Cab ride full of twists and unexpected turns

Hollan Holm

For once in my life, being taken for a ride wasn’t a good thing.

I got off a plane in New York City a couple of weeks ago about 20 minutes later than scheduled. The airport in Atlanta blamed the tardiness on something called “equipment delays.” While it sounds like a wheel or wing or some other critical piece was caught in expressway traffic, it’s really airport speak for “the plane is late.”

I chalk that ambiguous statement up to the same copywriters who coined the term “de-plane” for “exit.” It’s so much work for me to listen to the extra syllable.

I got off the 20-minutes-delayed equipment, also known as a plane, in John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The first sense you get when you enter New York is the smell. It’s kind of a mixture of hard to pronounce ethnic food and three-day old garbage.

In November you can see the smell seep out of manhole covers in a white fog. But I think the smell comes from having so many yankees in one place.

After trekking through the deserted, after-hours maze of the JFK building, I claimed my bags and walked toward the sliding glass exit doors. I needed a cab to get to my hotel, because I had no confidence in my ability to use public transportation by myself after dark.

The ride of my life began with a question.

“Hey, you need a cab?” said a man dressed in a black jacket and equally black jeans that had a frayed hole on the back of the knee.

I stood 20 feet from a line of yellow cabs waiting for passengers as I contemplated his offer. I figured this man in black, who called himself Joe B. on the receipt he gave me, was just another yellow cab driver.

But when I took him up on his offer, he grabbed my bags and walked me past all the yellow cabs and opened the side door of a maroon Chevy van. As I sat down on the stained gray interior and Joe B. pushed down the chrome cobra door locks, visions of the kidnapping scene in “Silence of the Lambs” danced in my head.

He zipped off into oncoming traffic with typical cabby zeal. But as a traffic light caught us, Joe B. reached over to the cigarette butt-covered center console and unfastened a makeshift strip of velcro. He pulled out a yellow book about the size of a half sheet of paper.

In it, typed in 4-point font, was a list of “official” cab fares. Prices got as high as $120, but Joe B. said my fare from JFK would be $67.50. But wait, there was more. In addition to the $67.50, I’d be the proud payer of seven tolls and a 20 percent tip miraculously bringing the tab to $90 even, payable before the stoplight turned green.

Now, I’m generally not considered someone with a surplus of common sense, but even I knew that $90 was too much for a cab ride. But I was not about to exit a van in traffic with my bags sitting in the back. I forked over the cash to the white-haired Joe B. who smelled of cigarettes and any aftershave with “faux” in the name.

To seal the deal, Joe B. offered me a cherry Life Saver. I passed. At least I remembered to not take candy from strangers.

For my $90 rip-off, Joe B. pointed out plenty of sights on the 30-minute drive which took us nowhere near a toll road. He showed me Shea Stadium and one of the many Donald Trump buildings. He also told me that when he isn’t driving a cab he does “contract work.” Hearing that convinced me cooperating with his scam was a smart move.

I’ve seen the Godfather enough times to know that losing $90 is better than losing your life when you get taken for a ride.

Picks ‘O the Week

If you like nuts and you can never seem to get enough Russian composers in your diet, you’ll love the Bowling Green/Western Symphony Orchestra’s renditions of the Nutcracker Suite tonight in Van Meter Hall at 7:30 p.m. The University Choir will be singing too; so think about shelling out the $5 admission for students or $15 for adults. (Oh, the things I plug to pass choir.)

Tapped out from concert admission? Watch the Bowling Green-Warren County Christmas Parade, coming to a downtown street near you at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. You might even get to see a fire truck and score some free hard candy.

Hollan Holm has learned many things from his father. He learned to keep his friends close and [email protected] closer.