I’m not a waiter. I don’t live on tips. But I sure do appreciate them. Usually, if I get a really nice tip, I’ll blow it on a really nice meal before the shift is over. Even if its a slow night in general, one good tip can convince me to go for a $12 pastrami sandwich instead of a $2 falafel. The other night, I got an unexpected $7 tip from a moody Frenchman, so I bought $22 worth of shrimp cocktails and raw oysters at Blue Ribbon instead of $2 worth of pizza at Joe’s. I know the math doesn’t add up, but I tend to seize any opportunity to splurge on food.
As a rule, your cabbie will expect at least a couple extra bucks if he does anything out of the ordinary for you such as waiting for more than a minute while your special lady friend runs upstairs to get her toothbrush on the way to your place. And a handsome gratuity generally follows if you say “step on it,” and your cabbie gets you where you’re going extremely quickly.
So I was anticipating a windfall last night when I picked up a couple on the west side who opted for me rather than an ambulance. The tall blond was propping up her slumping husband when she hailed me, and when she rolled him into the back seat I could hear his belabored, gasping breaths. “We need New York Presbyterian Hosptial, THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!!!” she basically shouted.
I’ve taken people to the hospital in a hurry before, and it is a pure adrenaline rush akin to sky diving. The last time I did it, I was a sweaty mess by the time we pulled up to the ER doors, and once they rushed out of the cab, I pumped my fist and shouted like I’d just won Fear Factor. Actually, I’ve always harbored a desire to be an ambulance driver, and I considered working for the International Committee of the Red Cross or the FDNY (but I get sick when I even THINK about broken bones, so I ruled it out). I actually live for those rare emergency fares.
As I racked up the traffic violations on my way to the West Side Highway, I suggested that I take them to one of a number of closer hospitals. “His surgeon is waiting for him at New York Presbyterian,” the woman sputtered. She seemed like she was out of breath as well. I put in my comforting “Songs to Help Me Sleep” mix as we waited for the light to change at the highway, and I offered him a sip of my Arizona Green Tea with Ginsing (she respectfully declined for him).
I think I got his heart pumping again as I weaved sharply through the highway traffic with the pedal to the floor. It was a liberating feeling to push my 2001 Crown Victoria with 219,187 miles on it to speeds near 100. It wasn’t just because driving fast is exciting, it was because I knew that if a cop stopped me, we’d just end up with a police escort, and that would be the sweetest thing of all time.
But we didn’t pass a cop. And I might have pushed it a little too hard, because as we exited the highway, we skidded past our turn on the slick asphalt. I had to throw it into reverse once we came to a stop, reassure my frightened passengers that everything was okay, and make the right onto 138th Street. I could hear that the man was breathing easier. I don’t know if it was the chill Lou Reed song or his kick start of adrenaline.
We pulled up in front of the hospital in record time, and, sure enough, there was a stretcher and a surgeon waiting at the door. Call me a lousy cold-hearted bastard, but I was expecting a huge tip.
Instead, I got $2.40. And not only did I get $2.40, but the woman WAITED while I got her $10 in change for the 2 twenties she gave me on the $27.60 meter. She WAITED, while her husband sat beside her (admittedly he was no longer gasping for air). Why not just give me the $12 and get a move on? She thanked me multiple times for rushing, even after we skidded 15 feet.
The overwhelmingly emotion was dejection. It was like a kick to the gut. I wouldn’t expect a tip if I were an ambulance driver, but I’m not one. And she even said, “We were gonna wait for an ambulance, but I figured it’d be faster to grab a taxi, and I was right.” I guess I did my civic duty, but isn’t it her duty as a fellow human to show her gratitude with something other than “thanks”? The $2.40 was just insulting.
My escargot at Florent disappeared with them as they passed through the swinging double doors. But I was in Washington Heights with almost $3 burning a hole in my pocket, so I made my way up another 10 blocks to Mambi’s for my favorite Cuban sandwich.
I found Mambi’s early on in my career as a cabbie, and I return any time I’m above 155th Street and don’t want to spend more than $3 on dinner. Last night, my heart still pounding from both the excitement and the disappointment, I walked up to the bar and ordered a cubano.
My one issue with Mambi’s is that they almost never put pickles on their cubanos. If you sell a cubano without any pickles, it’s just a ham and cheese sandwich in my book. And last night they did it again. Even though I asked them, in Spanish no less, for pickles, once I unwrapped it while I was on the road back downtown, I found it to be pickleless.
Still, a Mambi’s ham and cheese sandwich is utterly delicious. Two kinds of ham and fully melted cheese on a pressed sandwich is amazing even without the pickles. The Mambi cubano is spread with a strong garlic mayo that gives it a flavor like no other in Washington Heights. My belly was completely satisfied. But next time I take a fare to the emergency room at break neck speeds, I want to eat a 1492 Sampler at Victor’s Cafe.
Mambi’s, Broadway and 177th Street, Washington Heights, Manhattan
(El Duque is a real Cuban, an he likes Mambis! He pitched a gem last night. The Yankees should never have gotten rid of him. Neither should have the White Sox)
Visit www.famousfatdave.com for a smile or to book an eating tour