Posts Tagged ‘New York’

 

Traffic policewoman trying to persuade bus driver to move.

 

Sadly, work is now starting to get in the way of my quest, and the poor Monk has had to take a backseat as a result. On the bright side though I can now afford to order the bottles directly from India, if I so choose.

Walking back from work the other evening I happened to be strolling up Ninth Avenue, keeping one eye open for any liquor store I had not yet visited in the neighborhood, when I noticed some chaos up ahead at the major 42nd street junction. At first I naturally assumed it was just evening traffic being guided by traffic police and thus the mess. Ever noticed how no matter which part of the world you are in, the moment traffic police take over directing traffic there is always chaos? Followed by massive congestion and a rapid back-up of cars for miles around. I have wondered why they do not just let the traffic lights do their job since they are all electronically linked and co-ordinated, which the poor traffic police never will be not matter how hard they try or how well they dance…

As I got closer to the junction I observed that a large bus was in the process of making a right turn down Ninth avenue but not moving and so the blocking the entire junction. It seemed like the bus driver and traffic policewoman were engrossed in conversation, in the middle of this major junction, while cars on all four sides were waiting to get by. First, I thought the bus driver might be thoughtlessly asking for directions or that the cop had pulled him over and neither seemed terribly bothered to move out of the way to conclude their business. But as I got within earshot I realised it was an entirely different matter; a standoff! The cop was telling the bus driver that the right turn was not allowed at this time of the evening, to better facilitate the flow of rush hour traffic, and the driver it seems was refusing to go straight and around the next block to his destination. So she said he was not going to make that right turn unless it was over her dead body and he decided he would then just stay put until she changed her mind or hell froze over. I decided to stay and see how long this would go on. In the end it lasted twenty-minutes and the driver only acquiesced after the poor traffic policewoman called male armed cops to start amassing at the junction…only in New York!

As I had a meeting downtown on the west side, I took the opportunity to check out a couple of liquor stores in the vicinity but once again came up empty handed.  Maybe I need to figure out another tack and try tracking down the elusive Old Monk distributor.  I was walking back home with this thought brewing in my head when I heard someone say “Excuse me Sir.” I was stopped in the middle of a two way street on one of those little pedestrian islands.  At first I ignored it but as the voice persisted and got louder I glanced around to see that the other two people waiting for the light to change were women, so clearly the voice sought me.  This was one of those NY islands that had benches and a sculpture and greenery around it, so it took me a brief second to spot the rather portly gentleman sitting on the bench, slightly obscured by the shrubbery, bellowing at me.

He was wearing jeans which were rolled up above his ankles, with a makeshift belt made of what looked like plastic bags tied together holding them up and a black t-shirt neatly tucked in.  Next to him on the bench was a black carry on size suitcase and to his right was something that resembled a briefcase surrounded by a large number of plastic bags loaded with stuff.  He must have been in his late fifties; he wore a pair of large framed glasses, the kind my grandfather used to wear, had short cropped hair and sported a bandanna.  As I looked him in the eye, he said “do you see the school truck over there,” pointing across the street.  I looked over and did not see a school truck but spotted an ice cream van, which I assumed was what he meant.  I acknowledged.  He said, “would you mind going over and getting me a bottle of Pepsi? I will give you some money.” I agreed.  He then proceeded to dig into one of the myriad plastic bags beside him and pulled out a brown paper bag.  From this bag he extracted a handful of change. I saw many pennies, nickels, dimes and thankfully a few quarters.  He proceeded to count starting with about three quarters and then rounding off the dollar with nickels and dimes.  As he was doing this he asked me how much a bottle of Pepsi would cost.  I have no idea I said and he did not either.  So we assumed it would be a buck or buck fifty.  As he handed me the change, I turned and started to cross the street. I was halfway across when I heard him shout out “Actually sir, would you mind getting me two bottles of Pepsi.  And I want the kind that come in bottles; you know them plastic one’s.” I stopped and turned back.  He once again started to count and handed me another $1.50 asking if it would be enough for two bottles.  I said I imagined it would be.

The ice-cream truck only had ice-cream, strangely enough.  Luckily I spotted a hot dog cart on the opposite side and ran over to ask the man if he had some Pepsi.  When he paused, I thought crap now I am going to have to run over to Fairway which is at least a couple of blocks from here and the guy is going to think I am running off with his three dollars.  I could not think anything more embarrassing than being arrested for stealing from a homeless man.  The cart man said he was out of Pepsi but had some Coke.  I looked over to try and get the homeless man’s attention but his back was turned to me.  So I decided to take them and hope this man was not brand loyal.  The total cost was $4; I guess it’s been a while since I bought a bottle of Coke or Pepsi.

I brought back the bottles and handed them to him explaining that the guy was out of Pepsi, so I got Coke instead.  He did not seem bothered and asked me if they cost a $1 each or more.  I told him they were $2 apiece and quickly added that I was happy to cover the difference.  But before I could finish he said, “I guess I owe you another dollar then.” Again I repeated that he did not.  I told him he was welcome, shook his outstretched hand and started to leave when I heard him say, “Hey, wait a minute, there are no napkins in here.” I looked at him like he must be joking but he gestured to the Sun and said, “Hot day, need something to wipe off you know…would you mind?” I said OK and ran back over to the cart and came back with a handful of napkins.  As I handed them over to him, he once again thanked me and looked like he was about to ask me for something else but this time I gave him a look that said it all.  He stopped short and simply said, “Have a great day and thank you again.”

I have wondered for a while where all the Indian taxi drivers in New York have disappeared.  Back in the 90’s every second cabbie was Indian but today maybe 1 in 15 is.  There has been a huge influx from Eastern Europe and the West African countries, and there still remains a large number from both Pakistan and Bangladesh but very few Indians.  It is almost as if they all got together one fine day and decided to stop driving cabs or worse yet, someone made them all disappear.  The question has plagued New Yorkers and me for some years now and nobody has come close to solving this mystery; that is not until I chanced upon the answer quite inadvertently during my quest.

I have now visited 3 liquor stores on the Upper West Side, 2 on the Upper East, 2 in Little India and 2 in Midtown West, and while none of them had the Monk on their shelves they all seemed to know it immediately and without need for further explanation.  I suspect this is in part because Old Monk is the 3rd largest selling rum in the world but  probably mostly because all the liquor store owners I met were Indian.  I mean it was quite extraordinary, and if this was just a coincidence than you have to admit it’s a rather strange one.  The fact that every liquor store I randomly walked into happened to be run by or owned by an Indian.  In the end while I found no solace and will relentlessly continue my quest for the Monk, I do feel some sense of gratification of having solved the burning question on the minds of every New Yorker – of where all the Indian cab drivers went.  I guess we should all be grateful that they are no longer behind the wheels of our cabs!