Kitty Cab

As much as I hate what New York has become, there are still New York-ish moments to be had, which I cherish all the more now that they are so rare.

Last night one of my new kitties, Albert, who is ordinarily a perfect angel in cat form, (see visual below for confirmation of angelic status) freaked  out and began trying to pee everywhere. Which of course caused me to freak out, because A) Cats peeing anywhere other than the litter box is a bad, bad, baaaaad thing, and because B) Although he was trying, nothing was coming out and he was very obviously uncomfortable, which led me to believe there may be a blockage, which is quickly fatal to cats.
 Angel in rare moment of repose:

At 1 am, after watching him suffer for a few hours I decided it couldn’t wait for the vet in the morning, and that an emergency trip to the Animal Medical Center was necessary. Oh joy. But this is a positive thing about New York City, at any hour of the night you can hustle your pet into a cab and over to East 62nd Street, where there is a full medical facility and when you enter with your ailing pet they hustle you into an examination room while simultaneously calling for triage over the loudspeaker with a tone of urgency. However, everyone that I personally know who has used this wonderful service has also walked out with a bill in the thousands. Definite, terrifying downside. But there didn’t seem to be any way around it.

So there I am outside my apartment on a full swing East Village Friday night, attempting to hail a cab. The sidewalks are packed with what I deem are assholes. There’s a twinkie gay dude pissing on the street in between cars while his friends alternatively squeal at him or make phone calls to locate other squealing friends. Groups of college girls scream and shout things like, “EPIC FAIL!” while stumbling out of the traffic they’re blocking. I grumble under my breath, feeling unarmed and vulnerable in bare face and sweatpants, carrying my sick kitty.

When I got there the staff was lovely and quickly determined that the problem was not blockage. They then sent me to the waiting room while they worked on more urgent cases, and I sat. And sat. And sat, for an hour and a half, next to a moneyed looking white couple and their cheerful, non-ill appearing Bichon Frise and a guy with a giant standard poodle who hacked with what appeared to be a case of kennel cough. A half hour into my wait a dubious looking couple came in with an injured chihuahua which they claimed they found on the street. My assumption is that they didn’t want to pay their own vet bill and would rather drop the dog off “anonymously”, and I crabbily refused to make eye contact as they loudly clucked over the stray status for our benefit. An hour into my wait a Hispanic family ran in en masse, the father holding a tiny, dying kitten, their two little girls crying.

The kitten did not make it. I know this because I could see the mother crying, then the vet went into a room to speak with the little girls. They didn’t come out for a half an hour. I was sympathetic for quite a while, toward the end I was on the verge of becoming that person. The crazy bitch who cops an attitude while everyone else is calm and nice. But it was 3:30 am fer Chrissake. Jenny McCarthy (who I love) was being annoyingly flirty with Larry King on the flat screen TV. I had seen her on Oprah two days before and she was hilarious, here she was acting like the bimbo that some people believe her to be. It was past my bedtime; my butt hurt from the plastic chair. I was not in the mood for Jenny’s televised insecurities.

So by the time the vet saw me I was clearly hostile but thankfully was able to shake it off after snarking for a moment that I was glad it wasn’t a true emergency. This is probably more of a relief to me than for the doctor on the receiving end, as I always end up feeling shitty any time my lack of patience and innate bitchy temperament become too visible to the world.

I got my diagnosis and medicine and paid my $189 bill (thank you Jesus, thank you Lord), got in the elevator, and prayed it would be possible to get a cab at 3:45 am on 62nd and York while lugging a cat in a bag. I stated an intention, as my good mother has taught me, and said, “I choose to have a quick and easy trip home.”

Et voila, a cab sat on the empty street in front of the center with what looked to be an exiting friend. I caught the cabbie’s eye with a question mark on my face and he smiled and nodded. The friend said goodbye and I got in.

The cab driver, of Indian descent, asked me with an accent if I was coming from work. I told him about my cat and he stated he had a cat once and he liked them. Then he said it was very late, and I mentioned that I always feel sorry for cab drivers on the weekends, because many passengers are drunk and obnoxious.

He said, “I have had a very hard night this evening.”

And I said, “Problem drunks?”

He said, “No. I was working, working, working for many hours. So busy. I had to make bathroom very badly, and I put my off duty sign on and locked my doors. This girl pounded on my window and begged me to take her. I said, I cannot, I must take a break, I am sorry. She said, ‘Please, are you going to the East Side, can’t you just take me there?’ So I said yes and I took her and her friend to 1st Avenue. But when I got there her friend got out but she would not.”

I said, “Why?”

He continued, “She wanted me to take her to a second stop, to Delancey near the bridge.”

I nodded, “There’s a club that gets very crowded over there…”

“I said to her, ‘Please. My stomach is hurting. I am in pain, I have taken you to where you asked. Please get out and let me go or give me five minutes to use a bathroom.’ She said no, and she would not get out of the cab, and she began yelling at me and told me that she was a lawyer and was going to make a complaint about me. Now I am scared and sad, and my stomach is hurting. I do not want to lose my job.”

“So you took her to Delancey?”

“I did, I had no choice, but she was yelling at me and telling me about being a lawyer and how she would get me fired. After this I take my break and then I was so upset that I sat in my cab for an hour. I was so sad. I do not want to lose my job. I have a big family.”

“You’re not going to lose your job. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“But she is a lawyer.”

I said, “Let me tell you something. Assholes that want to win a fight with a stranger always say they’re lawyers because they think it makes them look important and special. If she complains you just explain your side of the story.”

He said, “I hope you are right.”

By this time I had paid him and was sitting with the cab door open in front of my apartment, the douchery of the night still apparent around us in the form of more screaming drunk girls in front of the bar 20 feet down the street. I said once more, “You’re not going to lose your job. Just tell yourself, ‘I am not going to lose my job.'”

I smiled at him, he smiled back and I got out, relieved to be home. He waited until I was safely in the building before driving away. This is something most cab drivers used to do (the good ones), and which forged a quiet bond between the working cabbie and the female customer in the scary Wild West days of the East Village in the ’80’s and early ’90’s, when to exit a cab and fumble with keys could prove to be a dangerous situation. Now the cabs just roar away as soon as the car door clicks shut, which is okay in one way because there are so many people on my street at night that safety is not generally in question. But I miss the chivalry and camaraderie of the old days.
I was touched and I felt a little guilty. He was such a sweet man and I know he would have liked to talk about it for a minute more. But I rushed it at the end because I was tired and my suffering little cat was meowing and I really wanted to take off my boots and go to bed. I hope he was able to go home to someone who could talk to him and reassure him that everything was going to be okay. And I’m grateful for the random connections that New York can bring us at times. I’ll never see the man again but I won’t forget him either. And that makes me love the city…for today at least.

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