Tag Archives: New York City

Racism at Ground Level

My wife and I emerged from a Broadway show into a cold downpour. The weather folks had predicted it and this time they were right. We had coats and umbrellas, of course, but the wind was strong and puddles were everywhere among the thousands of people on the street in Times Square, many of them without any apparent protection against either the cold or the rain. Tourists? New Yorkers who simply won’t yield to reality? No way to know and we really didn’t care.

Our first plan was to go to the closest subway station and take the train to Columbus Circle, from which it is just over a long block walk to our apartment. As fate would have it, both of the nearby stations were locked shut, due, we later learned, to “track improvements.”

Nothing for it but to walk the 10 or so blocks to our building and we set out. But just two blocks later, a taxi with top light on pulled up to the stoplight right in front of us. The diminutive driver signaled us into the cab and away we went. Sort of. Traffic was, of course, in total gridlock with a lot of angry horn honking and jockeying for position among the yellow cabs and the other cars that, for whatever unimaginable reason, had chosen to drive into the Times Square area that evening. This is to be expected. In every rainstorm since the automobile arrived in New York, there has been gridlock, horn honking and jockeying for position. Everyone knows it’s going to happen.

We slowly made our way across town toward 8th Avenue which would take us directly to Columbus Circle. Then, while still on West 51st Street our driver and the driver of a larger van-style car came side by side of each other. Looks were exchanged and then our driver lowered his window and began shouting at the other driver who returned the favor with his middle finger. Our driver said something about how the other guy should learn to drive “like a gentleman, you Pakistani m*****f***r!” Fortunately, that was the end of the exchange. I suspect that if it had not been raining so hard, these two men might have faced off in the street, while their passengers were ignored in favor of settling the racial score that had erupted between them. I don’t know if the other driver was working a ride-hailing service like Uber or was just out in the evening for other reasons. I have seen serious words exchanged by NY cabbies with Uber drivers before, but never in these circumstances. In this case it was hard to understand how our driver could tell anything about the other one through the downpour but he was clear enough about what he thought.

Had it not been raining, we would have left the cab with the fare unpaid. But it was and we didn’t. The drive, however, got only a nominal tip, for picking us up in the first place. This is not the experience anyone should have in a public conveyance. I well understand some of the bad blood between the taxis and the ride-hailing services, but even today many of the New York cabs are neither clean nor comfortable and the cabbies often seem to pride themselves on being surly. This episode was a sad reminder of the hostilities and tensions that stain our world.