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So what is a newyorksubalien...

I’m a New York subalien. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly legal – it’s just my loving other half, official alien that he is, comes with a so-called “supermodel” visa that apparently denotes him as one possessing extraordinary abilities (falling asleep within 5 minutes of sitting down in front of the TV, remembering only 2 of the 3 items on a mental shopping list and not knowing where the dishwasher tablets live after 2 years in our apartment are just some of his many talents).

The same visa leaves me extraordinarily unable to possess that most American of entities - a “social” i.e. a Social Security Number. Calling it a “social” makes it sound like the password to some party-filled, fun-packed lifestyle. That’s not far wrong as without these all-important 9 numbers, you pretty much can’t have a lifestyle at all - no bank account, no credit card, not even a driver’s license.

So what does a subalien do? Well, like over sub life forms waiting for evolution to give them a leg up on the ladder of existence, I have plenty of time to observe and these, dear reader, are my observations…..

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hail the new "sense-ible" New York taxi - smell less, see more, it's even quieter tooting its own horn!

If Planet New York’s streets and avenues are the arteries and veins of some never-sleeping beast, its blood is not red but yellow – little yellow globules that hurtle madly around, causing many a heart-stopping moment but likewise saving the lives of ever-late aliens who need to get from A to B five minutes ago.

The classic New York cab has a distinctive aroma, a variation of “eau de Manhattan” I call “eau de Man/Eating”. The black floor is perfect for rendering invisible wallets, mobile phones and leather gloves and it never ceases to amaze me how there is often more space in the boot – sorry, trunk – than for the passengers.

But all this is set to change. This week Mayor Bloomberg rolled out the new New York cab, scheduled to hit the streets from the end of next year and set to totally replace the Ford Crown Victoria, the iconic design that looks like cars I used to draw when I was 5 years old.

The pluses of the new cab on paper would appear to be many – special passenger seats that “help neutralize interior odors” (not sure if this stretches to the driver’s seat as well), more leg room, chargers, USB ports and a sunroof to allow passengers to admire the skyscrapers as opposed to the fender-benders. There is also floor lighting so you’ll only need to buy the one pair of gloves each winter and, my personal favourite, a “low-annoyance horn”. I searched in vain to find an online recording of said horn but only succeeded in making myself mildly-annoyed at my failure to do so. I imagine it will appear as a highly-annoying app soon anyway.

On the outside, it is still yellow, in fact an even brighter yellow than its current counterpart. Shape-wise though, I have to admit, it looks more like the kind of car I used to draw when I was 3 years old (except that it does have 4 wheels) – definitely not “Back to the Future”, more Postman Pat.

For all its increased comfort inside, I suspect that it might take a while for the 600,000 odd daily taxi-riders to warm to the new design. Learning how to hail a cab, even how to give your address in the right way (always an intersection, number of street first, then avenue) is a rite of passage to living in this city. Take, for example, the Masters of the Universe who, in the morning, stride purposefully out of their townhouses and in the evening, out of their offices. They walk two steps to the kerb, raise arm commandingly with crisp newspaper in hand and stand there for, oh, two seconds. Like magic, a cab appears. In one fluid movement, Master of Universe opens door, lowers himself smoothly into seat, slams door and is off, oozing power and manlihood.

Now imagine the same scenario with a slow, sliding, mini-van type door and an entrance that requires you to bend in head-first rather than drop down head-last, putting you at risk of a socks-reveal that would seriously dint your sex appeal. Less Master of the Universe, more Mister Bean.

I hasten to add that the Superalien morning ritual goes a little differently. The master of my universe dons his "manny-hood" - a fetching yellow bike jacket (interestingly similar in hue to the new cabs), brazenly flashes socks or rather one of them as he dons bicycle clip, slams apartment door, lowers himself onto bizarre-shaped bike seat and then is off, oozing, well, pedal power. Energy-efficient, good exercise and a source of much affectionate teasing on the part of his office colleagues. 

Fear not - you still have plenty of time to hail an old-fashioned, door-opening-out-into-cyclists (hopefully not Superalien), saggy-bottomed seat, uber-odourous, suspension-free cab. With 13,000 yellow blood globules currently hurtling around, a complete blood transfusion is expected to take until 2018. 

And I'm confident that one thing will not change - New York taxi drivers. The life stories I have heard over the past 4 years have convinced me that if cabs are New York's lifeblood, Big Apple's cabbies are its DNA - even if that sometimes means Destination Not Assured!
Creative Commons License by Caroline Eagles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.