The New York cab driver pulled a urine-soaked business card out of the pocket of his grubby grey sweat pants and pressed it into our unwilling hands, passing it over the seat-back.
“Anytime you want a personal tour of New York, I’m the one to call” he declared, fixing us with a blearily affectionate glance in his rear view mirror.
“Any friends of yours are friends of mine” he burbled, burping fondly, “I’ll show them all the sights and sounds of this great city, which I love, but has been so cruel.” We nodded, whether in exhaustion, or agreement, we didn’t make clear, and we didn’t want to, we hadn’t the least intention of distracting him further from keeping his eyes on the road through a catastrophic ice storm which had left us stranded at JFK airport.
“There are no parts of the city closed to me, oh no, none. I know all the gay scene bars, all the clubs” he dribbled. He had probably spent all afternoon in a bar before picking us up at JFK, one of the few remaining drivers on the road in the ice storm. We didn’t think he had noticed the weather.
“Gotta get to Newark Airport? No problem, I know all the back ways, we’ll go straight there through Manhattan” and off we skated down the nearly deserted highways. Everyone else judged it far too dangerous to be out in this, but we were desperate to catch our flight to North Carolina, for our business meeting next day. Arranged at short notice once we knew JFK was closing, we were fairly sure it would fly out of Newark next morning; we just had to get there.
“I run a special service for the transvestite traveller” he confided, shortly into the journey. Irish John and I listened, transfixed with terror as the car slid sideways down an exit ramp, narrowly missing tumbling over the edge. “Being a transvestite myself, I know what the guys like to see . . .”
“And what would that be?” John, garrulous as a caricature Irishman, could not resist joining the conversation. Bad move.
After three hours in the taxi, enclosed in our fug of heated taxi-air, the urine concentration in the steam reaching gagging point, we were so well informed about the gay scene in Manhattan, we could have guided the tour ourselves, and we knew everything there is to know about the troubles of transvestite working life in a “normal” job. It is impossible to get nylons that fit the masculine outline and a lot of nail bars won’t give a man a manicure – no wonder many transvestites end up in the sex trade, normal life just isn’t easy on them. Abe’s life was made no easier by his alcoholism, age and growing incontinence, all of which he shared with us. The fascinating details had been imparted to us surreally alongside the drama unfolding outside on the highway: accidents everywhere, cars unable to brake, sliding around on the elevated highways, glissading into lorries or headlong into other cars; people standing waiting for rescue; cars out of fuel with their occupants at risk of freezing. Everything covered in a shining case of ice, gluing car boots shut, making it impossible to move; happening in a slow motion dream, no traction to get up speed. Abe locked the doors of the cab, trapping us inside, and refused to stop to help, focused on his mission of delivery.
“Not far now” Abe the optimist bleated, inching carefully along a polished stretch of road by a rail siding, engines frozen to the tracks. “You’ll make your meeting tomorrow, you’ll see”.
Skewing sideways and recovering we lurched into the hotel parking lot. What do you tip your transvestite incontinent best friend and rescuer? There are no rules, so we gave him $100 for the fare and another $100 for the story.
The hotel reception - still open at 2am - welcomed us, and saw us on our way again 2 hours later to Newark Airport to catch our flight. In our business meeting, John regaled the group with the story of Abe, our Transvestite in a Taxi, and received a stony silence; one of the senior management had just had a sex change and the whole group were sensitive about jokes on male nail-varnish difficulties.
I still have Abe’s business card, and it still smells.
We didn’t get the business.