As New Yorkers, how we talk to cab drivers depends on our mood. One day you could be in a hurry, staring at Google maps obsessing over your estimated arrival time, and nothing but a “take the bridge–no! The tunnel!” is shared between you. Other days you might be chatty, in a good mood with time to kill. You offer up a nugget of information about yourself, where you’re going or how your day was, and the driver does the same. Next thing you know, you’re having a conversation, for better or for worse. Much of the time, you find yourself silent in the backseat, as though no one is even driving you at all. Frequently I have found myself at my destination, tequila on my breath, mascara running down my face, only to realize I cried the whole way there. Cabs should add a crying fee. I’d feel a lot less guilty that way.
This particular morning – at 8:15am, hungover in a Dodge Caravan and on my way to far-out Queens – I was quite verbal. Charming, really. I had information to glean.
“So, what would you do if you found someone’s cell phone in here?” I asked my driver, Javier, whose broad shoulders and buzzed head peeked around the seat-back. He seemed to be in a cheerful mood, and it was a good thing, because I was about to take him on a little adventure.
“When riders forget stuff I let them call me. They have my number because of the app, ya know. You lose your phone?”
“Yep, that’s why the request said ‘James’ when you picked me up. Had to order this car from my boyfriend’s phone.”
I laughed. The delirium from my hangover had the pleasant side effect of a sense of humor during my time of stress. It was that part of the morning-after where you don’t know if you’re still drunk or losing your mind from withdrawal symptoms. On the one hand, I wanted nothing more than to take off the ratty hoodie I was sweating in, sleep for 14 hours then shower a few times, but on the other hand, I had to track down this phone to survive. I was on a mini-mission.
“Left it in a yellow cab, though.” I leaned my head on the glass.
“Oh, a yellow cab. Well those are a different story,” Javier said in his gravelly voice. “When I used to drive cabs I’d find things all the time. We take ‘em back to the dispatch. Did you get the medallion number?”
He looked at me in the rearview as he merged onto the BQE. I shook my head.
“Young people never pay attention. Always get the medallion number,” he scolded me. I felt like he was my uncle doing me a favor, picking me up from a high school party, giving me a talking-to while still helping me cover my ass.
Instead, I was leading him on a potential wild goose chase to Flushing, where according to GPS my iphone 7+ I loved so dearly was sitting in the driveway of a single family home with 3% battery life.
“Do you remember the driver at least? What race was he? How old?”
“I can’t remember. I was pretty tipsy.” I racked my brain. “He might have been a young.”
“All right, all right. We’ll get your phone back, don’t worry.”
I cracked the window and took a deep breath of polluted air to calm my nausea. I tend to get carsick, and if given the option I’d rather take the subway. But I was racing the clock here. If my phone was really at the cab driver’s house, I had to get there before he went back out to work for the day. If he left, my phone would die shortly after. If my phone died, I might never be able to track it down.
“You said you got home late last night. What time?”
“Around midnight I think?”
“Yeah, you were probably his last ride for the night. He probably just went home. He probably drives twelve to twelve, or two to twelve. Probably owns his own cab. If you had the medallion number this would be easy.”
There was, statistically speaking, absolutely no chance of me having caught the medallion number the night before. The evening had begun, like so many of them do, as a Friday night happy hour between fed-up coworkers. One of those nights where with every glass of wine a new grievance was aired about our employer. New dirt was dug up. So while I’d intended to leave the outing before dinner and take myself home to Chinese takeout, I’d sort of forgotten that intention by drink number four, and decided to have 3 more glasses as my dinner instead.
I’ve since been told that as my colleagues and I were rounding our fourth bottle of wine, someone made a joke so uproarious that I dramatically threw my head back in laughter. I did this with such force that I fell backwards out of my chair, hitting my leg on the table and the back of my head on the concrete floor. I was kindly escorted out, and tossed in a cab with, I could only assume, my belongings in tow. Unfortunately, I was blacked out for the portion of the evening between the fall and reaching my apartment door. I blame good sauvignon blanc, a corporate credit card and/or a possible concussion.
I was able to pay for my cab with no problems, but forgot to put my giant phone, in its bright pink phone case, back into my fucking purse. When I reached my apartment, I had a moment of panic. A panic I’ve had hundreds of times before where it turned out my phone was just in the sheets or in my coat pocket or in my hand the whole time. Except this time it was not. So I got a stomach flip. A bad one. 16 ounces of sauvignon blanc and stomach acid came up right on my living room floor. I wiped up the puke, ran outside, and jumped in a cab to my boyfriend’s house. I mean, ALONE without a PHONE? I wasn’t safe.
“You young people just haven’t seen enough to really be responsible. Once you get to be my age…” Javier trailed off. There was considerable traffic on the BQE for a Saturday morning, and the sun was beating down hard for mid-February. I coughed. I could feel my throat burning still from acid reflux. My headache was ramping up, too. Javier took an exit. I don’t remember which one.
“You’re right,” I said, ashamed. “I should have known better.” And I really, really should have. I had destroyed my first iPhone three years earlier, on a vacation to Tokyo when, after a night of karaoke and highballs, I’d attempted to wash away my hangover in the tub of our Airbnb. I’d then unknowingly proceeded to flood the bathroom in 3 inches of water, where my iPhone lay drowning. I spent the rest of that vacation pissed at myself, no way to contact friends or family. I’d learned what it was like to lose my pictures, my alarm clock, a thing I’d spent hundreds on, my mode of communication, a part of me. I had mourned.
And that wasn’t the first time, either. I’d had blackberries get rained on, spilled coffee on flip phones, had more than one phone get run over by a car. I’d vowed Tokyo would be the last time I broke a phone doing something stupid, but here I was, a whole decade after my first Sanyo was crushed by the wheel of a mini-van, doing the same damn thing. Humiliation is such insult to injury when you’re already hungover.
“My stepdaughter doesn’t even have a phone right now,” Javier shared, turning on the radio to some station playing Metallica. “She’s your age.”
“No? How does she survive?” I fake chuckled, annoyed at my tone deaf attempts to make small-talk.
“Well, I bought her one and she lost it. And it’s happened to her before. So that’s it. She has to accept the consequences for now.”
“Maybe she will appreciate a phone when she buys it herself.” There I go again, feigning wisdom.
“She can’t afford one.”
I felt like a douche, and I felt for his step-daughter. And I also knew my advice probably wasn’t so true anyway. I’d spent money on my phone and still fucked up. Maybe young people just fuck up, maybe it’s what we do. Then again, I wasn’t that young anymore. I wondered how old I’d have to be before I stopped making that excuse for myself. 30?
We started up a main road, first passing big warehouses then winding up side streets between old brick high rises with teeny tiny windows. Elderly women bustled around the neighborhood with carts full of laundry and groceries, taking advantage of the beautiful morning. I’d always love going out to Queens, with its wide streets and strip malls – you can see more of the sky there. It’s an unfamiliar place, different but only slightly. Like taking a field trip off-campus.
Javier and I struck a deal that once we reached my destination, he’d keep my Lyft “meter” running and wait for me while I rang the doorbell. If, say, no one answered and he drove away, I’d have to find a ride home with no phone in the middle of random Flushing. Or worse, what if someone did answer the door but he was a MURDERER? I wouldn’t be able to evade him, not in this physical state. Javier agreed. We pulled up to the house where, sure enough, there was a cab parked right out front. Javier stood guard outside the Dodge while I approached on foot.
I rang the doorbell. I rang it a couple times. It was evil of me, honestly. If some stranger rang my doorbell at 9am on a Saturday because of some dumb mistake they made, I’d…well I’d probably be nice to their face because confrontation is intimidating, but I would be very much nonplussed under the surface.
An old woman opened the door, just a crack at first, and I explained my situation. She went upstairs to get her husband, who she said was still sleeping (I’m an asshole!) and he came downstairs in his pajamas and slippers. He was not young, but in his 60s or 70s, and white, with an accent. Maybe Russian. I’d might as well never seen him in my life.
“Yeah, I’ve got your phone here,” he said, shuffling past me and down the front walkway to his cab. He reached in, opened the glove compartment, and there it was. My beautiful iPhone 7+. Unscathed but for battery life and a few minor scratches. I thanked him, probably should have tipped him a little extra but it didn’t occur to me at the time, and then turned back to Javier.
“I GOT IT!” I cheered, waving my phone. I skipped back to the Dodge where we exchanged high-fives, and then slumped into the backseat again, relieved.
As we drove off, I could feel my body submitting to the pain of the hangover. I could finally relax now and let it take me.
“So,” Javier peered at me in the rearview again. “Did you catch his medallion number?”
“Uh-uh,” I mumbled, barely listening, my head now buried in my notifications. “You wouldn’t happen to have an iPhone charger, would you?”