MUGGING, THRIFT AND URBAN ALTRUISM

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Here’s a riddle: how did I get mugged, overhear a TV executive get fired by cell phone and get called the best person in all Manhattan by a Holocaust survivor?
Answer: by making split-second decisions to share taxis. The following is a partial memoir of an unrepentant sharer—who saves nearly a hundred dollars a month.

If there’s a moral to my memoir, it’s never ride with people who invite themselves, no matter how sweet or innocent they seem or how much you long to save another six bucks. Share your cabs with guests of your own choosing.

First: the mugging. It’s raining and miserably cold as I run across West End Avenue to grab a cab. A schlumpy guy in a blue shirt and no umbrella asks me, “Please can I get a ride?” Raindrops blur his thick eyeglasses. He says he’d locked his keys and wallet inside his car by mistake. He’s desperate to go to Port Authority in order to get home to New Jersey and pick up a second set of keys before the police tow his car.

Inside the cab, I volunteer to give him an extra five bucks to go on to Port Authority after I get exit our cab. I notice his teeth are really icky. He worries aloud about buying a bus ticket to New Jersey, so I volunteer to go to an ATM machine and lend him money. He politely thanks me and asks for my address in order to pay me back.

We leave the cab at the Time Warner building where luckily, the ATM machine is in the middle of a very busy lobby. While I count my $40, he grabs the money savagely and runs. I’m not surprised when the next day there’s no $40 waiting for me in my lobby. I am, upset, however, to read in the Daily News that a guy wearing a blue shirt had punched a minister to steal a few coins. The church was a couple steps from where I’d picked up my schlumpy mugger.

It took one more mishap to teach me the lesson. Two weeks ago, I hop into a cab on my way to a benefit dinner for Ben Stiller. A good-looking young guy in a crewneck over a white T-shirt leans in. He’s late and wants to share my cab. As I drop him off he announces he has no cash.

Cut to yesterday: an older man with a foreign accent steps on and then off a bus and asks uncertainly where we are.

“Can I take you anyplace?” I ask, pausing before stepping into a cab.

“I didn’t know there were people like you left in New York,” he says.

I soon learn he’d escaped from Nazi Germany and is proud to be an American, because Hitler had come to power in a time of economic crisis, but we do things so differently here. Then, to my dismay, he pays the entire fare, even after I try to push the money back into his hand. I watch him disappear on Madison Avenue, rather enchanted.

Then and there I induced the first principle of cab sharing: I do the inviting from now on—and I will refuse to allow anyone who invites himself to share my ride.
Wish me luck.

Author and journalist Susan Braudy’s email address is susanbraudy@att.net

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