THE REAR SEAT: Answering Questions and Asking Questions.
The Journey of a New York City Taxi Cab
By: Al Orensanz, PhD; Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts
Most of our day-to-day information accumulates through idle conversations, and it infiltrates our awareness unexpectedly. We interact constantly and randomly with people who talk to us or who listen to us. We are educated through radio and TV broadcasts, and we are constantly alerted by our cellular phones, iPad messages, radio transmissions and commercial ads blinking from the skyscrapers. Throughout the city, we are exposed to taxi cab drivers, vendors, compatriots, old colleagues, spouses, children, receptionists relatives and neighbors.
We traverse the city by taxi cab. Points of interest are brought in by the kaleidoscope of the streets, advertisements, shop windows. The curiosity grows and a decision has to be made: should I engage or retreat? I still have some 30-odd minutes of taxi traveling left. Let me ask the driver. He is most likely talking on a device that I do not see.
Darkness engulfs us both. He has the front window available to scout and evaluate traffic strategies. I can see the sides but not my rear window view. My options are very limited. His are much wider and diversified. The driver initiates a conversation with me. The surroundings act as a backdrop. Our conversation gets more intense and specific as our trip progresses. The backdrop of the city moves and evolves as traffic weaves around us, providing context. The centerpiece of the discourse is a reservoir of memories, references, adapted anecdotes that are formulated and adapted to this specific moment and circumstance.
You never ride a taxi twice; you never talk to the same taxi driver twice. The streets are the same, and the buildings blur and dissipate in the immediacy or the distance. The speed renders the faces imperceptible. My attention splits and divides as I interact coincidentally with the driver and the city around me: on-going conversation is syncopated and distracted every few seconds.
The questions and answers are all stereotypical. We do not see faces but we hear our voices. With that alone, we can establish a bridge of communication. Obviously, our allocated time is short; the view of our faces is limited therefore is not engaging. The context of the streets and roads we circulate speeds ahead of us fast and uncompromising. There is very limited time for self and mutual exploration. Most of the time we instinctually agree on a common subject matter inconsequential for both sides.
The last moments of engagement come when the trip is ended; and we both descend. These are very short moments, seconds, of the encounter. But they are crucial, ceremonial and engaging.
While the departure from inside the taxi is uneventful, the farewell is reduced for the most part to the paying of the fare. The departure at the airport is marked by the eventful ceremonial of many other departures and arrivals: the suitcases, the trunks, the flowers bouquets, the gift-wrapped boxes, and the garments.
The departure within the city streets and the departure at the airport have very different ceremonials for both the driver and the passenger. The taxi ride within the city has the specific limits of a domestic movement that remain within the domain of the immediate. The trip to the airport has the flare of a departure away from the confines of the routine, the familiar and the controllable.
We never look back to the departing taxi cab as it pulls into the street, having deposited us at our requested destination. The expensive and weary routine has been completed. Whether en route to an airport or twenty blocks home from work, the departure from the rear seat, from the interplay of questions and answers, results in a ever-hopeful forward glance to the journey ahead.