I took a taxi to the peace rally. My driver was a Puerto Rican guy playing loud salsa music. There was no partition. Some post cards were taped to his dash. He sat in the driver’s seat with pride of ownership. It was his cab, I was his guest. He had the window down and an elbow out the window, a baseball cap on, eyes that were both sleepy and animated, and when I asked him to go to 40th street and Eighth Avenue he shot me a look in the rear view mirror.
“Boy, they really doing something!” he said, after we started moving.
“What do you mean?”
“De Army. You know how those tanks were driving on sand yesterday? In the desert? Today they’re on roads! Like this one!”
We were moving up Eighth Avenue.
“They’re moving pretty fast,” I said.
“Oh, they doing great!” There was a pause. “I got two sons over there,” he said.
“Yeah! One in the Army. One in the Air Force.” He pointed down towards the ground for one, up to the sky for the other.
“One is thirty two, one is thirty.”
“Have you been in touch with them?” I asked.
“Oh, not this week, but they’re fine. I’m proud.”
“Not at all?”
“Oh you know…” and here he took his hands off the wheel and mimicked typing. “We used to say hello, you know, on the computer.” He held the wheel for a moment and then, as if to demonstrate, went back to imaginary typing in the air with both hands while he said, “Hello, how are you? How is everything? Good! Good!”
I told him that I hoped his sons would be all right. The next minute or two was a real life version of a very strange note I recently wrote to an anonymous Marine. I used an online Dear Abby service. I told the anonymous and random recipient of my note that I hoped they were in good shape. I said I hoped that they came home safely. Then I said a line or two about the misguided nature of the war, how we got into it, the money angle, etc.
Then, feeling the need to make reading the note something other than a bummer for whomever was reading it, I rather incongruously ended with an expression of support and said I hope that they “kick ass.” I’m afraid I did, in fact, say this. I confess. I got caught up in the moment.
It was a strange note all around. I was going to this march to express my right to send anonymous emails to anonymous Marines which contain conflicting themes.
The salsa loving father of two fighters was guiding me up Eighth Avenue. Traffic was light. The march was to my right, on Broadway. Port Authority was to my left. What side of the street I told him to drop me off on would inform the tenor of our good-bye.
“What side you want?” he said.
I did not feel like getting into it with a feisty Medallion owner with two sons in Iraq who he was no longer emailing.
“Up here on the left,” I said. He pulled up in front of Port Authority. But I think he knew.
Still, we had a warm good-bye. I wished him luck, his sons luck, he wished me luck. I gave him a good tip. We had one last round when I was standing on the street, his head poking out the window. “Good bye and good luck!” we said to each other, like the line from the Grace Paley story.
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Noon on Broadway and 40th Street. There were a lot of discussions as we waited to get moving. There was an intensity in the air, but it was sunny, and people were in a good mood. Although there were a million cameras, my sense of it was that the desire to document was slightly less manic that the February 15th March. The air was full of signs, chants, conversation.
Washington Place, where the march turned. Broadway to the South is empty.
These three girls were sitting down when a man walked by and said, rather loudly, “That takes balls!” They all looked at each and one of them said, “What takes balls?” She made a face, and they all laughed.
A hip hop troupe was working the crowd in the middle of the empty fountain, and in the afternoon sunlight the park seemed, for a moment, to be an exceptionally crowded version of its normal summer self, complete with pot dealers murmuring, “wassup?”
The police had a truck stationed at the corner of Washington Square Park running a taped announcement. The voice, with a solid cop accent, said, “The March is over. Please clear the area so that others can arrive where you are now.” This repeated again and again, with a few seconds in between. A woman in front of me, speaking with an accent every bit as New York Cop as he one on the tape, said, very loudly and deliberately: “The March is over! The war is not over!”
She was then countered by the recorded message. The moment had a John Henry versus the Steam Engine quality to it, and it resonated–individual voices speaking out against a machine.