“I Ain’t a Cab, What’s Wrong with You?” and Other Things I’ve Learned
It is raining outside, and I’m in it. Really in it. It’s not the sort of storm that has a slow beginning you feel coming on and have time to run for cover. It’s the sort that isn’t there one second and everywhere the next. This is not a metaphor. The rain is real, and I am in it.
Briefly, I pull out my phone to check the ETA on my Uber. Two minutes. Come on, come on.
It should be noted that I do own an umbrella, but never once since moving here have I had it with me when I’ve needed it. Part of me hopes to someday be the type of responsible adult who checks the weather in the mornings. But the other part of me enjoys the not knowing, the mystery of it, and that part triumphs.
So here I am, standing on the curb, exposed to the elements like a schmuck. A Camry pulls up, flashers on like an emergency vehicle come to offer escape from the torrent. Assuming this is my Uber, because every single Uber I’ve ever called here has been a Camry, I loudly thank God, hurry to the idling car, and pull the handle. Locked. I roll my eyes–this idiot driver–tap on the window, and try again. No luck. I currently look like I’ve gone swimming in my clothes, and my wet glasses are distorting my vision. I peer into the window.
“The door’s locked,” I mouth desperately to the mystery driver who I can’t see through the rain. What is this, your first day driving?
You might be thinking that at this point I should realize something is up. Might this car not be my Uber? Might this be a regular non-service offering car? Might I look like a carjacker who’s got himself caught in the rain? None of these questions occur to my waterlogged mind. No, this is my Uber, and I am going to get in it.
At least, I try to until the passenger window finally rolls down, and the driver leans over.
“I ain’t a cab, what’s wrong with you!”
Stunned, I back off. I look around and people are rightfully staring. I pull out my phone and read more carefully. Odyssey. My driver is in an Odyssey. I look up and see that sneaky van parked just across the street, a mere fifteen feet away. The driver is looking right at me. He might be closer than anyone’s ever been to actually falling over dead from laughter.
I’ve learned a few things since moving to New York, mostly thanks to painfully embarrassing mistakes like this one. What did I learn from this experience? Always look for the Uber sticker before trying to get into a cab, or you might nearly vandalize a car.
I doubt this needs saying, but New York is a very different place than Memphis. I haven’t lived in other cities on a permanent basis, but I would assume it’s different from most of them, too. It has been a learning experience, one I don’t think is possible to get anywhere else. I’ve only lived here for seven months, and I’m not going anywhere soon, so it is without doubt I tell you this list will double in time, with possibly doubly embarrassing experiences. But for now, at least, these are some of the things I’ve learned since coming to town.
If you’re going to shoplift, do it at Bed Bath and Beyond.
You might remember from a previous post that my bed frame was briefly left in a cat infested apartment from which I narrowly escaped lease-free, and that I had to go back and retrieve it. Well, before taking back what was mine, I considered just buying a new one to avoid any awkward confrontations. In addition to my need for a bed frame, I required more coat hangers. How did I lose a large portion of my coat hangers in the move? No idea. Nothing else turned up missing, but a solid quarter of my coat hangers somehow got lost in the shuffle.
Where can you buy coat hangers and a bed frame? I wasn’t sure, but I figured Bed Bath and Beyond was a good start. I don’t know why I thought this, having never entered one of their stores, but it felt right.
It was wrong. They didn’t have bed frames, but after grabbing a pack of coat hangers, a worker recommended I try the giant Tourist Trap-Macy’s. I wasn’t thrilled about this (and neither was my cousin, who you’ll remember was here visiting. Like I said before: trooper.), but I pressed on. Coat hangers in hand, I walked out the low-security doors, past a low-security officer, and began the long walk down Broadway. My cousin was looking up Macy’s to see if they did, in fact, have bed frames in the store, and I was silently considering that if we bought a bed frame we’d have to get it home somehow, when I looked down realized I just stole a pack of coat hangers from Bed Bath and Beyond.
My cousin at this point had decided I am a complete idiot. She never said so, but I saw it in her eyes, and I silently agreed. We returned to the store and I handed the coat hangers to the low-security officer, who fell out laughing (a common theme). Apparently, you can take what you want from Bed Bath and Beyond in New York, and they don’t really care that much. Note it for next time, all you moms reading this, and if you need a getaway car, I’ll call you an Uber.
There is a shocking shortage of bathrooms in this city, and the places that have them lie about it.
A short while later, while we were walking through Macy’s (after finding out they have no bed frames in the store), I came to the gradual realization that I really needed to pee. I found a worker and asked for a restroom. They didn’t have one, she said, but I might try the Starbucks down the street. We did as this worker said and went to the Starbucks next door.
I know the game Starbucks plays with their bathrooms, so I got in line and ordered a drink.
“What is the code to the bathroom?” I asked after paying. If places have bathrooms here, they all have codes on the doors.
“Bathroom is out-of-order, sorry.”
I looked at him for a long time. “Is it really?”
He looked at me for a long time. “Yes.”
So we waited ten minutes for the drink I ordered, then walked farther up the street, looking for any place that might have a bathroom, unwittingly heading toward Times Square. I sipped my coffee as I walked, because I thought it more important not to waste my hard-earned three bucks than save room in my rapidly filling bladder. The next Starbucks had a sign on the bathroom door. Out of Order. As did the next. Apparently, Starbucks, in all its financial woes, is having trouble keeping up their toilets.
I’m beginning to really panic now (and my cousin is beginning to really regret coming here). A slight tremor in my voice, I ask, “Please. Where can I find a restroom around here?”
I turned into an Olympic level race walker as we crossed Times Square, a raw panic in my eyes. My cousin didn’t speak, probably because she didn’t know what to say to a twenty-six year old in danger of peeing himself. Of course there were no workers in sight, so I hurried through the store, up and down escalators, at one point getting in an elevator, until I saw it–the bathroom. The bathroom with six people waiting in a line outside it.
I very briefly considered asking if I could skip in line. Emergency, after all. But my pride stopped me, as did the fact that the woman in front of me was very pregnant. So I waited, squirming and shifting and trying to distract myself by counting tiles on the ceiling. I made it, if you’re wondering, and in that moment of sweet relief, I learned something: if you need a bathroom in Times Square, head straight to the third floor of H&M, because Starbucks will only let you down.
Don’t accept free samples of moonshine or you’ll pass out on the sidewalk and people will think you’re dead.
Last week, I went to the Strand after work to get a book (A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC for any readers out there–highly recommended). Afterward, as I was walking to the train at Union Square, I saw a man, lying spread-eagle in the center of the wide sidewalk. A little rough around the edges, I wondered if he might be homeless. I also wondered if he might be dead. Most people were hurrying past him, seemingly without noticing. Only three women had stopped, standing twenty feet away. I approached.
“What happened? Is he . . .”
“I don’t know,” one of the women said. She jabbed a thumb at another woman with a phone to her ear. “She’s calling 9-1-1.”
You always think you’ll be the one to step forward and help someone in trouble, that it will be easy, even come naturally, but I’m going to be honest. It’s actually really hard. Your brain sort of stops working, and your feet go heavy, and you start to wonder if you really learned CPR correctly in that class you took. But I did it. I made myself step forward to check if he was breathing.
As I approached, I noticed other people stopping, but not to see if he was OK. They were squatting and taking pictures of the man. They were laughing. And then, another man stepped up to the potentially dead person before I got there.
“Is he breathing?” I asked.
“Yeah, looks like it,” the man said. “Should we try to wake him up?”
I shrug. “Hey! Sir! Are you all right?”
No response. The other man bent down and tapped his face. Tap, tap, tap. “Sir, wake up! Sir! Hello!”
Having exhausted the extent of our medical knowledge, we heard sirens approaching and stepped back. A large crowd had formed at this point, and a woman stepped up next to me.
“Y’all know he’s just drunk, right?”
“Mmhm,” she said. “Too much free moonshine samples.”
In the distance was a booth advertising moonshine with a sign that read FREE SAMPLES! The people running the booth were closing down shop like their lives depended on it. So this one didn’t happen to me, but I learned a valuable lesson: don’t accept free moonshine from anyone, least of all a shifty booth advertising it for free.
Don’t Forget to Look Up.
This one’s harder than it sounds, but I have to remind myself of it everyday. You’d think in a city as amazing as this one, people would walk around, gazing up in wonder at the towering buildings, the picturesque skylines–but you’d be wrong. I’ve noticed. People, for the most part, stare at their phones while walking, or straight ahead if they’re in a hurry, or they might even lie on the sidewalk with their eyes closed.
It’s hard to do. The longer you live here, the less of a spectacle everything becomes, and the less likely you are to consider how special this place really is. I know I won’t live here forever, and I also know that a lot of people dream of getting to live here, to really experience this city, but never get the chance. So I look up. I do it as often as I can, and I take tons of pictures, and I don’t care if I look like a tourist doing it. People care too much about that, I think. When it comes down to it, most of the people I meet aren’t actually from here. In that way, most of us are tourists here, a little.