My mood rarely approaches a level I could describe as “blissful” when I’m driving my cab. It is, after all, grueling work. I almost always would rather be doing something else.
Over the course of a 12 hour shift, my temperament fluctuates wildly depending on the traffic flow, how much money I’m making, if the weather is cooperating, if my bladder is cooperating, the condition of the muscles in my lower back, how much of a prick my last fare was, and, naturally, how hungry I am. My only boss is my belly.
But on this particular spring day, at this particular moment, I was extremely happy. In fact, I might even go so far as to say I’d achieved a mild state of Shangri La.
The weather was perfect (although it was rainy earlier so I’d made some good money), my windows were down, I felt the sun on my neck, Bruce Springsteen was on the radio, and I was eating pistachio soft serve out of a cone from Ray’s Deli.
(Ray deserves a better picture, but this gives you an idea)
Ray is nothing less than an institution on Avenue A. He and his two beautiful daughters run a tiny, ancient deli with tin ceilings and a walk-up window open to the sidewalk across from Tompkins Square Park.
He sells hot dogs, cheese fries, milk shakes, egg creams, and soft serve every minute of every day for as long as anyone could remember. Ray’s Deli provides the fuel that makes Avenue A a way life for the people who live there.
Long after gentrification was supposed to be complete on Avenue A, gutter punks, junkies, drunks, and bums still mingle on the sidewalk and in the park with yuppies and hipsters and artists and me. I think (I hope) Avenue A will never change.
(I couldn’t resist taking a few licks before I took this shot)
So there I was, stopped at a light on St. Mark’s and A rockin’ out to ”Badlands” on 104.3. Singing along when I wasn’t trying to fit the entire soft serve in mouth at once, I drew the attention of one of Tompkin’s grubbier bums when I fully shouted, “IT AIN’T NO SIN TO BE GLAD YER ALIVE.”
He spun around, caught my smiling eyes, and marched straight for my open passenger side window. I saw him coming and had about fifty cents in change ready for him before he got there. He knew I wasn’t going to tell him to screw off in the openly jovial mood I was displaying. Good vibes were being exuded from my pores (when he leaned onto my window sill, I noticed the overwhelming scent -it stings the nostrils- of rum being exuded from his pores).
He took the change from my outstretched hand without saying a word, but I could tell his mood was nearly as blissful as mine. He crossed his arms on the window sill and leaned in, bobbing his head to Max Weinberg’s beat. While we shared our moment, I took another giant slurp from my quickly disappearing cone of pistachio soft serve that was hitting the spot like it always had before.
The light turned, and the bum stood up from the window, clenched his fist in solidarity with something, and uttered the only words spoken between us: “DA BOSS!!!”
I smiled a big green smile and raised my cone in a toast to him. The cabbie behind me laid on his horn, and I took off. I made it about five minutes before I hit a terrible traffic jam on 1st Avenue and realized I had to pee.
Ray’s Deli, Avenue A btwn St. Mark’s and 7th, East Village, Manhattan
Check out www.famousfatdave.com for a giggle or to book an eating tour