Tipping Is Customary

Posted in Latino, Manhattan, Sandwiches, Washington Heights at 5:26 am by Administrator

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.

BlogShots 338.jpg

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.

BlogShots 340.jpg

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

BlogShots 339.jpg

(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


  1. Natalie said,

    June 9, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    Yep, that was a pretty lousy tip. You know, I wonder she was just cheap or completely clueless about true tipping etiquette. She was obviously very greatful. Too bad it didn’t tranlate into mas dinero.

  2. RONW said,

    June 9, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    2.40 is not the way it should be. Look, I have a question….suppose hypothetically that the fare was $1.25, and the customer gave a cabbie $2 in ones, is the cabbie suppose to make change, or do you gotta give him a second look?

  3. dana said,

    June 9, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    Not completely related, but: Do cabdrivers really not live on tips? Do you have a salary, then?

  4. Marlena said,

    June 9, 2006 at 2:13 pm

    I always overtip. I feel it’s my responsibility to make up for all the skirts who have given us a collective reputation as bad tippers.

    The other side of that is that I take cabs less because I know it’ll put me back more and, like a true gypsy, I loves me my filthy lucre. So stop eyeing my wallet, jerks.

  5. AWE said,

    June 9, 2006 at 2:19 pm

    I know better than to read your blog before lunch. The sandwich looks and sounds great.

    I never know how much to give a cabbie, I usually tip between 2 and 5 bucks when I am up there.

  6. dave bobb said,

    June 9, 2006 at 8:20 pm

    story got my adenalin pumping. you never know when stuff like that is going to happen. so cool dude!

  7. kim said,

    June 10, 2006 at 2:44 am

    I work on tips, so I always tip cabbies extra! But i never knew it was optional, i thought it was mandatory!
    very interesting blog:) love the pics of food!

  8. mikey k said,

    June 14, 2006 at 5:56 pm

    i’ve under tipped on a car trip to the emergency room. i felt really guilty but i had to get my husband in and i didn’t have the change. (plus the driver took the midtown tunnel for no reason so the fare was more than i expected) anyway, i always assumed that the driver understood because we were going to the emergency room, but now i feel terrible again.

  9. dana h said,

    June 15, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    Dude, the pickle makes the sandwich. I love a good Cuban. And I just don’t get the non-pickle places. Once I asked for pickles at a non-pickle dive and they put on two round halves of a pickle on which made the sandwich three times as thick as it should have been. That wasn’t helping things.

  10. verismo said,

    September 24, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    Hi there,

    I’ve enjoyed reading your adventures for quite a while now, and admire your democratic gut. So it’s with some sadness that I have to inform you that Mambi has closed its doors.

    The good news is that you can get a Cubano down the street at Galicia(bdwy & 173) that rocks with roast pork and the fixin’s. They ask you if you want extra garlic, and if you say yes, pile it on with abandon. No pickle, though. That’s just not right. I would request a pickle if my Español were better, but c’est la vie!

    Most importantly, however, is that this is the BEST coffee I have imbibed in NYC. And it’s 75 cents. You owe it to yourself.

    Drive Safe!!


  11. Matto said,

    December 4, 2006 at 2:23 am

    can’t you just travel with a handy cache of pickles for these situations? just a thought… they would make for a good road snack too.

  12. The Hungry Cabbie: The Eating Adventures of a NYC Yellow Cabbie » Spring Training said,

    March 12, 2007 at 12:58 am

    [...] A couple hours later on Avenue B and 7th Street, a man hailed me frantically. Usually I’d pass by people like that for fear of dealing with an insane person, but I stopped because I saw he was propping up what looked to be his elderly father with his other arm. The old man got in first, wheezing, coughing, and clearly frightened. His son got in second and told me to go to the nearest emergency room in a hurried voice. I asked if he wanted to get there very quickly, and the younger man said, “Be reasonable.” Little did he know that I had always wanted to be an ambulance driver. I put my flashing emergency lights on and blew through a fresh red light on Avenue A leaning on my horn. I turned right onto First Avenue and before four minutes were up, I stopped in front of NYU Medical Center ER on Thirty Third and First. I got this man twenty five blocked and I think I set a land speed record for New York City. I was on such a natural high that I pumped my fist, hooted, and hollered after I let them out. I can’t say for sure that I saved his life, but I felt I had done a serious mitzvah. Now, wasn’t I due for some good karma? [...]

  13. Sam said,

    January 3, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    They make a slammin’ Cuban at the Columbia Deli near the hospital if you are back in the Heights (171st and Haven Ave., just north of NYP). They ALWAYS put pickles on it!

Leave a Comment