Monday, August 29, 2016

August 29, 2016--English Not Spoken Here

Mid-September we are planning to spend a few days in New York City.

It's a long, seven-hour drive for a brief visit so we are considering alternatives--the train (too many connections required), JetBlue (we'd have to deal with airports and long security lines), and then there is a bus from Portland to Midtown.

This so-called Concord "luxury bus" is reported to be quite comfortable, is only $138 roundtrip, and offers snacks and a movie.

I asked a friend, Ronnie, who recently took it, what kind of snacks they offered, hoping they would include popcorn because watching a movie on I-84 while munching popcorn sounds diverting. When he said they do, I said to Rona, "Let's book it."

Its New York City terminus is East 42nd Street. A short walk to the subway or a fifteen-minute taxi ride to our apartment.

"Book it," I said again. And so we did.

A few days later there was a piece in the New York Times about the ever-changing taxi situation in town.

I hadn't realized that the Taxi and Limousine Commission had already eliminated the geography test for potential drivers. This means that one can't count on his knowing where Lincoln Center is or Rockefeller Center. Forget Kings Highway and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn or the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium could also be a mystery and maybe even Nathan's Famous in Coney Island.

What a contrast with London where aspiring drivers study for literally years to memorize cover-to-cover every street and mews in the city bible, London A-Z. As remarkable as it may seem, neurologists claim that the effort not only assures riders that they will get the shortest route to Trafalgar Square, but that driver's brains are physically enlarged.

What happened to NYC cabbies' brains is another story that I won't touch.

Now, the TLC is eliminating the requirement that drivers know English. From my experience, anecdotally, I already assumed that English was not required since it is not easy to have much of a conversation with most drivers. But this move makes it official.

The lead City Council sponsor of the legislation to eliminate the English requirement, which was signed with enthusiasm by pandering mayor, Bill de Blasio, said that the English requirement was "a barrier for would-be drivers from immigrant communities who were looking for work."

Sponsors also claim, preemptively, that Uber drivers, already putting a lot of yellow cab drivers out of business, are not required to speak English.

Again anecdotally, this does not appear to be a problem because all that I have used spoke perfect English and, with or without GPSes on their smartphones, knew where they are going.

With the street smarts that still thankfully exist in the city, the Times quotes a 26 year-old cook who lives in Queens, David Hernandez, "If you're in New York, you must speak English. This is an English-speaking country."

Even for drivers who come from an amazing 167 countries, with the largest share from Bengali-speaking Bangladesh (24 percent) and Urdu-speaking Pakistan (10 percent), this still is an English-speaking country.

To help you out, if you're in town and  hail a cab and want to get to Lincoln Center and your driver is from Bangladesh, here transliterated in Bengali is "Take me to Lincoln Center"--

Āmākē inlyāṇḍēra liṅkanē tairi ēkadharanēra jhalamalē sabuja raṅēra kāpaṛa kēndra nitē

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