Streams

The UN General Assembly Seen though the Eyes of one City Cabbie

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Abdul Quyyam has been driving a taxi for more than 11 years. He's got the endurance thing down. But mention the United Nations General Assembly and he shudders. Quyyam allowed me to ride along with him on Thursday to see first hand what it's like to navigate Manhattan while the U.N. is in session.

"Manhattan is only thirteen miles long and sharing that space there are already 15,000 taxis, a couple of thousand livery cars, buses and trucks." He's prone to complaining about the traffic that's synonomous with the U.N convening here. But it's not draining to hear him go on about it. He's gentle, almost playful in his approach.

I was surpised when he agreed to do a "ride-around," allowing me to travel in the front seat of the cab with him as he was working his shift.

As we pick up the first fare on 6th Avenue and Spring, I realize its because he wants to share what he sees -- first hand.

We drop the passenger off on 23rd street, on the equator of the zone he loathes venturing into when all those heads of state, motorcades, barricades and, of course, street closures are gumming up the works. He would be pleased if he could avoid 23rd to 57th street on the East Side. As we crawl closer to Midtown, I begin to see what he's talking about.

I propose we try to see how close we can get to the Waldforf Astoria, where President Obama is due to arrive before he attends an evening shin-dig at the Museum of Natural History.

He guides his taxi to 3rd avenue, one of the only choices on the East Side, traveling uptown.

At 4:20 PM we're on 3rd Avenue and 33rd. 20 minutes later, the yellow Crown Victoria has only climbed 3 blocks.

He starts to joke again -- "You see, you see?"

He suggests another route. As he navigates the ride, I snap pictures out the window. Pretty soon we're at the Waldorf. No sign of the President yet. Instead there are police manning their posts, more barricades, and, at a safe distance -- onlookers waiting to sneak a peek of their leader.

Quyyam thinks the last couple meetings of the U.N. in the city have been more of a traffic headache, in part because of the new bus and bike lanes. He says they don't help unclog the city one bit.

In the last two weeks, he's also noticed about seven new 'No Left Turn' signs.

One of them is on 23rd Street, heading east, where drivers can no longer make a left onto First Avenue.

Quyyam says his fellow cabbies often share tips like the apperance of the new signs when grabbing lunch, a tea, or some gas. Even though the money is still OK on high traffic days because of the waiting time charge added on the meter, Quyyam says some of the drivers admit they stay home when the U.N is in session. He says if you can afford to avoid the stress, you do.

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