A Tagine Lead and an Airport Ritual
“Kennedy [airport] has a robust, to put it mildly, waiting area for cab drivers seeking fares, out of sight of travelers. There the cabbies pray, nap, play soccer, throw dice — and eat takeout from a little cafe.”
- New York Times, December 31, 2009
Mohammed was dropping off a fare from JFK when he picked me up at Columbus Circle on Monday.
“I usually go to the airport around 12,” he told me, “There’s a restaurant in the parking lot. It’s very busy. They have American food and Indian food. Halal food. I like rice with chicken or beef.”
For Mohammed – who was born in Rabat, has been driving a cab six days a week for the past ten years and spends every summer with his wife and kids in Morocco – the trip to JFK is a ritual he never misses when he’s on duty, even if he’s empty [i.e. without a passenger]. Besides eating his lunch there, he prays.
When I told the cabbie I recently started driving a taxi and hadn’t been to the holding lot at JFK yet, he registered about 30 seconds of shock then switched into counseling mode: “8, 9, 10am is a bad time to go there. You can wait three hours for a fare. Go in the afternoon.”
I promised him I’d give it a try on my next shift and asked him where he likes to eat when he’s off duty.
“Weeeelll, I like lamb. You know tagine?”
“There’s a restaurant in Astoria on Steinway Street between 27th and 28th where it’s very good. And the price is right.”
Though he first went to the restaurant with Moroccan friends after a Ramadan fast in 1998, Mohammed couldn’t remember the name of the place. But he did tell me that the owner is a guy named Tangawi.
I guess this means I’m making a trip to Steinway street and canvassing all the Moroccan restaurants in search of Mr. Tangawi and his allegedly delicious tagine.
But not before I infiltrate the cabbie holding lot at JFK airport – although I’ve got to admit I’m just as curious about the soccer and the prayers as I am about Mohammed’s meat and rice…