, there was 300 yards of snaking humanity behind me. By the time I had advanced to second in the queue, there was no one in the snake at all. I briefly considered discussing this with my fellow misfortunates - but decided silence was the best course, at least until I was in.

At one point during my stoical stand, I noticed a little toddler on reins in the snake behind me. Just as a gap appeared, and his family's time to shuffle forward five yards arrived, he suddenly turned and with a lunge, hugged onto one of the pillars that holds the seatbelt material queue separator. He wasn't upset, he just wanted to hug a pillar. His Mum had to prise him off.

I enjoyed watching him do that.

Once out of customs, I avoided two strangers who accosted me offering rides and made my way to the official yellow cab rank. I didn't want to get into anyone's car, I wanted a proper taxi. Something I could trust. I told the driver, Old Greenwich, Connecticut, and we were off with him muttering something unintelligible. After about five minutes He pulled over, got written instructions from some friend, he needed to borrow my pen - and my paper. Then he filled the tank. Now we were really off. There seemed to be a lot of honking on the New York streets, but I never heard any in the distance. It all seemed to come from cars directly around us.

After clearing the city, I thought we might make good progress, but my belief was slightly dented after fifty minutes when he pulled off the interstate onto an unmade road and flagging down a passing 4x4 asked the way to Connecticut.

Now if a Now York cabbie can't find East Putnam Avenue, Old Greenwich that is one thing. Not being able to find Connecticut is quite another! Anyway, back he came, we set off again and I bravely did nothing in the back.

It became apparent that the cabbie didn't entirely trust the 4x4 driving football mom. I first wondered about his intentions when he stared at a Mobil garage as we passed it on the Interstate. I wondered quite a bit harder when he pulled over, stuck his cab in reverse and zig-zagged backwards up the slip road, back to the garage, waving the oncoming traffic past as we swerved towards them.

Bravely, I clutched my bag and did nothing.

One hour thirty-five into the journey, we spotted a sign for Old Greenwich, followed a couple of minutes later by our stumbling right onto East Putnam Avenue. This caused a strange reaction in me. For the last hour or more I had been mentally abusing my mumbling kidnapper, noting the number for complaints, considering the appropriate torture, that sort of thing. But as soon as I caught sight of my hotel, I was consumed by a feeling of gratitude towards the incompetent fool. Suddenly I wanted to shake his hand and tip him generously. It was some kind of Stockholm Syndrome, only in a taxi.

Since then I've had it pointed out that jumping into a yellow cab and attempting to leave the city is equivalent to hiring a central park row-boat and trying to take it down Lexington Avenue.

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