The VigilanceVoice

Thursday-- March 14, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 184

Cab Flag Mystery Solved
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, Mar. 14--Anyone reading my stories on a daily basis knows I have a big issue with the sudden disappearance of cab flags.   I've gone so far as to imagine a massive plot to remove them from the fleet of nearly 12,000 Yellow Cabs driven by an army of over 40,000 drivers and replace them on fruit stands.

        It just seemed incredible that one day every single cab flag was gone!   I was sure there was some nefarious force behind their absence, some sinister plot to denude patriotism atop a Yellow Cab.
        The mystery has been solved.
        That is, if you accept the answer I got the other night from an Icelandic cab driver who kept missing the exit signs and took my wife and I on a long, unnecessary ride.
         We had been down at Ground Zero taking pictures of the Shafts of Vigilance, those two memorial columns of lights spearing up near Ground Zero as a symbol of the six-month anniversary of the Terrorist attack on September 11.
         We had walked around the tip of Manhattan.  It was cold and I had only a light jacket.   I took over 160 pictures with my digital camera attempting to get the "perfect one" to represent my feelings about the Sentinels of Vigilance--the "souls" of those who died on the Second Tuesday of September who, according to my viewpoint, stand as guardians against the Fear, Intimidation and Complacency of Terrorism.
         We ended up in Battery Park City.   I had my wife lying on the cold concrete taking a picture of me saluting, with the beams of light shooting up between two buildings and an American Flag cutting through the background.   Then I took one of her.
          It was well over three hours we had been out, walking and shooting and feeling the reverence of the evening, and the presence of the memories that have rocked America's sense of peace and security.
         To reach Battery Park City one must traverse unknown paths, at least for us who are East Village people.   To wend our way back and get to the subway meant we would have to backtrack, and the thought of spending another hour in the cold didn't appeal to me or to her.    So, we splurged and hailed a cab, one of the few in the area in which we ended up.
        Of course, the cab didn't have a flag on it.  None seem to these days.
        We crawled inside the warm cab womb and told the driver to take us to Avenue "A" and 2nd Street, where we planned to stop by our daughter's apartment before heading home to our apartment on 7th Street, just a few blocks away.   I suggested the driver take the FDR, a loop on the perimeter of the island, and exit at Houston Street.    Normally, it would have taken about ten minutes.   But then I began to ask questions--flag questions.
        "So, how come all the cabs stopped flying flags all of a sudden," I asked.
        "I have three flags in the cab," the driver quickly answered in an accent I couldn't pin down.   "See!"
        He flicked on the interior light and waved his hand at the flags on the dashboard and draped over the passenger visor.   "I have many flags!"
       "Yes, I can see," I said, shoving my face between the hole in the bullet-proof plastic separating the driver from passengers with knives and guns and an intent to relieve the driver of his worldly possessions.
       "At home I have a very large American Flag."
       "That's nice," I replied, more interested in why all the cabs removed their flags at seemingly the same time, suggesting a plot, or a concerted pact that no longer did a cab need to symbolize its driver's outward patriotic bent. 
       "I just wondered why, all of a sudden, you don't see any flags flying on the outside of cabs, off the antenna, or stuck out the widow, or from the bumpers as you used to," I queried.  "What happened?  Did the cab company tell you to remove them?"
       "Oh, no," he all too quickly said.   "They wore out."
       "Wore out?"
      "Yes.   And the other drivers didn't buy a new one.   They are expensive, you know?"
      I smiled, trying to not sound aggressively disbelieving.
      "You mean all the flags wore out at the same time?"
      "Yes," he said matter-of-factly.  "But you can see--" he waved his right hand at the flag on the dashboard--"this is the old one.  I keep it here.  It is worn.  You can see!"
      He flicked on the interior light, washing the cab with a bright yellowish glow.   The flag was faded and had some tattering, but appeared good for another 50,000 or so miles to me.
      "I have three flags in the cab," he repeated, reinforcing that he was a promoter not a detractor of American apple pie and Rockwellian fervor.   "And, I have a large one at home on our wall.  It is our family flag."
       My wife grabbed my arm.  We were shooting up the FDR, approaching 34th Street, more than thirty blocks above our exit which the driver had missed explaining to me the number of flags he had.
       "You missed the exit," I said. 
       "I am sorry," he said, wheeling off the expressway.   We started to backtrack, wending our way down the congested streets.
       "I will turn off the meter," he said. "I am sorry."
      "Where are you from," I asked.  
      "Iceland," he said.
      "How long have you been here?"
      "Ten years.   I love America.  I keep my flags to remind me I love America," he reinforced.
      My wife tugged at my shoulder.  "Don't talk any more," she said, obviously concerned the driver might get in an accident or miss a turn attempting to underscore his patriotic nature.
      "You can just pay me whatever you want," he said pulling up to the corner.  I am sorry."
      We paid him the meter fare plus I added a few dollars for a nice tip.  "Would you do me a favor," I asked.
      "What is that," he replied.
      "Buy a new flag and fly it on your cab...just for me!"
      He looked at me quizzically.  "But I have three of them in the cab, sir.  And a large one at home on the wall."
      "Never mind," I said as we got out.  "Have a great day!"
      We watched the Yellow Cab drive away from the curb.   It was flagless on the outside, but I knew there were three flags inside, and one at his home.  I decided I'd forget about the cabs with no flags--at least, for the moment.

 Go To Mar. 13--Eternal Eye Of Vigilance

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