Cab ride in the Naked City

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Lexington Avenue Between 28th and 29th Streets. 11:30 PM. Photo: JH.

Monday, Labor Day, September 4, 2023. Warm and sunny days have been Mother Nature’s gift to New York this “holiday” weekend. Temps went up into the high 80s midday yesterday, but not muggy. Just nice and warm. Otherwise the city was quiet. Last night I had dinner with my old friend from L.A. Pax Quigley who recently published a second, updated edition of her book Armed & Female II; Never An Easy Target. She published the first edition back in the late ’80s when she lived — as did I  — in Los Angeles.

Paxton demonstrating a proper stance for shooting a gun.

She wrote it for women although it’s pure information of the highest order on the subject. Her advice begins at the beginning. Never buy a gun until you know how to use it — which requires learning. It’s not an overnight matter. 

Pax moved to New York  in the mid-’90s and loves it, and is daily thankful that she made the move. This past weekend, weatherwise and quiet was perfect example of why. Everything’s here, and it’s a wonder (besides a lot of other “things.”)

On Friday afternoon I hailed a cab on East End Avenue to take me down to 28th and Park Avenue South for a meeting.

My driver was one of the old-fashioned kind, a guy probably in his mid-to-late sixties. He actually thanked me when I got in the cab. We took the Drive down to the 34th Street exit.

“There used to be a great cafeteria down there,” he said as we were moving along the highway, “where all the cabdrivers went. The Bellmore. B-double-L, M. O. R E. Big place, in an old building. All the drivers met there. They’d give ya these big thick sandwiches.” He held up his right hand, a three-inch space between his thumb and index finger. “They’d let us sit in the back as long as we wanted. They’d give ya free seltzer. This was years ago. Gone now. They tore it down. Now it’s an apartment building.”

That was where I was going. “Now that block at night is all hookers,” I said.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “Terrible. Real low-life. Dirty, strung out. The cops let ‘em alone until daylight. If they’re there after that, they take ‘em in. Their pimps get ‘em out and they’re back on the street the next night.”

“I hear business is slow these days,” I said. “My friend who lives there told me one night he was walking his dog, and one of them came right up and groped him.”

“Terrible,” said the driver, “but that’s the life they choose. They could always get a job.”

“I’m not so sure they choose it. We don’t know how these girls end up in that situation. It’s not like it something they always wished for; I’m sure of that.”

“They could do better cleaning house,” he countered as if it were a matter of common sense. “My son down in Florida pays some girl a hundred bucks a week to walk his dog everyday. And that’s only one of the dogs she walks. They could do a lotta things; they don’t have to be hookers.”

Maybe some of them think they’ll get something better out of life,” I said, continuing my defense. “There are some girls who started out in that line of work now living in big apartments on Park Avenue and Fifth.”

“Yeah,” he said, conceding. “I used to drive one every day for five or six years.”

“A hooker?’

“Yeah, long time ago.”

“How did you know she was a hooker? She tell you?”

“She lived out in Staten Island. I been driving forty-one years. Years ago we had these cabs that had the phone number on the roof. You could call for one. There was a group of us, about 350 cabs with ‘em. Every morning she’d call and no one could find the place because she lived on a little dead end street. Sometimes the cabs’d be twenty minutes, a half-hour late. One day I got the call and because I live out there, I knew where she was and I was there in five minutes. She was so glad to be picked up on time, she asked me if I wanted to pick her up everyday.”

“So where’d you take her?”

“Right over here,” he said, “Third Avenue and 15th Street. It was an apartment.”

“How’d you know she was a hooker?”

“Well, one morning I went to pick her up and she comes out in a fur coat. It’s April, and I says to her, ‘Connie, it’s April and you’re wearing a fur coat?’ She says to me, ‘I’m late,’ and she opens the coat and shows me.’

“You mean she had nothing on underneath?”

“Yup, nothin’ on. So that’s when she told me. She supported her mother and her father and her two kids with it. She had two or three customers a day. She said that was enough for her. I never brought it up again after that and she didn’t either.”

“You said you drove her for five or six years? Why’d you stop?”

“I went to pick her up one morning. She lived in one of those two family houses, like a row house. Her parents on the first floor and her and her kids upstairs. I went to pick her up and she didn’t come out. After a few minutes I go up to the door and ring the bell and there was no answer. So I looked in the window and the place was empty. Cleaned out, upstairs and down. Mother, father too. Not a sign. Everyone gone.”

“When did you last see her before that?”

“The day before. Drove her over here the morning before.”

“And she never said anything?”

“Not a word.”

“So she moved after she got home. That was quick.”

“Yeah. Never said a word. I never heard from her again. Don’t know where she went.”

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