The taxi driver is in his 60s. He came here from India when he was 22. He has wild hair, the kind that shoots out in all directions in feathery tufts. The rearview mirror frames his bloodshot eyes as he glances toward the back seat. Just above his eyebrow is a small Band-aid.
“Look at this.” He waves his hand at a line of garbage trucks parked along the West Side Highway. “Can you believe it? They leave them there, just like that. So dirty, spreading diseases, making people sick. They’re full of trash. It’s disgusting.”
We pass an enormous construction site. “You see this?” He gestures to it. “Apartments. Five hundred thousand more people they’re going to put here. Can you believe it? Five hundred thousand more people. In this city. Crazy.”
Traffic grinds us to a halt outside a magnificent pre-war apartment building, all red brick and cornices. “You know how much people rent those apartments for?” he asks. “Eight hundred dollars, some of them. Can you believe that? Eight hundred dollars a month. So lucky.”
He drives on, hands gripping the wheel, body brimming with robust, barrel-aged resentment.
“I had a house in Brooklyn,” he says. “You know how much I sold it for? Three hundred thousand. I wanted to wait longer to sell it but my wife says, no no, we must sell, we have to pay taxes otherwise. So we sell. You know how much it sells for one year later? Nine hundred thousand. Honestly. Nine hundred thousand. Can you believe that? I would be rich now. But I listened to my wife.”
He drives on. “My wife comes to me, she says can I borrow five thousand dollars? So I give her five thousand dollars. You know what it was for? She got a letter in the mail saying she was going to win two million dollars but she has to pay five thousand first to the IRS. So she sends five thousand dollars. IRS? I told her, IRS doesn’t ask you to send money that way. Are you crazy? Five thousand dollars, gone. She’s so stupid. I told her, nothing in this country is free. You know that? Nothing in this country is free. Oh my god. Sending away five thousand dollars, just like that.”
He stares at the road ahead. “If it wasn’t for her, I would be rich. I wouldn’t still have to work like this. So stupid.”
“Nothing is for free in this country. Nothing.”