NYC Cab Stories

I have a lot of stories from NYC (which I will try and remember to post at a later date), but let me start with my cab stories… First, I was trying to get from near Central Park into Brooklyn (and I don't know the subway system at all) and I got in seven yellow caps — each refused me, making the fake claim they didn't know the location (I had very specific directions). One admitted that no yellow cab was going to drive there because there was easier faster money to be made staying on the island and I guess doing theatre runs from the hotels.

Anyway, during all this I chatted with the doormen in my broken Spanish (totally by accident — I actually wondered a moment afterwards whether I was being rude responding in Spanish, but since they were talking about me, the cabs, and so on I figured it was alright), and they grabbed me a big stretch limo to ride over in to apologize for not being able to source a cab. So that was cool, I felt like a movie star.

On the way back (about 2AM), I took a gypsy cab back with a really cool Argentinian driver. He couldn't really speak much English but I had a nice chat with him on the way back about Buenos Aires.

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The next day after drinks/meeting with old friends, on the way back to the airport I caught a cab to JFK at the very last minute (I literally had to run through the airport and was the last one on the plane — thirty seconds later and I would have missed my flight). Anyway, the driver was a really cool young guy (maybe twenty-five) who moved here about three years ago from Nigeria. He's a US citizen, but his wife and three year old daughter are still back in Nigeria. We talked about how hard that must be for him, and I gave him some advice on how to get talk to her cheaply on the Internet, and luckily he only has to wait for about a month before they arrive (she's a nurse).

Anyway, he had large and pronounced Ondo-style facial scars (read more about them here on the Jehova's Witness Website and elsewhere) which is fairly unusual for a guy so young. I first told him the story of mine (done by Lukas Zpira). For those that haven't seen them, this is what mine looked like fresh (they're very subtle now, I don't think most people even see them unless I'm very cleanly shaved):

I don't think I've ever told the story of my facial scars publicly? As you know, I spent about three years as a very strict vegan, and while in Africa and Mexico started eating a little meat (fish only on the whole) and a little dairy. I didn't feel in the context of how much I ate I was doing anything wrong, but at the same time, it was tearing me up inside ethically and emotionally.

The design that Lukas cut on me are rivers of tears flowing both out of my eyes and out of my forehead tattoo (which symbolizes my belief that all life on this planet is a single interconnected being — which got the cabbie and I into a long talk on the history of Islam as he was a Muslim), with fish swimming through them toward the centre. I don't know, maybe it seems silly from an outsider's point of view, but for me personally it was very important in learning to live a new lifestyle again.

But back to my Nigerian friend (I wish I'd had the time to take a picture with him). After telling him my story (I don't like asking other people a personal question until I've opened up to them first if possible), I asked him about his facial scars, starting with what they meant. Here is the conversation roughly as I remember it, in short:

Shannon: Do you mind me asking what your facial scars mean?

Driver: They are my family markings, they show where I'm from and what tribe my family comes from.

Shannon: How old were you when you got them? Were you a baby?

Driver: No, I was older — four or five.

Shannon: Do you remember having them done?

Driver: Yes, very clearly.

Shannon: They're very pronounced for someone as young as you are. I thought they were not that common any more? Did you grow up in the country or the city? [Note: The trend was already very uncommon in urban environments at the time and there was perhaps even a backlash inside Nigeria toward it].

Driver: In the city. My father made the cuts very lightly, so you could hardly see them. I told him that I didn't feel like I was a part of the family, and I begged him to make the cuts bigger so they would be the same as him and my grandfather and everyone in my family. I felt without these scars I would not be a part of the family.

It was during rush hour, so we talked non-stop over the hour or so long ride. I really love talking to cabbies, they're almost always interesting people with good stories and insights.

Along those lines, I'll add (which I've said before) that when I was in the Antigua and the rest of the Islands, the most common questions I was asked by black kids on the island about my tattoos and ears were “what religion does that mean you are?” and “what tribe are you from?” — a nice change from the dumb-ass American/Canadian response of “didn't that hurt?”

Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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