My last taxi fare to New York City had been memorable. It all went down this past winter on a frigid night featuring a windchill temperature well below zero. I had managed to deliver my customers safe and sound to their destination, thank goodness, before the memorable part kicked in. Moments later, unable to make it to a bathroom, I experienced a bout of explosive diarrhea while standing between two parked cars on the streets of the Bronx.
Oh, it gets worse.
The condition came on so quickly that I was unable to lower my pants and briefs before the eruption, so I ended up driving back to Vermont naked from the waist down. This made for a horrifying scenario when I had to gas up on the New York State Thruway. Suffice it to say, a bottomless Jernigan doing his thing at a rest area gas pump is not a felicitous tableau.
With this traumatizing incident still fresh in my mind, I welcomed a recent NYC trip as a kind of second take — a chance to cleanse my palate, if you will, of my fiasco in the Bronx.
Morris and Kathy Fox, residents of Manhattan, had flown to Montréal to spend time at the home of some old friends. During the visit, Kathy had had a bad fall, sustaining injuries serious enough to rule out returning home by air. Their friends, the Montréal couple, had apparently used my taxi during a stay in Burlington, kept my card and advised the Foxes to call me. (Business cards and word of mouth constitute my entire promotion strategy, such as it is.)
"Morris, I can do this," I explained, "but I would need to pick you and your wife up in Montréal about 8 a.m. This way we would arrive in New York City around 3-ish, avoiding the worst of rush hour."
"That's fine. We can do that," he agreed, and the fare was booked.
This represented a lucrative gig for me, and I clicked off the phone with a smile on my face. Then I considered the timing of the thing.
In order to make an 8 a.m. pickup in Montréal, I would have to leave Burlington at 5 a.m. While this trip can take as little as two hours, I would be arriving during their morning rush hour. Plus, I knew from experience that Montréal is a never-ending road-construction quagmire and, even with GPS, unanticipated delays are the rule rather than the exception.
Incorporating bathroom stops, Montréal to the Fox residence on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan should take nearly seven hours. Then, the final leg back to B-town would run about another six hours, putting me back home at around 9 p.m. So, that's 16 hours of straight driving — a lot even for a seasoned road warrior like me.
On the big day, I packed four samosas (I can survive on samosas, I've learned) and two sodas into my cooler. Assigning three hours for the first leg proved prescient, because when I hit Montréal, the road-construction situation was all I expected and more. It didn't help that the detour signs were all in French.
I made it to the address with 15 minutes to spare. Both the Foxes and their hosts were lovely people — well to do but down to earth. Kathy was pretty beat up: Her arm was in a sling, her ankle in a boot. She told me she had also sustained a small puncture to her chest cavity, the injury that rendered air travel a no-no.
I had bought Kathy a brand-new pillow for the ride, for which she was exceedingly appreciative. She got as comfortable as she could in the back, while Morris sat shotgun up front with me.
Morris had come from a wealthy family, he told me (though not in those words, because wealthy folks never talk about being wealthy). His father was an accountant who, in the early 1950s, teamed up with a marketing maven and a gifted engineer, and the three of them basically invented the modern Laundromat. The engineer designed the first workable coin-operated appliance, and the patented device sold like hotcakes.
Morris himself was a founding partner of a successful NYC law firm, though he was semiretired at this point, he said. His major pastime now was fishing, a passion he pursued all over the world. I told him — only half-kidding, alas — that my big passion was television, which I pursue in my living room.
It turned out that my timing was off because I hadn't anticipated how many stops we'd have to make on the way down. At the last one — the Plattekill Travel Plaza (New York seems to be fond of "kill" place names, like Catskill and Fishkill) — Morris came out to my cab and asked, "They have a Nathan's kiosk here, and Kathy is craving a hot dog and some fries. Will that work for you?" His expression was a little sheepish, as he was aware of my desire to hit and quit the Big Apple before rush hour.
"Can she get it to go?" I asked.
"I don't think so. With her injuries, it would be too difficult to eat in the vehicle."
Best-laid plans, as they say. We finally arrived at their place at 4:30, the onset of afternoon rush hour. The Foxes lived in a '50s-era apartment house bordering Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, or what New Yorkers call "the Village." Feeling like a tourist in my old hometown, I took a selfie in front of the park's iconic arch for old times' sake.
Leaving NYC during rush hour was no picnic, but I had money in my pocket and two slices of Famous Original Ray's Pizza on the seat beside me. So I was good.
I got back to lil' Burlington, Vt., just before midnight, driving purely on fumes the last few hours. The best part: I still had my pants on.