Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pushing the Taxicab

Sunny day today. Gorgeous. The city was alive with the freshly buzzing energy of a populace finally freed from winter's cold wet hug. Riding south on the Hudson Bikeway this afternoon, just past the USS Intrepid, I saw a taxicab inching across the West Side Highway, which parallels the bikeway. Two men were very slowly pushing the full-size sedan across three southbound lanes. One was behind the car, his body at a 35-degree angle to the asphalt. The other was half inside, steering. They paused in the intersection between the north and southbound roadways, a narrow area defined by the width of the median.

I grew up in L.A., where people usually join in to help push a stalled car off the road. Maybe that's part of living in a car-centric culture. I stopped and stared at the cab's slow progress and the resulting traffic jam. The walkway was crowded with people in shorts and sunglasses soaking up the year's first fine Spring day. And no one was doing a thing to help get the cab out of traffic.

I locked my bike to a pole and walked between cars immobilized by other traffic to help them. They were happy for an extra body. They didn’t really speak English. The car was just dead; they didn’t know why. They were pushing it across the northbound lanes to the curb at the closest corner. It was heavy and slow-going. But we did it. We got that ton of machinery across three lanes of traffic within a single green. I crossed back before the light turned red and then got stuck at the median myself.

The river was also beautiful today, the sunlight glittering on its uncommonly untroubled surface. Did you know it's not a river off the coast of Manhattan? It's an estuary. It changes direction twice a day. When it's in New York City, the Hudson goes both ways.

Pushing a stalled car is not a big deal. I'm not patting myself on the back or asking for a prize. It was easy, and the sense of well-being I got from helping them far exceeds any benefit I provided. (Perhaps, to be honest, my sense of civic outrage is just as rewarding, in a less delightful way.) But I'm writing this because I was surprised no one else helped. New York, I love you but you're bringing me down.

Well, I'm not perfect either. Ask anyone.

No comments: