It was weird, because the day after I wrote about my silent cab ride home, I took a cab to LaGuardia, and about one minute into the ride, my cab driver told me that his favorite part of his job was talking to customers. And from there, without much prompting, he started in on a discussion of how it could be hard to tell if customers were rich are not—for example, one time this guy in a long overcoat and regular sneakers ended up owning a Netflix-like company, maybe even Netflix, and after getting dropped off at the Plaza he left Tenzin (the cabbie) a $300 tip. Whereas Joe Jonas (here Tenzin passed me his phone to show me a picture of the two of them together) was only a regular tipper. There was also the time he picked up Susan Sarandon, who asked him a lot of questions about his home country, Tibet, but I’m not sure how she tipped.
By then we were out of the Delancey Street gridlock and halfway up the FDR drive, which was a serpentine way to get to LaGuardia, but let us avoid the traffic. And Tenzin was turning out to be a fabulous conversationalist, able to keep things going with only occasional affirmative noises on my part. Among the things I learned: that he loved his job, even though he still dreamed of opening his own bar, that his mother was upset that he was not a practicing Buddhist, that people frequently had sex in the back of cabs (“it’s cheaper than a hotel”), and that he had been a runner up to appear in Taxicab Confessions, cut in the last round because, the producers told him, he looked so young that no one would believe he was old enough to be driving a cab (“I used to be really skinny,” he said, by way of explanation, “now, not so much”).
At this point hadn’t even yet alighted on what would turn out to be his most recurrent subject—the numerous attractive female riders who had attempted to seduce him. There was the flirtatious woman who cheated him out of a fare by calling three big men to meet her at her destination, and the Penthouse stripper whom he’d pick up after work, three mornings in a row, like it was meant to be (or like he knew what time she got off). There was also the 40-something woman who got in his cab and started crying. She had just found out her husband, who was some sort of finance type, was sleeping with an intern in his office. “Is there something wrong with me?” she asked, “I work out every day.” Suddenly I felt so overwhelmingly sad for this woman, all the things she thought would protect her no longer working the way she thought they would. “She had a six-pack,” Tenzin told me. “She pulled up her shirt to show me.” She had no destination, just wanted him to drive around, but after a while she asked him to take her somewhere secluded, somewhere she could think. He took her to the park under the Brooklyn Bridge. She thought for a little while. Then she climbed into the front seat. (“You will think I’m a bad person,” Tenzin told me.) “Have you ever thought of being with an older woman?” she asked. And that was that.
I paid him double the fare, because about a zillion cabs had refused to pick me up before he stopped, and because I promised I’d make it worth his while. And also because I was left filled with the details of his life, having been asked, for a good thirty minutes, to offer none of my own, and at that exact moment, at the end of three very exhausting days, this was a huge relief.