• U.S.

American Notes: Comforts of Crisis

2 minute read

The rail strike was only a part of New Yorkers’ troubles last week. For out-of-town visitors, for the aged and for expectant mothers in their ninth month, there was the additional labor pain of a taxi strike. It seemed that the complex urban understanding was going through another periodic fit, obeying the logic of a self-destroying machine by Sculptor Jean Tinguely. Titled, perhaps, Immobility.

But many of the 800,000 New Yorkers who daily travel by cab were like ex-smokers who find that they can savor food again. Among other things, they rediscovered the unfamiliar art of walking. Those who drove their own cars found that without 12,000 taxis, the streets were almost unnaturally serene and clear. Air pollution seemed to diminish somewhat, along with the noise of horns and the city’s general apoplexy. Taxi users welcomed a respite from cabbies’ customary harangues. Mainly, there was that remote, subversive inkling that occurs only when routine is abruptly broken: “Maybe we don’t really have to live like this.”

As in the 1965 blackout, civility increased in crisis. Thus natives took the time to direct visitors through the Minoan maze of the subway system. But probably nothing matched the extravagant politesse of Michael H. Thomas, the president of Cartier on Fifth Avenue, who offered his Mercedes 300 limousine as a plutocratic jitney. Said he in a New York Times ad: “If the absence of taxi service should keep you from selecting your diamonds at Cartier, I will be happy to send my personal car to bring you to our door.”

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