"New York City is a city without love."
He turned his head toward me without looking. I was getting used to the long cab rides by now, and apparently my driver was too. With no answer from me, my new friend continued.
"Before I pick you up, I drive pretty woman. Like you, very beautiful, young. She come in here crying! Crying so bad, and I asked 'What happen, Miss?' She tell me about her boyfriend and how they been together six years. Six years they live together, good sex, relationship, plans for babies... six years this man is her partner, then this morning when they wake up he tells her he don't love her anymore and leaves."
"What? Just like that? No warning?"
"No warning. He wakes up in the same bed with this beautiful naked woman and says, 'I don't love you anymore'"
"Wow. That's horrible."
"It is true! I tell you, if you want love you better leave here quickly. Nobody here love nobody. Man sleeps with you, eats with you, treats you good, then leaves you with nothing!"
We reached my final destination. Reaching for my wallet, I thought of giving this man a nice tip, but unfortunately I could not afford it. Instead I thanked him for the advice and I got out of the car.
As I walked around that evening, I decided to tuck my extroverted side back into the shell of my bulky cheetah print coat. My steps were long and without a purpose as I wandered through the constantly busy streets and alleyways. At times I stood still, waiting to see if I could feel some of that supposedly lost love of the city. All I felt was empty.
On the next day I was supposed to meet an old friend from my high school in suburban California. In the morning I dropped her a line on Facebook in hopes that I'd be able to answer as I hopped from Starbucks wifi to Starbucks wifi. I woke up with high hopes for the day and a renewed interest in exploring commercial downtown. Times Square, here I come! I skipped on out in my favorite polka dot leggings and hailed another Yellow Cab.
"Hello, pretty miss!"
"Good morning. Times Square area, please. It's my first time."
"How long are you in the city for?"
"Just a couple of days. Trying to see as much as possible, but it's kinda hard to really experience it alone, know what I mean?"
"Yes, yes, there is much to see. And many good looking men also! Have a boyfriend?"
"Where is he?"
"Good! So have some fun, baby! That's what New York is for, honey! You staying with someone here?"
The slightly sweaty nutmeg-colored man continued to convince me to have an affair. "Nail him, baby!" he kept saying as his arms waived just above the steering wheel. Furry dice hung on the key chain. How ironic.
"Where are you goin' tonight?"
"Out with a friend from my home country."
"Goooood! Nail him!"
Something about the way he encouraged my promiscuity was undeniably hilarious. I was laughing as I argued that I needn't have a one night stand in order to enjoy this extended business trip. After fifteen minutes of this increasingly aggressive conversation, the driver finally changed the subject to himself. He told me about the many women he's had. "The Asian girls are alright, but the ones you really want are Polish or Czech. Your home country! Yes, Czechoslovakia has very pretty women. When I was married I thought my wife was pretty, but New York, baby! New York, she just has so much more to offer."
By the time the ride was over the enthusiastic driver had conjured up a game plan for me. "Get him in his hotel room and start to fool around. You know, tell him to massage your feet. A lot of men like that, you know? Just get in his hotel room and you're golden. Nail him, baby!"
"Thanks for the ride. I'd leave a tip, but all I have is this cash and my cards don't work. Sorry."
"It's okay, honey," he said as I stepped out to the curb just a block away from Times Square. And just as my gloved hand was letting go of the car door I heard one last "Nail him, baby!"
I didn't nail him. I didn't nail anyone, in fact.
Times Square is huge. There are tourists everywhere. All of the service folks have darker skin than me and don't smile. I heard languages everywhere. German, Czech, Spanish, Chinese, and so much more. The pace was slow with only a few inches for each person to move around in as the human mass pushed its way up the flashing street. Did I mention I'm afraid of crowds?
I kept my eyes focused on the souvenir shops to my right. There were only a few things on my list: a thermos, some postcards, and maybe a key chain. I hopped into the first shop with a postcard stand.
The man at the counter spoke in Spanish and unknowingly told me he was ripping me off. "Te entiendo, the postcards cuestan $ 1 cada uno, no $5." He sighed and took the money off the counter. No receipt.
Just two shops over I spent about ten minutes picking out a thermos. The salesman walked over just as I was popping a cough drop into my mouth and said, "Good afternoon." Lips still sticky from the intense cherry flavor I said, "hi."
Feeling nervous from the constant buzz of women, men, and children shopping combined with the irritating chorus of an ethnic song playing from the tiny speaker behind the register, I tried to make my answers as short as possible. In just five minutes, this middle aged souvenir sales guy had asked me all about my personal life and written his name on a slice of receipt paper. I left in on the shelf and told him, "nice try." I was starting to feel a little sick of this overcrowded yet empty town.
So many people, so many lights, so many words and slogans and accents and colors and everything all at the same time! It was all so overwhelming! I ran to the middle of the street and stood still. Step by step I took it all in at 360 degrees. This is the loneliest place on earth, I thought. I wanted to cry.
My friend never got in touch with me that day, so instead of spending more time roaming the town, I decided to head on back to my apartment in the East Village and take a nap.
This time my cabbie was older. The tan skin on his arms was thin and covered in wrinkles and the hair on his head gray from a life of work. He asked me all about my day and what I thought of downtown so far. "It's awful lonely," I admitted. "I know what you mean," he replied.
Traffic was horrible, so we had plenty of time to talk. I didn't feel like saying much so I asked him where he was originally from. Pakistan.
"I had a family back home. Young wife, five kids. I came to America for a better life. That was twenty years ago."
I didn't really know what to say, so instead I muttered a lazy, "And what happened to your family?"
"I don't know where my sons are but I still am sending money to them. It is hard because my children here do not know."
"You have more children here? In America?"
"Yes, I have other children. My American wife wishes not to tell them about Pakistan. She has had a hard life."
It was as if I could literally feel the life freeze up inside of my chest. Why is this man still around? I wonder how many passengers he has shared this story with.
"So, what was your plan when you came to America?"
"Twenty years ago I was a successful architect. Many buildings in my city are my work. I came to New York because I love buildings! But my education means nothing here."
As we rolled into the driveway at Suffolk Street, my heart shattered. There were no more words left to say besides thank you and goodnight. I left him the tip that I could and rushed back to my flat.
In the final moments of my big city adventure I felt a strange kind of sadness as I stared out the back window of the last Yellow Cab. That skyline is mesmerizing.
Those moments from my first trip to the Big Apple are moments I will never forget about the city with no love.