New York trilogies (not by Paul Auster)

La Vanguardia newspaper includes a Saturday supplement called “Qui” [Who] that is borderline “yellow press” and that contains a regular column called “trilogies de NY”, separated into three parts, in which one of their US correspondents, Francesc Peiron, or (normally) Jordi Graupera (Barcelona, 1981; PhD candidate), explains an experience from the “Big Apple” to their Iberian readers.

Graupera’s column on April 11, 2015, was entitled “The superstition of the straight line” and read more or less like this:

On a muggy June afternoon three years ago, when I lived in that part of Brooklyn that is closest to Manhattan, I got to know a taxi driver whom they had broken the heart. I came down Bedford Avenue, the main avenue of the Port Aventura [Catalan theme park] into which the Williamsburg neighborhood has transformed itself, trying to decide if it was better, judging by speed and perspiration, to take the subway or to stop a cab. I was slowly smoking a Marlboro, and as a consequence made indulgent calculations: in general the subway is quicker and cheaper, but the cab exalts the individual, goes on the ground and has got windows. — The heat is a cure for the superstition of the straight line, so when I saw it pass, dazzling yellow, unoccupied, I stopped it and threw away the cigarette. Entering the cab I encountered a young and skinny man, nerve fibered, who neurotically looked into all directions at the same time. He had a small bottle of hand sanitizer, fluoride spray and nuclear chewing gum on the passenger seat next to him. He looked as if he changed his underwear three times a day until he told me: “No need to throw away the cigarette.” And waving with a packet of Winston: “If you like we smoke together.” — Oh yes, smoking inside a cab. But in New York, you are especially struck by a cab driver who talks to you – and does so not to find out if you are a tourist to be fleeced. — He talked and talked. We smoked and smoked. And he didn’t charge me.

ALL THE MORTGAGES

He hadn’t told me his name yet but was already giving me details on how he had stored his furniture in the attic above the garage of his parents’ house on Long Island, far away from everything. We stood in a traffic jam on Williamsburg Bridge, he spoke very quickly, lighted one cigarette after another, and watched me through the rearview mirror with the corneas teeming with fear, the eyebrows up, the forehead wrinkled; the questioning look that you sometimes see in people who look at you to find out if you think that they have lost contact with reality. — He was 28 years old and had degrees in English and Creative Writing. He had never planned to be a cabdriver, but the former highschool classmate whom he was in love with had finally succumbed to his efforts just at the time when he finished the last semester of his studies. They decided to live together, but with the salary that she earned as a clerk at a real estate agency and the proofreading jobs he found they didn’t make enough to buy a bargain she had discovered at Astoria, Queens. Her uncle plugged him in at the taxi service for which he worked, and the recent graduate thought he could do it by the hour to accumulate some savings. They signed the mortgage and within less than six months, he was a cabdriver on the twelve-hour night shift. —Having arrived at the destination, he parked the cab, we sat down on the hood, and the smoke and the sun roasted our heads.

BLOGS WITHOUT END

She began to doubt because she had fallen in love with a university man, a writer, a bohemian who went to East Village readings, and she lived with a cabdriver from Queens. “I became a cabdriver to have a future with her, and this way I lost her.” One night he came home earlier to make her happy, and she wasn’t there. She f***ed her former boyfriend, a mechanic. He wanted to pardon her, but she didn’t want to be pardoned. He left her. He continued the cabdriving as they hadn’t resolved the mortgage yet. I was late, and I proposed to meet again another day. “I still write, I have a blog where I narrate what I find while cabdriving.” I wrote it down on a piece of paper, together with his e-mail address. I lost the paper, as always, and I only knew his first name. — Now and then I look for cabdrivers’ blogs. There are quite a few, some of them have made it into books. A lot of them end up as corpses of blogs, abandoned after desperate texts, of cabdrivers burnt out by traffic, costs, accidents. They are not amazed any longer by the secrets of the rear seat. None of them is him. The cabdrivers I meet talk with the hands-free in languages that I don’t understand. When they speak Spanish, they do so mainly with the wives, who sometimes are a the country of origin. They ask about the kids and the routines; they don’t smoke and they don’t look inside the rearview mirror. As all the stories that happen inside a cab, this one doesn’t have an end.

SOURCE: “QUI”, La Vanguardia, April 11, 2015, p. 5 (printed edition)

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