The woman stepped into the back seat after corralling her flock of sparkling silver helium balloons in the drizzly late night air. Her partner followed right behind. As they settled into their seats, shaking off the rain, I asked, “Where to, folks?”
“OK, here’s the thing,” the man replied. “We have to go all the way out to Jericho — Nashville Road, if you know where it is.”
“Well, I guess I’ll take you out there,” I said.
I wasn’t wild about the prospect. An out-of-town fare on a busy night can be a net money loser, but I adhere to a policy — a hackie philosophy, if you will: Everybody needs to get home, and it’s my job to make it happen.
“Great,” said the guy. “But before we go, how much?”
“Let’s see,” I said, crunching the numbers in my head. “Nashville Road ... Jericho ... I can do it for 40.”
“Forty bucks!” the man exclaimed. “I think the last time we took a cab it was $27.” I could tell he wasn’t angry at me, just reeling from the sticker shock.
“Twenty-seven dollars sounds about right for, like, 1998. I think most of us 2009 taxi operators will get close to $40.” I didn’t feel defensive; I was merely presenting the facts. “Look, try this one on,” I proposed. “Let me call up one of the big fleets, and you can ask for a quote to Jericho. If it’s less than $40, I’ll match their price.”
“That sounds fair,” the man replied.
Fully confident, I lifted my cellphone from its dashboard holding crib and dialed up one of the larger taxi companies. When it rang, I passed the phone over my shoulder to the back seat. I could hear the gruff voice of the dispatcher pick up, and my potential customer asked the Jericho question. “That’d be $44,” the dispatcher growled. “Want us to send a cab?”
The amount settled, we wended our way through the downtown hubbub. Suddenly the man said, “Jeez, I don’t have the cash. Do you take credit cards?”
“Sorry, I don’t,” I said, “but I’d be glad to take a check from you, or we can stop at an ATM.”
“You don’t have the cash?” the woman said. If there was any doubt I was dealing with a husband and wife, the tone in her voice put that to rest. “How is that even possible?”
“Jill, just chill out. We were in a bar with our friends, in case you don’t remember. I had to pick up a round or two, wouldn’t you think?”
The guy’s tone was oh so patronizing. I know so little about women it’s scary, but one thing I know for certain: More than anything else, women hate being talked down to, especially by the men in their lives.
“Don’t tell me to chill, Brian. It just astounds me that you don’t have $40 in your wallet.”
In the rearview mirror, I noticed the cheerful balloonery bobbing around the couple as they argued. For some reason, this struck me as so hilarious I had to stifle my temptation to laugh out loud. Dick Cheney, Dick Cheney, Dick Cheney, I thought to myself. This always does the trick. Rudolph Giuliani’s quite effective, as well.
“Honey — breathe, OK?” Brian was being helpful again. “Just relax. We haven’t been out like this for, like, two years. Everything is OK. It’s all good. Cabbie, an ATM will be great, wherever you can stop.”
We pulled into a Williston Road bank, and Brian extracted the requisite cash. A variety of routes lead out to Jericho, all roughly comparable in time and distance. Brian suggested we take Mountain View Road through Williston, which was fine with me. As we motored through the mist, he said, “Oh, jeez — my wife’s out cold. Neither of us drank that much, but we have a 1- and 2-year-old at home.”
“Say no more,” I said with a laugh. “Hey, it’s great that you got out of the house tonight.”
“That it was,” he said. “But the planning, my God ... it was like a shuttle launch.”
“I can only imagine. So, are you a local?”
“Yup, I sure am. I grew up in Essex.”
“How about your wife?”
“She’s from Essex, too.”
“Didn’t move very far from the nest, I guess.”
“I guess not,” Brian replied, chuckling. “Just a little ways up Route 15.”
We took a turn onto Skunk Hollow, and I remembered how much of Jericho remains unpaved. I know these roads are a mess in the spring, but I’d still love to live up a dirt road one day. To me, that’s a clear division between city and country life. Everything feels different once asphalt is laid.
Jill awakened as we eased to a stop in front of the couple’s home. “Hey, you — take the balloons,” she instructed Brian, who dutifully complied. There was a sweet smile on her face that was nice to see. “The kids are gonna go crazy for them,” she added, exiting the cab.
As Brian slipped me a pair of twenties, he said, “You know, it really was about 25 bucks the last time we did this. But you were right — it could have been a few years ago.”
“See ya in a few years, then,” I said.
Brian flashed the knowing and complex smile of the domesticated man and said, “Sounds about right.”