To the man who upstreamed us in Queens a few nights ago:
I apologize that my fiance called you a “piece of shit asshole” when a cab pulled up to you before us, but let me explain. You see, despite your insistence that you wouldn’t/shouldn’t be paying attention to us, I must insist that in the future, you become more aware of those around you, especially when catching a cab.
Catching a cab in New York City is an art, and I could tell by your form that you were unpracticed and possibly new. You held your arm out for cabs that didn’t have their lights on, a telltale sign of a newbie. That’s ok. Everyone is new to hailing cabs at some point, but really, you should learn the rules before you attempt such a brazen move as an upstream.
Nathan W. Pyle of the popular NYC Basic Tips & Etiquette gif series puts the practice thusly:
However, I would argue that upstreaming someone for a cab–which, by walking to the corner ahead of us after we had been standing there attempting to hail a cab for about 10 minutes, you most certainly did–is more than just a “cheap way to win.” It is a cheap way to live. It means you assert yourself as more important than your neighbors and community. It is why New Yorkers hate gentrification so much: you’re saying you’re here, but you don’t care.
I’m sorry if this comes off as too serious, but I have a long and uncomfortable relationship to upstreaming. Sometimes, as a child, I’d be late getting out the door for school, ensuring that a ride on the M15 bus would make me late. So, not wanting me to get to school late, or to hail a cab by myself, my parents would put me in a cab to school. They both lived at busy intersections, and it was often a time of morning when lots of other people would be late for work/school if they did not catch a cab. But that did not seem to bother my dad; getting his only child to school on time was important. So he’d walk against traffic, getting ahead of those who had been waiting longer, and as I’d pass them by again from the comfort of the backseat of a Crown Victoria I’d slink down in shame, knowing that the only reason I was there and they were not was because I decided to take their civility for granted.
But back to you.
There are a few other circumstances that made your move so frustrating. Firstly, we were in Queens, and though that corner was probably the best bet for cabs in the area, it’s hardly a hot spot. Secondly, it looks like you were coming off of work at a film shoot that was taking place, given that you were saying goodbye to a lot of people still inside the giant trailers parked everywhere. This city already has a tenuous relationship with film crews, who often block our streets and sidewalks and tell us where we can and cannot walk, and you’re doing nothing to help their reputation with your behavior.
So what should you have done?
Firstly, you should have looked around. You should have paid attention to us. We were at the opposite corner from you, clearly waiting for a cab to come in the same direction. Once you noticed us you should have either walked to a different block to try your luck there, or come over and waited behind us. Yes, I know it was late at night and yes, I know you were “just trying to get home like everyone else,” but “everyone else” includes us, who were waiting to get home before you.
Being a New Yorker (though, I’m presuming, a new one) you may be thinking “why should I care? New Yorkers are rude people, so I have the right to be rude! Plus, that guy just called me an asshole!” It’s true, New Yorkers have a certain–and in my opinion, false–reputation for being rude. But these rude outbursts are not just for the sake of being mean to strangers. Any time a New Yorker yells at you, it is punishment for disrupting the balance of the city, a place where the needs of millions must be sorted out in an incredibly confined space. In order for everyone not to go nuts, we’ve developed a dance. You keep to the right of stairwells, and don’t stop in the middle of moving traffic (yes, sidewalks count as moving traffic). You define your space on the subway in order to maximize your comfort, yet not encroach on the personal space of those around you. You’re constantly balancing your needs versus the needs of others, putting yourself first when it counts, and taking one for the team when someone else needs it. The whole idea is the foundation of good etiquette.
So, when my fiance yelled at you, it was not because he likes yelling, but because you were disrupting the balance and must learn, lest you spend the rest of your life pissing off every New Yorker you come in contact with. If we had the time to have a full conversation we would have, but let’s face it, we were all trying to get home. Yes, there are some who are rude for no reason, but you’ll find those people across the globe. Perhaps you were shocked that he would call you out, but really, consider it a favor. Hopefully, you’ll remember this the next time you attempt to grab a cab from someone who has been patiently waiting for longer than you have.
There may come a day where you legitimately need to upstream someone. One day your wife may be in labor, or you’re late for a job interview at a cutthroat firm, where being one minute late would guarantee that you’d lose the opportunity. Go forth and upstream then, knowing that it’s necessary. But if it’s a Wednesday night at 11 pm and you see two tired and slightly cold people waiting on a corner, leaning into the road to look for cabs, I implore you to cross the street and wait behind them.