Thursday-- March 14, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 184
Cab Flag Mystery Solved
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
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
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
"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."
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."
"Yes. And the
other drivers didn't buy a new one. They are expensive,
I smiled, trying to not sound
"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 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,"
"Iceland," he said.
"How long have you been
I love America. I keep my flags to remind me I love America,"
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
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
"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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