Political Joyride



Neighborhood: Lower Manhattan

Political Joyride
Photo by Petyo Ivanov

We bounded out the exit of the Municipal Building like two cowboys pushing through saloon doors. Kurt set the pace as he trotted to the VIP parking lot, where six black Lincoln Town Cars belonging to elected officials and agency commissioners rested during the dignitaries’ brief visits to their offices upstairs. He reached one of the cars and popped open the driver’s door. I reached for the back door.

“Oh, no you don’t,” he said to me over the car’s shiny black roof. “This ain’t ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’ You’re sittin’ up front.”

I got into the suicide seat beside him. The security guard waved us through the gate and onto the city’s streets. Kurt turned north and gassed it until we were slowed by the midday traffic. He turned to me with a mischievous smile on his face. “I think this calls for the siren,” he said.

“Is that really necessary?” I asked.

“Who said anything about necessary?” Kurt sometimes talked like a character from a movie. We were no longer cowboys but some epic pairing of Charles Bronson and Dirty Harry, the greatest crime-fighting duo the city had ever seen. He hit a switch and the siren wailed. The traffic parted like the Red Sea and our car hurtled through at double the speed limit and double the fun. My body was pressed into the seat by the acceleration.

It was the summer of 2001. We both worked as aides to Mark Green, a candidate in that year’s New York City mayoral campaign. Kurt was Mark Green’s driver. Or Mark’s gay driver, as he liked to introduce himself. This was not to distinguish him from Mark’s straight driver; Mark had only one driver. Kurt just thought it was a funny but honest way to introduce himself to everyone from members of Congress to newly-hired interns. “Hi, I’m Mark’s gay driver.” It had a way of breaking the ice.

We took a screeching right onto Canal Street, passing car after car that our siren had blasted to the curb. We flew past two cop cars heading the opposite direction. I covered my face with my hands. What if we get caught? If we get pulled over by the cops, this will certainly become a news story. It’ll be the worst kind of embarrassment for Mark, an example of just the kind of abuse of power that he fights against. And worst of all, I’d lose my job.

I peeked through my fingers at the two officers in a squad car that was stopped at a red light. They weren’t even paying attention to us. They looked over when they heard our siren, then, seeing the black Lincoln, continued on with their conversation, unfazed at the sight of us barreling down a busy street.

And why would they care? These cars wouldn’t be equipped with sirens if we weren’t authorized to use them. And how were they to know that the occupants of a government-issued vehicle were two low-level city government workers taking advantage of one of the few perks their jobs provided. We just as easily could have been the police commissioner. Officers’ fear of pulling over their boss meant that the city’s traffic rules did not apply to us. So I began to relax, enjoying being above the law.

Kurt continued his Mario Andretti impersonation as he headed into the East Village. He turned right onto Second Street, driving the wrong way on a one-way street. I gripped the door handle and braced my feet against the floorboard, panicked.

“Kurt!” I pointed to the One-Way sign.

He waved me off with his right hand as he dodged potholes with his left. “That’s what the siren is for.”

At the next corner, he skidded to a stop in front of a brick tenement building that appeared to have been a church.

“This is the place,” he said. “You wait here. I’ll be right back.” He walked over to a metal door and pushed the buzzer. I heard a woman’s voice answer.

“Yeah, I’m from Mark Green’s office,” Kurt said into the speaker. He waited. A minute later the door opened, a manila envelope was thrust into his hands, and the door slammed shut. Oh, shit, my middle-class suburban alter-ego said inside my head. What am I witnessing here? Is Mark corrupt? Why else would we need to pick up something from someone hiding behind a metal door? And what is it? Drugs? Money? Drug money?

Kurt slipped back into the driver’s seat, opened the envelope, and slowly pulled out its contents. I watched intently. And then I saw it. It was Mark Green’s face staring back at me.

“Headshots?” I yelled. We did all that for headshots? We broke traffic laws and risked life and property for black-and-white photographs of our candidate?

“He’s gotta lot of teeth, doesn’t he?” Kurt ignored my question. “I think he has more teeth than most people. They’re bigger, too. That’s some shit-eating grin.”

I had no idea what we were going to do when Kurt stopped by my cubicle in the public advocate’s office and asked if I was busy. I said no, and he asked if I wanted to come along while he ran an errand in Mark’s car. That was all I knew and that would be my defense under interrogation by the FBI’s public corruption unit.

Kurt tossed the envelope onto the back seat and turned onto Avenue A, this time going in the right direction.

“You know who took those photos?” he asked. He then answered his own question. “Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. He’s a famous fashion photographer or something. That was his studio back there.”

That made it even worse, our racing through the city streets to get to a famous fashion photographer’s studio. The New York Post, the sensational Rupert Murdoch-owned daily, would have a field day if it found out about this. The conservative Post desperately wanted to prevent Mark, whom the paper viewed as a pinko commie, from becoming the city’s next mayor. Breaking the story of such a scandal would certainly help their cause.

“Well,” Kurt said, “what do you want to do now? Should we keep driving around or go back to the office? I’ve got another 45 minutes before I have to pick up Mark.”

I thought about my choice for a moment.

“Let’s keep driving,” I said. What the hell. We were above the law, and this certainly beat work.

Sam Roseme’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, Reader’s Digest, New York Law Journal and the mystery anthology Pulp Empire, Volume 2. He recently wrote a book about his experience in New York City politics.

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