My shift had gone by uneventfully until my last fare got into the taxicab at the Hilton Hotel on Sixth Avenue. She was an attractive brunette in her early thirties, dressed in elegant evening wear. In contrast to her stately appearance though, she was laughing so hard her body shook. She plopped into the back seat of the cab and slammed the door.
I eyed her in the rear view mirror. "Where to?"
"I'm sorry," the woman said through a giggle. "The Waldorf Astoria."
I started the meter and pulled back into traffic. The woman giggled again, put her hand to her mouth and shook her head. "You probably think I'm crazy," she said.
"Lady, I drive a New York City cab. As crazy goes, a woman laughing when she gets in doesn't even make the top 100."
The woman composed herself until her laughter diminished to a twitching smile. She gazed out the side window for a moment, then leaned toward me. "What would make the top 100?" she snorted. She threw herself against the back of the seat and fell into another paroxysm of helpless laughter. I rolled my eyes and darted a quick glance back at her, then returned my attention to the traffic.
The woman tried recomposing herself, but her whole upper body quivered and shook until she could no longer stand it. She burst into laughter again. She had annoyed me at first, but now my mood changed gradually to resignation and then to amusement. Her laugh was too infectious. I stifled a chortle, but in a moment we were joined in full-blown hysterical laughter. Soon we were on the verge of tears.
"If – you – don't – stop, I'm going to have to pull over," I gasped, but this only caused us to laugh harder -- me pummeling the steering wheel, she stomping her feet on the floor.
We came to an intersection and had to stop for a red light. Each of us must have thought it was time to return to normalcy; an awkward silence filled the car.
"You probably don't believe me, but I'm not drunk," the woman said finally.
"I believe you," I said.
"You going to tell me what the joke is?"
"Well, it would be rude of me not to tell you what's so funny. That is, if you really want to know."
"I AM curious."
"I'm supposed to be home in Connecticut with my two kids while my husband is receiving an award at a dinner at the Hilton. I decided to surprise him by attending."
"And there wasn't any award. He was, however, having dinner -- in the hotel restaurant with another woman."
"Oh, no! -- What did you do?"
"I walked up to the table and poured his glass of expensive wine in his lap. Then I emptied a container of Parmesan cheese on his head, and flung his entre´ against his chest."
"I did! And that's not all. Everyone was looking by then, so I announced, 'This is my husband, J. B. Edmunds. He cheats on me.' Then I walked out and hailed a cab – your cab, as it turns out."
I shook my head slowly. "I don't know that I'd find it hysterically funny, if it were me."
"I can't help it. I can't get the picture out of my head of him with pasta and tomato sauce on the front of his expensive suit and a snow cap of grated Parmesan on his head." She began to laugh again, and I couldn't help joining her.
"Wait -- you're Marilyn Edmunds?" I said, having suddenly realized I was talking with a woman whose husband was one of the richest men in the country.
"Unfortunately, I am."
I quietly reached over and turned off the meter.
"Why did you do that?"
"Mrs. Edmunds, I've already had a good night, and any wife who's gone through what you have deserves a free ride."
"Even though you know who I am and how much money I have?"
"No amount of money makes up for being cheated on -- or what's probably going to be in the morning newspaper."
She sighed. "Ah, well -- it was worth it. Anyway this life style was never for me."
"How about raising two kids on your own? Is that for you?"
"I was doing that anyway. Besides, he'll pay for it."
"I hope you see that he does."
"That's an unusual attitude. You guys usually stick together."
"Don't lump us all in the same pile."
She didn't comment, but stared silently out the window for a few moments. Finally, she said, "Are you married?"
"I was. I'm divorced."
"Do you mind my asking what happened?"
"She cheated on me."
"Yeesh. I guess we have more in common than we think."
"Seems so," I said. We'd arrived at the Waldorf. "We're here," I added.
She reached reflexively for her purse, but I wagged a forefinger at her. "Oh, right," she said. "Thanks for the free ride. Usually people who know who I am want me to pay through the nose."
I shrugged. "You know, if I didn't know it would cause you more trouble, I'd invite you for coffee or a drink. This probably isn't a time you should be alone."
She got out of the car and leaned back in through the open door. "Thanks, but you've already helped a lot," she said. "Maybe after this madness plays itself out, I'll take you up on it." She handed me a card. "Here's my cell number."
"Don't you want to know my name?"
"Just say you’re the cabbie who laughed your ass off with me in New York City. I'll remember. I promise you."
"Okay," I said, and she closed the door. I watched her disappear into the hotel.
It was almost ten PM, but I headed for my favorite coffee shop anyway.