Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Whatever You Do, NEVER Do This in New York

Rickshawing our way up busy 6th Avenue.
That's Radio City Music Hall up ahead.
Having lived and worked in New York back in the late 90s, I'm well aware of that sucking sound the city makes as it wraps its big fat lips around your wallet. I had no expectations that our 26-hour stay would be on the cheap. But this? This was something I didn't even see coming.

We were sauntering up 6th Avenue, somewhere between 49th and 50th St. With backpacks, shopping bags and 3 kids in tow, we must have looked a bit like the children of Israel wandering through the wilderness. I was unsuccessfully attempting to hail a cab (clearly, I have lost my touch). Sam just kept looking at me, then asked, "Dad, why do you keep holding your arm out when cabs drive by?" I was about to give up when a Palestinian man rode up on a 3-wheeled bicycle.

"You want ride?"

I squinted in disbelief that he would even ask.

"What's the fare?" I asked.

He didn't speak, but only pointed down to a white sticker affixed just under a soft black pleather bench. It was about wide enough to hold 3 adults. The first line of text on the sticker said something about $5, then there were a few more lines I didn't really read.

We had fully planned and promised to take the kids in a real New York City cab. I knew the cabs all took plastic. This guy clearly didn't have a card reader on his glorified rickshaw with hand brakes. But I knew I had an envelope in my backpack with about $20 in one dollar bills. Joy and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and piled ourselves, our bags and our kids onto this little thing, smack dab in the middle of everything.

We went right up 6th Avenue, which is at least a 4-lane road. As the sun beat down, traffic was moving like cold maple syrup. We smiled as this guy showed amazing skill weaving us in and out of taxis, limousines, delivery trucks and charter buses. Yes, inches from charter buses. At times, he would even make 90-degree turns to go between cars and into a more open lane.

Here we are - blissfully ignorant,
just minutes before the hammer fell
At one red light, he turned around and said, "I take picture for you?" I handed him my iPhone and he jumped off the bike. We were wedged diagonally between 2 cabs, and here was our bicycle driver standing in the middle of the street taking our photo with a big smile on his face.

The ride was equally horrifying and thrilling. You have to understand, this guy did not have rear view mirrors. And he rarely EVER looked back when he changed lanes. He would even throw out his hand at cabbies and scowl at them as if to say, "Stay back. I own this lane."

This is where my mood changed.

We turned left onto 54th. Our hotel was 3 blocks down on West 54th. But if you know anything about New York City geography, you know that 1) the east/west blocks are LONG blocks, and 2) the strip of 54th between 7th and 9th is almost all uphill. We had a ways to go, and it was not going to be an easy ride with all this payload.

Our cabbie, er, bikey, stood up on his pedals, downshifted and pumped up the hill, his lean legs dipping, and sweat dripping off his nose. It was then that I started to get a sick feeling in my stomach. Would my $20 (if I even have that much) be enough to cover this guy's fare?

As he scaled that hill with all his might, the 5 of us and our gear making his leg muscles burn like fire, I considered asking him to drop us off short of the hotel. I kept scoping the streets for an ATM. I kept smiling, but inside I was thinking this had to be the dumbest thing I had ever done.

At one light on 54th, he turned around again. "Hotel is between 9th and 10th. Right up there."

OK, I thought. Not far now. Breathe, Scott.

As we approached the hotel, he cut the wheel into an empty stretch of curb on the opposite side of the street, just in front of a black limo. He helped us unload ourselves, and our gear, onto the wide sidewalk.

That's when I asked.

"So. What's the fare?"

Again, he pointed to the sticker, as if it were easy to understand.

"So what do I owe you?" I said, this time a little slower.

He stared into space for a second, doing math in his head.

"For this number of blocks, would be 50 per person. But for you, with children, I only charge for 3 people."

"You said 15 per person, right?"

"No. Fifty."

This is where I almost blew chunks.

"One hundred fifty dollars?!?!"

"Yah yah."

Holy Schnikeys.

I pulled the envelope out of my backpack, hoping for a loaves and fishes moment where the dollar bills just keep multiplying themselves. I counted 20, and looked up. "Look, I'm going to need to go in and see if the hotel has an ATM." He nodded as I sprinted into the lobby, leaving my family and all our gear behind.

In God's kind providence, an ATM stood in a little alcove right inside the entrance. I took out $140, shaking my head the whole time. Within seconds, I was holding out $150 to the pedaling Palestinian, who had just scored a major sale. He wished us well and sped back up 54th.

Speechless, I gathered up the gear and led everyone back into the hotel lobby to check in. The nice lady at the desk said, "Well, it looks like you already paid for your room when you made your reservation. Do you plan to use any of our amenities?"

"No, oh no," I said. "No thanks. That'll be all."


  1. Wow. That's crazy! How much do you think a cab would have cost?

    1. For the distance we traveled, probably about $15-20. Yeah, I know... :-) Ugh.

  2. All I can say is Holy Guacamole!

  3. Holy crap, Scott - what a hit to the wallet. BUT...this is one of the best stories I've read all week. So, there's that! :>) You are really good at this story-telling stuff, you know.

    1. Thanks, Diana. Telling it was therapeutic. :-) But I'm still kicking myself.

  4. Oh dear. Well, that will only happen once!

  5. now THAT was hysterical -- all the way up to the part where i said, "oh NO!"
    a great story, scott -- just sorry it was at your expense!

  6. I think the power ranger on your lap could've taken him.

  7. I'm not laughing at you... I promise... just smiling a whole lot.

  8. I'm not laughing at you... I promise... just smiling a whole lot.


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