16 July 2007

Scared in New York

It should have been a perfect night. The last two performances last June 24, Sunday, of Philippine National Artist Alejandro Roces’s Something to Crow About at the famous La Mama Experimental Theater Club in New York City went very well, and I enjoyed taking my curtain calls for having written the lyrics of fifteen of the nineteen songs.

My relatives in New York had warned me not to take the train to my hotel after dark. I had checked in at the Holiday Inn near LaGuardia Airport, partly because it offered a free airport hotel shuttle and partly because I was a member of the frequent guest club of the hotel chain. The hotel itself was in a peaceful block, but the walk to or from the train station more than a mile away would take me through a street not exactly known for being hospitable to strangers.

My head was also full of the news that day that New York City had 3,612 “unidentified human remains” as of 2004, with the number growing every year by the hundreds. Since I loved my name, I was in no mood to be named a John Doe after having been murdered in New York City and robbed of all my identification cards.

Since the celebration after the last show lasted until almost midnight, I had no choice but to take a taxi from Manhattan to Queens, a ride of about thirty minutes, usually costing about $25 ($40 if it’s a hotel car), not too much to pay for remaining alive.

I gave the taxi driver the address of the hotel, told him it was two blocks from Shea Stadium (where the Mets had won a game the night before), and unfortunately did what I usually do when I get on a moving car – I fell asleep from exhaustion.

I woke up in time to see the taxi come close to Shea Stadium and my hotel. I told the driver, “That’s where it is.” Suddenly, he stepped on the gas and drove away from the hotel! I started to shout to him that we had passed the hotel and he should turn back. He completely ignored me and just kept on driving.

We must have been more than twenty miles past the hotel when he finally stopped on a dark street. I said to myself that this was it. I was indeed fated to become a John Doe. I did not want to get out of the car, because the whole neighborhood was deserted and I preferred to battle a single taxi driver than a gang on the street.

The driver claimed to have gotten lost. He hailed the only other car on the road. The driver of the other car got down. My driver asked the other driver where Holiday Inn was. (Of course, there are several Holiday Inns in New York!) The other driver said there was a hotel down the road and I could stay there if I wanted to. This was getting to be really ridiculous, if only I were not so scared.

I asked the other driver where Shea Stadium was. He claimed that he had never heard of it. I asked him where the Mets played baseball. He claimed that he had never heard of the Mets either. He had heard of baseball, but did not know what it had to do with our being on a deserted road in the middle of the night. Since I happen to have been born and bred in Manila, I knew that this was all for show. Imagine a New Yorker never having heard of the Mets?

Since I may have looked less like a tourist because I knew the Mets and perhaps because they probably had a stereotype of Asians as kungfu masters, the other driver got back into his car and my driver sped away. This time I told him exactly where to go, even if I had no idea where we were going. I just kept telling him to turn this way and that, more or less in the general direction of the hotel. I knew that, if we somehow got on a main road, we would sooner or later see Shea Stadium.

Finally, in desperation, I told him to go to LaGuardia Airport. Actually, I should have thought of that sooner, because the hotel was just five minutes from the airport. We got to the airport and I showed him the way to the hotel. We got to the street where the hotel was located. Incredibly, we passed the hotel again at top speed! Fortunately for me, a car cut into our lane and my driver was forced to slow down. That gave me the opportunity to really bawl him out, since I had my hand on the door handle and now could really literally just jump out.

The meter showed $45. He said I could take five dollars off because he got lost. Since the hotel car rate was $40 anyway, I paid him $40, even if it was only a yellow cab. I was not going to spend another minute in the car looking for smaller bills.

I went at once to the hotel receptionists and asked them how to call the police. The clerks said that the driver, if he had indeed gotten lost, was supposed to have called his dispatcher. They told me to go to the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission website and to file a complaint. I did that immediately when I got to my room. (Holiday Inn offers free internet access in rooms.) I had, after all, been technically kidnapped, since I was held in the taxi against my will.

Unfortunately, the website said that “in order for disciplinary charges to be brought against a licensee, you must attend a hearing.” Since I was only visiting New York, I could not stay for the hearing. I guess the taxi driver got off scot-free. On the other hand, I got off injury-free, with my name not changed to John Doe. I suppose I should be grateful.

(First published in The Philippine Star, 28 June 2007.)


Dine Racoma said...

hi, Mr. Cruz

That must have been scary, but i am glad you are safe.

May I request you to please send me your email address (my email is: bracoma@gmail.com). Mr. Tony Joaquin (nephew of national artist, Nick Joaquin) would like to get in touch with you.

many thanks, Sir

dine racoma

Anonymous said...

Hello Dr. Cruz,

New York City is pretty scary. Yikes! And the traffic! Good thing I'm based in Rochester, New York.

I do miss your monthly review of poems and short stories. I still have copies of the weekend magazine of the Philippine Star with your column Critic-At-Large in it.

Mabuhay ka!