Being in New York has jogged some memories from when i used to live here back in the early 90s. my first job upon arriving was driving tourists in a horse and carriage around Central Park at night.
This was back when New York was scary. Mayor Giuliani, to his credit, fixed all that. but back then it really was a scary place. there were no lights in Times Square for example. it was dark! only prostitutes (some clad only in lingerie) and drug dealers (and their clienteles) would venture there.
I remember one night driving a couple through the park on a romantic ride and out of the corner of my eye i saw a guy wearing combat fatigues emerge from behind a tree and aim a crossbow in our direction. i recall feeling not all that threatened. how bad could a crossbow bolt really be? was my immediate thought. and that was only if he managed hit me. he was a good twenty yards away. so the chances seemed pretty slim. this is how you think if you live in New York for too long.
But one night i had a pretty dire emergency that needed no calculation whatsoever. I lost my frigging horse!
How did you lose your horse Vinny? here’s how. i turned around to get a light for my cigarette and when i looked back my horse (and carriage) had decided that he had had enough for the day and went clip-clopping home. without me.
now horses don’t know a hell of a lot. but one thing they do know is the way home. unfortunately for me, the way home for my horse took him through Times Square. at 7.00 pm.
I had heard horror stories about the carnage that ensued when a horse would randomly get free and inevitably freak out. their tiny little brains were ill-equipped to deal with pretty much anything other than eating and pulling the carriages. horses are dumb animals. it’s the rare one that has any spark of intelligence.
So as i watched my horse run along Central Park South headed west towards Seventh avenue, without me, i understandably felt a bit faint. i had a fight or flight moment. and i decided to fight. i ran after my horse. as fast i have ever ran. and i almost caught up with it. almost.
alas it heard my voice and rather than slowing, it accelerated. and i ran out of breath and watched, hands on knees as it turned the corner on seventh avenue going faster and faster (small brain unable to make any decision other than “RUUUUN!!!!”). i watched in despair as the carriage it was pulling went up on two wheels as it turned the corner. disaster was imminent and i knew it. i could see it.
horses don’t stop at red lights on their own. and we were just two blocks from 57th street. a very busy two way street with a long red light. and by that time my horse would have achieved fatal velocity. there is a noticeable and appreciable downward incline from central park to times square. at the end of the night we would frequently stage chariot races through a deserted Times Square at 3 a.m. in a race to our stables. the loser paid for the drinks. i never lost. my horse was like a rocket.
so i knew what to expect when i finally reached the top of seventh avenue and central park south: japanese tourists trampled to death…my horse eating the mayor’s face…blood everywhere!
instead, to my eternal relief i saw a New York City cop holding my horse by the bridle (the correct way) and smiling outside PJ CARNEYS pub. i will never forget it. and i couldn’t believe it. my horse hadn’t killed anybody.
so i ran up to the cops, who were taking the whole thing very well, and thanked them profusely. and slobberingly. and then i finally asked them how in the name of Jesus did they catch my horse???
their answer was amazing.
they had been stationed in central park in a van looking motorists to break the light on central park and sixth avenue (where i lost my horse). they noticed that my horse seemed to be “sans rider”. this struck them as odd and noteworthy. these are nyc cops. not country boys. but they noticed me running after my horse. and put two and two together and realized there was perhaps a problem. and they set off in pursuit of my errant equine. their first idea was to try to grab the horse by the bridle by sidling next to him but this only agitated him and made him run even faster. so, thinking quickly, they decided to speed up and go ahead of the horse and break the traffic lights so the horse could run through. they then slowly cut him off till he was trapped between their van and the parked cars. one of them then jumped out and held him by the bridle. which is the scene i found when i ran down seventh avenue, completely out of breath.
luckily for me, the cops found the whole thing very amusing. I like new york cops.