8 Million Stories: The Rookie Retcher

Written by Kimberly Lightbody on . Posted in 8 Million Stories, Posts.

WHEN I ARRIVED at college freshman year, I sold myself as a New Yorker. I say "sold" because I’m not really a New Yorker, or at least I wasn’t at the time. I grew up in the suburbs, about 35 minutes from Grand Central. But since I’d spent more time in Manhattan than the other freshmen in my dorm, I believed I was more experienced and more New York than they were.

Being 17, though, I had no knowledge of New York nightlife, and neither did any of the other freshmen.Which is how, on our first night together, we got duped into going to a nightclub in the Meatpacking District by a fast-talking club promoter who promised us a "bumpin’ scene" and an endless supply of booze.

It was a scam. No one else was in the club, and the bottles of Grey Goose on the table had obviously been emptied and filled with cheap, watered-down vodka. We downed as much as we could, trying to drown out the lameness of our first night of college-level partying, and left with the feeling that we still had lots to learn about going out in New York.

We had no idea where we were, so we took a taxi. And that’s when it happened: My new roommate puked. In the cab.

Luckily, she had both a window seat and good aim—almost none of it got into the car. But the cabbie still threw a fit, pulled over and tried to kick us out.We squawked at him until he begrudgingly agreed to drive us back to our dorm.

I thought of it as a rookie mistake.

My roommate was from Atlanta, and just needed some training in city-style going out—that is, the practice of taking sometimes-shaky cabs home after consuming copious amounts of alcohol. We assured her that it was OK, that "everyone has bad nights" and that we didn’t think any less of her. Privately, I deemed her an amateur.

Three years later, I no longer live in a dorm. And I’ve learned quite a bit about going out in the city—I have my own favorite bars, I know where the best happy hours are in my neighborhood and I know where I can get my preferred beer on tap. Suffice it to say, I don’t listen to sketchy club promoters and I don’t pay top dollar for watereddown vodka.

So I was pretty disappointed in myself when, not so long ago, I puked in a cab.

I was on my way home from a night of heavy drinking.The location and the drink of choice had improved substantially since freshman year:We went to a busy, not-too-trendy bar on the West Side and were drinking gin and tonics. Maybe it was the gin, or maybe it was the multiple shots of god-knows-what-else, but by about three in the morning I realized that I was egregiously drunk and needed to go home. So I grabbed my stuff and stumbled out to hail a cab.

That was my fatal mistake. I puked all over myself and the backseat—my aim wasn’t quite as good as that roommate’s.

The cabbie tried to kick me out, but I begged him to take me home—it was the middle of the night, I was alone and I had vomit running down the front of my jacket. I really needed a ride. So after I promised to pay him extra to get the car cleaned, he took me home. I awoke the next morning with a splitting headache and a pile of clothes in the corner of my room, from which a most unpleasant smell was emanating.

I spent the day feeling sorry for myself in bed.Three years of living in New York, and I was just as much of an amateur as my freshman-year roommate from Atlanta. Shameful.

But as word got out about my faux pas—thanks to my friend, who thought it was too hilarious a story to keep to herself—I realized that I wasn’t alone. Everyone, it seemed, had either puked in a cab or knew someone else who had done so. It was as common and as New York as eating from a halal cart at 3 a.m. or falling asleep on the subway and waking up in Coney Island at the crack of dawn. If you go out drinking in New York enough times, you’re bound to have some sort of experience involving cabs and vomit.

My friends from Denmark thought I was an idiot. Because puking in a cab in Copenhagen automatically lands you a $100 fine, my friend Jacob claimed that he had trained himself not to do so, and scoffed at my drunken blunder.

But what’s taboo in other cities is a rite of passage here in New York. I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, but I’ve puked in a yellow taxi cab.

If you ask me, that blurry night was the night that I officially became a real New Yorker.