Last night I had one of those cab rides home that New York used to be legendary for.
Since Uber and Via and Lyft and Gett and Juno and Kurb and Abduction (I made that last one up) came onto the scene, the yellow cab business--a staple of New York like rats reading the New York Post--have all but slunk into irrelevance. No one I know takes cabs anymore. The deal and the rides are much more comfortable, affordable and convenient with one of the aforementioned services.
What we've given up, of course, is cab-driver wisdom. We no longer have the world-weary driver with a number in the 300,000's who will set the world right on a ride across town. We no longer have time with the young Egyptian or Pakistani with an engineering degree who is going for his PhD at City University. We no longer have the hyperbolic angry humor of a blood-pressured West Indian who knows exactly what's wrong with the world and will tell you. At the top of his lungs.
The typical Via ride is silent. Passengers are not allowed to talk on phones, and drivers usually wear a mask of professional indifference. Last night, however, I had a driver who was ready to talk. As I was alone in his Chevrolet Suburban--and sitting alongside him in the front passenger seat--I was a more than willing audience.
"You know what a good business is?" he began. "A liquor store. You can't really go wrong with a liquor store."
I grunted assent. I had worked as a clerk in a liquor store in Chicago when I was 20.
"You take a neighborhood like Hell's Kitchen, or the Far West Side, with all those new Trump buildings. There are no liquor stores. Now, some of those old birds who live there, they're good for a bottle a night. And not a $20 bottle even. A $300-$400 bottle. They can't go to sleep without they wine."
Again I grunted assent. Like I said, I had seen the same when I toiled in Chicago. The city of broad shoulders and handy corkscrews.
"Let me tell you something," he said, running the light at 57th and 10th. "When times is good, you have the foot traffic, you have people visiting friends and bringing a bottle. When times is bad, you have people drowning their sorrows. When it's cold, they stay warm, when it's hot, they stay cool."
"I thought you had to be mobbed up to get a license."
"No. Not any more. There's a lawyer on 7th Avenue, he'll get you set for $15 thousand. Get you your license. And the trick with wine is you buy a lot. Then the importer sees you're a good customer and sells you the good stuff that other stores don't get. But first they have to see you're a good customer."
He was heading up Madison Avenue.
"I found one store in the Bronx. All they wanted for the store was $50K. I could get the whole thing up and running for $100K. But let me tell you something..."
"OK," I said. Just to get a word in.
"If you're in a black neighborhood, you don't get a black person to run it. You get a little Indian or Chinese woman. It's sad but black don't buy from black. You pay them a weekly salary. But you don't hire no black people. Black don't buy from black."
I had no comment on that. And besides he had pulled up in front of my building.
"Thank you," I said.
He gave a toot on his horn.
"Think about it," he said. "A liquor store. That's your early retirement."