I am riding in a taxi from La Guardia Airport to a Manhattan hotel. The Official New York City Taxi Rules are clearly posted on the back of the driver's seat:
1. DRIVER SPEAKS NO ENGLISH.
2. DRIVER JUST GOT HERE TWO DAYS AGO FROM SOMEPLACE LIKE SENEGAL.
3. DRIVER HATES YOU.
Which is just as well, because if he talked to me, he might lose his concentration, which would be very bad because the taxi has some kind of problem with the steering, probably dead pedestrians lodged in the mechanism, the result being that there is a delay of eight to 10 seconds between the time the driver turns the wheel and the time the taxi actually changes direction, a handicap that the driver is compensating for by going 175 miles per hour, at which velocity we are able to remain airborne almost to the far rim of some of the smaller potholes.
Within minutes we arrive in Manhattan, time for the driver to slow way down and honk his horn in a friendly and relaxing fashion all the way to the hotel, so as to assist with the smooth flow of traffic through intersections.
I am staying at a "medium-priced" hotel, meaning the rooms are more than spacious enough for a family of four to stand up in if they are slightly built and hold their arms over their heads, yet the rate is just $135 per night, plus of course your state tax, your city tax, your occupancy tax, your head tax, your body tax, your soap tax, your ice bucket tax, your in-room dirty movies tax and your piece of paper that says your toilet is sanitized for your protection tax, which bring the rate to $367.90 per night, or a flat $4,000 if you use the telephone. A bellperson carries my luggage -- one small gym-style bag containing, primarily, a set of clean underwear -- and I tip him $2, which he takes as if I am handing him a jar of warm sputum.
Soon I am walking the streets of Manhattan. It is an exciting place, Manhattan, a place where "the best and the brightest" come from all over the nation to pay humongous rents for apartments small enough to be carried on commercial airline flights. Why? Because this is the Big Apple, that's why; this is the place where if you have talent, and you believe in yourself, and you show people what you can do, then someday, maybe -- just maybe -- you could get shoved in front of a moving subway train. This happens from time to time, so I am very alert as I descend into the complex of subway tunnels under Times Square, climate-controlled year-round at a comfortable 172 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although it was constructed in 1536, the New York subway system, thanks to an annual maintenance budget of nearly $8, still works as well as it ever did. It's also very easy for the "out-of-towner" to use, thanks to the logical, easy-to-understand system of naming trains after famous letters and numbers. There are plenty of informative signs, which look like this:
"A 5 8 C 6 AA MID -- DOWNTOWN 7 3/8 EXPRESS LOCAL ONLY LL 67 AAAA 9 ONLY EXCEPT CERTAIN DAYS BB 3 MIDWAY THROUGHTOWN 1 7 D WALK REAL FAST AAAAAAAAA 56 LOCALIZED EXPRESS "YY" 1,539 AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA"
If for some reason you are unsure where to go, all you have to do is stand there looking lost, and within seconds a helpful New Yorker will approach to see if you have any "spare" change.
Here is the correct procedure for getting on a New York subway train: The instant the train stops, everybody on the platform should lunge forward toward the doors in an effort to get onto the train WITHOUT LETTING ANYBODY OFF. This is VERY IMPORTANT. If people attempt to get off, it is legal, in New York, to tackle them and drag them back on. I once watched three German tourists -- this is a true anecdote -- attempt to get off the northbound No. 5 Lexington Avenue IRT train at Grand Central Station during rush hour. "Getting off please!" they said, politely, from somewhere inside a car containing approximately the population of Brazil, as if they expected people to actually LET THEM THROUGH. Instead, of course, the incoming passengers propelled the Germans, like gnats in a hurricane, away from the door, deeper and deeper into the crowd, which quickly compressed them into dense little wads of Teutonic tissue. I never did see where they actually got off. Probably they stumbled to daylight somewhere in the South Bronx, where they were sold for parts.
Actually, though, there is reason to believe the subways are safer now. After years of being fearful and intimidated, many New Yorkers cheered in 1985 when Bernhard Goetz, in a highly controversial incident that touched off an emotion-charged nationwide debate, shot and killed the New York subway commissioner. This resulted in extensive legal proceedings, culminating recently when, after a dramatic and highly publicized trial, a jury voted not only to acquit Goetz, but also to dig up the commissioner and shoot him again. If you ask me, he got off easy.