Wisdom From Mohammad

Courtesy Grist

I learned an important lesson from Mohammad. No, really. In the early 1990s I and several other engineers represented our company once again to the Audio Engineering Society Convention at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. We had a blast. I was the first to arrive, touching down at Newark and taking a bus in to the City and the Port Authority Building on 8th in Midtown Manhattan. I stepped out of the Port Authority and into the hustle and bustle of the curb and hailed a cab. That is where I first met Mohammad (his real name - I checked his shield). Mo, an Indian cab driver in a turban, picked me up in his yellow cab and delivered me to the Marriot on Lexington in the Upper East side. He didn’t talk much, but Mo got me there quickly and efficiently, whipping in and out of traffic and plying the horn with gusto.

The next day a group of four of us had an appointment at Howard Schwartz Recording (RIP) in the Graybar Building down by the Chrysler Building in Midtown. We stepped out the front doors of the Marriot at peak business time (early afternoon) and hailed a cab. Of all the cabbies in all of Manhattan, who should stop to pick us up but Mohammad again? Yes, the very same Mo. My three colleagues piled into the back and I sat next to Mo. We told him our destination and he began threading the needle in the sea of yellow cabs and beat-up NY cars to get us back down to Midtown, skillfully doing the “New York Yellow Ballet,” consisting of honking the horn, shifting the cab a foot, and gently easing in on someone's space. You know, honk, shift, encroach. Of course, at the peak of business hours, NY traffic almost doesn’t move, it is more like the barely noticeable Brownian motion of particles in a liquid. The only thing that was moving was the cab's meter. I got to watch it spin while the tires didn't. Between the heat of a sunny October afternoon, the simmering tarmac, the black cab interior, and the hundreds of cars, the cab was stifling, even with all the windows open. "Hot town, summer in the city..." At one point in the symphony of horns, curses, tiny movements, bicyclists zipping between cars, whacking them with newspapers and hooting to be seen, and red lights, Mo cut off the wrong guy. Now, everyone cuts everyone off in Manhattan and every car in Manhattan seems to bear the scars to prove it. Yes, there are beat up, brand new Mercedes CLS-class luxury sedans.

This guy had to be an out-of-town New Guy because he was driving the only shiny car in Manhattan. After he was cut off, which probably only lost him ten nanoseconds of wait in the yellow parking lot of Park Avenue, he slowly worked his way up to the right-hand side of Mo’s cab, about six inches away from where I sat. Leaning out his window and into mine, he unleashed a tirade at Mo, working himself up as he went. “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, CUTTING ME OFF?!?” Mo slinks down in his seat, sucks his head down into his shoulders like a turtle, puts on a look of abject servitude, and whispers, “I am nobody.” New Guy takes it up a notch, his face turns crimson, foam collects in the corners of his mouth, his hot breath hits my right cheek, and a cascade of saliva droplets glistens across in the sun before me. By now, Mo has shrunk down so his last hair is even with the top of the steering wheel, not making eye contact and replying in a sotto voice so New Guy can’t possibly hear him. New rises towards a crescendo:

Mo: “Yes I am stupid.”
New gets louder: “ARE YOU XXXXXXX STUPID?!?”
Mo: “Yes, I am stupid.”
Mo, now quiet as a mouse: “You don’t like it? Don’t come to New York.”

And there you have it: “You don’t like it? Don’t come to New York.” Why blow your brains out every time a New York moment happens, when you are clearly... in New York. You see, New York… happens. This principle is applicable in so many realms. So relax and enjoy life a little more with a gem of wisdom... directly from Mohammad.