"Oh look, there's a kitten juggling a human head!"
That's one of the things I blurted out in a fruitless effort to distract cab driver Fred Amoafo, just named New York's safest cabbie by the city Taxi and Limousine Commission. He was driving me from Soho, near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, to Brooklyn at the tail end of Thursday's evening rush hour.
"He can juggle all he wants," Amoafo said about the imaginary kitten as traffic piled up on Canal Street. "I'm OK. If you take your eyes off the street for more than one second, something bad can really happen."
Amoafo qualified for the award by carrying more than 50,000 passengers over five years without racking up a traffic violation or injuring someone in an accident. He was number one out of the 295 livery and cab drivers who made the TLC's 2014 honor roll.
"Over there, an alien spaceship!" I tried again. He didn't blink.
Amoafo, a Ghanaian immigrant who lives in Queens and has been driving a yellow cab for 19 years, said focus behind the wheel is the key to driver safety, as is backing off when other drivers get aggressive.
"You try to avoid trouble," he noted while cruising at a moderate speed in the middle lane of the Manhattan Bridge. "If another driver comes around and tries to cut in front of me, all I have to do is slow down and let him have his way." Then he added almost philosophically: "We all get to the same place in the end."
But what about customers who hop in his cab and tell him to floor it? "That can be hectic," he said. "You have to make sure you don't exceed the speed limit and watch your side mirrors when changing lanes."
And if that customer keeps urging him to take chances? "You pay him no mind without being rude."
Amoafo says he's driven crazy by cyclists who ride against traffic in Manhattan. "They don't obey the bike lanes and the don't obey the street rules either." But he gave a shout out to bike messengers, who he said "have control in what they're doing."
Amoafo's record was slightly blemished last October when he was ticketed in Midtown for making an illegal turn from an outside lane – a charge he's fighting with the help of a lawyer. "It's a pending situation right now so I can't comment on that," he said.
"Wait, is that Bigfoot over there?"
That was my last attempt to make New York's safest cabbie swerve. "I didn't see that," he said, while serenely avoiding a bus that was encroaching on his lane.
TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg said Amoafo and the other drivers on the honor roll will be recognized at a ceremony at Borough of Manhattan Community College on Sept. 8. They'll also receive a certificate they can mount in the back of their cabs. And if that results in bigger tips, that's fine with Fromberg.