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"At Queens Boulevard, I took the shoulder. At Jewel Avenue, I used the median! I had it! I was there! And then . . . I hit the Van Wyck. They say no one's ever beaten the Van Wyck. But gentlemenI 'll tell you this. I came as close as anyone ever has.... "
ELAINE; on Seinfeld,
TV situation comedy of the early nineties
On the kind of early-spring late afternoon when the shadows in Manhattan are long and purple on the brick faces of the old tenements of the far Upper East Side, I hail a cab for Kennedy. The fact that I have no luggage makes zero impression on the driver, nor does the fact that after a block I whip out a reporter's notebook. "Can we talk?" I say, not consciously echoing Joan Rivers. "Sure, why not?" my driver says. Like most cabbies and cops, he is surprised by little, and quite happy to talk, feelingprobably with a good deal of justificationthat he has two or three books' worth of material in him. His name, I read on his hack license, is Efthimios Andreadis. My very rough translation from the Greek is "good spirited man." This Andreadis is. He is an extraordinarily equable cab driver, of philosophical benta dark, mustachioed fellow of indeterminate early middle age. "The last time I went to Kennedy?" he says. "Maybe about three weeks ago. The thing about Kennedy, you rarely get a fare back to the city. You look around a little, then you go back empty. Financially speaking, it's not too badit works out about the same as cruising in Manhattan. As long as you don't hit traffic."
We turn onto the FDR Drive, which is packed but flowing. We're heading north, toward the Triborough Bridge. "Sometimes it's just luck,"Efthimios Andreadis muses. "Every corner you turn, you pick up somebody. Other times, you look and look for a fare. It's funny," he says, turning his profile to me.
Whenever I chat with a cabbie, which is often, I have to figure out whether he wants me to make angular eye contact in the rearview mirrora process that disconcerts me by its indirectionor directly with the side of his face.
Excerpted from The Airport. Copyright ) 1994 by James Kaplan.