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Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Numba Kissena?

I have previously written here of my experience as a New York City taxi driver when I was a university student. Nothing beats cab driving for a crash course in New York City and learning about its geography, boroughs and people. There are many taxi cab stories I have exchanged with others. In the course of driving nights, a driver will inevitably run across some outrageous situations. This has been the subject of the film documentary Night on Earth and the TV series Taxicab Confessions.

I was introduced to driving by a college friend, an interloper into our university lives who was a native New Yorker and a few years older than we were. He was not a student, and to us at that time, he was a man of the world. He introduced me to many things in New York City, such as Wo Hop, the legendary Chinese restaurant at 17 Mott Street.

I was new here and very naive and innocent. I was wide-eyed and easily impressed. On one particular night while driving a taxi, I was lost in Queens, looking for a particular address on Kissena Blvd. I was tired, it was dark, and the print on my borough map was getting too small and painful to decipher. An older driver was standing outside his cab - if I recall, he was eating a sandwich. He looked seasoned, so I asked, "Do you know where Kissena Blvd is?'
To which he replied in classic New Yorkese, "What numba Kissena?"

Wow. Can you imagine? This man did not only know the location of Kissena Blvd, but apparently, he was able to give specific directions to a particular address based on its street number alone! This seemed to be an incredible feat to me at the time, like some brilliant memory act using mnemonic devices. Or perhaps he was a savant with special abilities to know everything about street addresses.

In hindsight, however, nothing of the sort is necessary. In fact, Kissena Blvd uses the block numbering system common to Queens and developed in 1911 by Charles U. Powell, a chief engineer in the topographical bureau, who modeled it after the Philadelphia grid system. There is a method to the madness or what the New York Times referred to as the "vexing vortex of the Queens street system."

Plan or no plan, however, the system is still vexing. Any number may exist as an avenue, road, place, lane, street, drive, or any combination. Even Queens residents are often helpless and resort to just asking for directions. If they are lucky, they get someone who is a street savant and can retort with something like "What numba Kissena?" :)

Related Posts: New Yawk Style, Sea of Yellow 


mg said...

I live in Queens, on a numbered "Street" with the same numbered "Place" exactly one block over. I have had the following telephone conversation with delivery-people and service providers at least 5 times in 12 years:
- Hit, it's [cable\satellite\delivery\plumber]. We're outside your house.
- Did you ring? I'm home.
- Yeah. There was no answer.
- I'm looking out my window. Where are you?
- We're right in front of your house.
- I'm now standing on my porch.
- I don't understand this.
- Are you on ___ Street, or ___ Place?
- Drive one block over.

Andrea (ace1028) said...

mg, that is so true! When I moved to Queens I was amazed at the names of streets, places, drives, and whatnot all in one area! I totally know that exit, too!

Hilary said...

I love Night On Earth :)

Mr. Nice said...

I also just moved to Queens from across the country. Similar to MG, I'm on a numbered "Place" with the same numbered "Street" exactly one block over. Maybe we're neighbors. Thanks for linked article.