By Sean McVeigh
New York has made me hard. This applies broadly to life but also very specifically to the taxi industry. I have known nothing else but the New York Uber driver (or, if you prefer, the endangered species: yellow cab driver) and their stoic and aloof ways. I want to be clear—this is not meant to be a slight. No one is clamoring for chattier taxi drivers. Outside of New York, a lot changes. People, in general, are nicer. But when it comes to the taxis, there is a certain coldness that is not only expected, but appreciated, regardless of where you are.
Maybe I am a snob, a giant jerk, but when I get into an Uber, I have certain expectations. Chief among them: silence. Usually that is not hard to come by. Around here, there is an unwritten rule, a mutual agreement. You exchange meaningless pleasantries and then there is silence until you come to your destination. Upon arrival, meaningless pleasantries are re-exchanged, and you both go on your merry way. Outside of New York, that is not the case. The case seems to be quite the opposite. It is as if you are expected to have a conversation. Not just a quick “get to know you,” but a full blown colloguy for the entire ride.
On a recent trip, having fallen prey to this on some previous occasions, I was prepared. I was going to beat the system. It was an early morning after a late night and it is fair to say that I was not running at 100%. The last thing I wanted was to have the same conversation that I have had hundreds of times before. The way I saw it, there were two important steps that needed to be taken if I was going to attempt the impossible. Step one: headphones were in. There wasn’t even anything playing but I needed to not only sound like I didn’t want to chit chat, I needed to look it. I even went so far as to do the old “pull one out when I am getting in and pretend like that is the only way I can hear them.” I wanted the message to be that once that headphone was back in, our conversation was over. Step two: My head was buried in my phone. I don’t care how beautiful the scenery was around me, and I will never know if it was or not, because I wanted a quiet ride and I was fully committed.
Even with the necessary precautions being taken, it was a failure. I don’t know how they do it to be honest with you. They should host a late-night show because these guys have questions locked and loaded ready to drag your life story out of you whether you like it or not. You respond with short answers, filled with as much substance as a bag of chips. You’re not mean, but you are certainly not reciprocating the same level of enthusiasm that they are. Nevertheless, they keep at it. Maybe I am the bad guy here, but this is the way I have lived my life up until now and you can’t change me! Right?
After the fifth or sixth prying question, something happens. They start to win. They ask about NY and how you’re enjoying your trip and what you have planned for the day, for the week, for your life. Many times, they have a few unsolicited recommendations for you. You’ve told them this isn’t your first time around here, but they don’t care. “Check out this festival” and “be sure to stop at X restaurant while you’re here.” And you know what? A lot of the time it is a great recommendation. You start to give in and something remarkable occurs… You ask them questions back, “You always live around here?” (Who am I?! What’s happening to me?!) And that is all they need. They have sensed the crack in your defenses and do not hesitate to strike.
By the end of the ride, you are waving the white flag of defeat. Robert with 4.99 stars is your best friend. You want to invite them in to share a drink. You tell them to say hi to their wife and kids for you and hopefully you’ll see them around town. You are a different person than when you entered that cab. You fly home to New York, and you get into your Uber outside JFK. After 20 seconds, all of that goodness is washed away. You are back to your normal self. A yellow cab cuts your Uber driver off and you both flip them the bird in unison. Not a word is spoken, but it is a beautiful moment.