The other day, my colleague Andy Dallos happened by a pretty dramatic car fire on 5th Avenue right in front of Rockefeller Center, across from St. Patrick's Cathedral. The next day the Times shared some amateur video with this description:
File this one under common occurrence in uncommon location: a van caught fire and burned for an hour Wednesday night on Fifth Avenue and 50th Street, in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral and across from Rockefeller Center. No one was injured in the fire, which was reported around 6:50 p.m. and put out by 7:48, the Fire Department said.
"Uncommon location" is exactly the opposite of what I was thinking. When Andy told me about the fire, my reaction was, Again??
On April 17, 2008, in almost literally the exact same spot, a taxi burst into flames. That one was memorable because the Pope was scheduled to visit a few days later so people were suspicious. But then, on September 18, 2007 another taxi caught fire literally around the corner on 50th Street, so how surprising could the 2008 fire have been?
That 2007 fire happened to come two days before another cab caught fire in Times Square.
In fact, depending on how wide we draw the circle around this uncommon location, every year for the past five years a vehicle has randomly burst into flame. The exception is 2010, which you'll recall is also the year someone was actually trying to set his car on fire and couldn't pull it off.
The Daily News once suggested that there's a breakdown "Bermuda Triangle" around the Empire State Building in which an unusual number of cars simply stop working.
Despite my enthusiasm for a good supernatural conspiracy, I'm sure, given the sheer volume of cars, the numbers make sense in the grand scheme of fires-per-car in Midtown, particularly given the strain of Midtown traffic. But just to be safe, if you're planning on taking a drive to the city, make sure you check your fluids.