I don’t like taking taxis by myself. If I can avoid taking a taxi solo, I will. As a traveler, though, taking taxis, alone or accompanied, is unavoidable. I dislike taking taxis because, even though I hate people, there’s something about me that seems to encourage unpleasant (for me) conversations, more so than about others, because my friends and colleagues don’t have the same experiences in taxis that I have.
Several times when I lived in DC, before I started driving myself to the airport for business trips to avoid these conversations, I would get asked about my boyfriend. I get that I’m more sensitive than most when it comes to safety (too many episodes of “Criminal Minds”), but I’m so uncomfortable with the idea that a perfect stranger who knows where I live and in whose moving car I’m trapped also wants to know my romantic status. I made up a boyfriend, and he happened not to be in town to pick me up from the airport because he was in the Navy. Eventually, that got changed to the Marines. And then he became a sniper in the Marines.
Another time in DC, the cabbie was listening to NPR,
and something the broadcaster said sent the cabbie into a long rant about drugs. His position was that the CIA created crack to keep African-Americans in poverty. At the same time, he believed that all other drugs, especially marijuana, should be legal and free to use whenever. I believe in personal liberty, and that what you do at home is your business, but I had a flash that this driver considered his taxi his home, and so I snuck my seatbelt on and started to pray while being grateful that it wasn’t rush hour. Answering in monosyllables didn’t help. At first he thought I agreed with him, which gave him an opportunity to preach to the choir. When he figured out I disagreed with him, he started lecturing me and offering evidence of the correctness of his theory until he dropped me off at my destination.
The “best” conversation I had with a DC taxi driver, though, was about Tiger Woods shortly after the news came out that he cheated on his wife. The radio announcer was summarizing the day’s news, and the driver said that Tiger had made only a small mistake and that the driver didn’t understand the fuss. I made the mistake of disagreeing with him. This ensued:
Taxi driver: You’re not a forgiving person.
CC: I am a forgiving person.
Taxi driver: But you wouldn’t forgive Tiger’s one mistake.
CC: I would forgive shrinking my clothes in the dryer. THAT’s a mistake. What Tiger did is not “one mistake.”
Taxi driver: Are you married?
Taxi driver: That’s why.
CC: I’m ok with that.
These experiences are not limited to taxi drivers in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. In San Francisco, I had a taxi driver tell me for 20 minutes how he wasn’t a taxi driver but a provider of superior service. Then he missed the exit for the airport, and I had to direct him on the back roads there. In Dallas, in the course of what started as a normal conversation about how Dallas has grown, my taxi driver decided to tell me that he knew where all the brothels in the DFW metroplex are. In London, my cabbie railed at me for the geographical ignorance of Americans. I took the blame for my compatriots not being able to name more than three cities in England. When I named five (London, Southampton, Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham), he got even madder because I couldn’t tell him where they were.
In Abu Dhabi, I got into an actual fight with a taxi driver. My parents, sister, aunt, two cousins, and I went to tour the Grand Mosque, which is about halfway to the airport in a section of the city that doesn’t see a lot of pedestrian traffic. This means that if you want to get back to the downtown area, where most of the malls and tourist hotels are (and where my parents’ flat is), you have to pay for a taxi to wait for you (expensive), you have to call the central dispatch (unreliable), or you take one of the taxis waiting in the parking lot.
The problem with taking one of the taxis in the parking lot is that the cabbies know that you are stuck. And so, despite the fact that the law of the land dictates that taxis may only charge what’s on the meter, the drivers, who are all poor citizens from other countries trying to support their families back home, try to make a few extra dirhams and charge a flat fee, which leans toward highway robbery.
I am a compulsive reader. I am the target of the ads that you find in public restroom stalls. I also read all of the notices that the authorities put in the back of taxis, which is how I know that it’s against the law to charge anything but the amount on the meter for fare. So when one of the taxi drivers at the Grand Mosque tried to rip us off on the fare, I refused and approached another driver. Big mistake. Turns out the first guy was their ringleader and started shouting at me and calling me names in his mother tongue and then shouted at the other cabbies not to take us. We found two who would, much to the ringleader’s fury. Our taxi driver turned on his meter (I checked – twice), and I think he called a friend to tell him about the crazy, woman, American tourist who got into a shouting match in public with his colleague.
The reason I think he was telling his friend about us is that my mother called during the ride and said that her taxi driver was trying to hide the meter while he negotiated a higher fare. That sent me around the bend again. And so I told her that regardless of what he did to the price on the meter, that her fare would be the number of meters driven, divided by 750, plus 3. She wrote it down. Her taxi driver is also not my biggest fan. My taxi driver stopped talking while I spoke to my mother, then seemed to report what I said in Arabic, using the same emphasis and cadence I did. Then he laughed. He also gave us his phone number and told us to call him if we ever needed a taxi.
I concede that I started the fight in Abu Dhabi. I can’t explain the interactions everywhere else, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve tried being silent, I’ve tried wearing my fiercest bitch face, I’ve tried making sure I’m on the phone – this stuff keeps happening. And that is why I always rent a car whenever possible and I love my GPS.
I had a cabbie in NYC leave me in some random neighborhood once and tell me my hotel was “just around the block.” I tried to explain to him that I had no idea where I was and would prefer he just drop me off at the door of the hotel, but he was not having it. When he made me get out, he started driving away with my suitcase still in the trunk. I ran after the cab, banging on the trunk for him to stop. I ended up having to hail another cab to get me to my hotel, which was actually about another 5 minute ride (not walk) away.
A note about personal safety…Once, I arrived on the Amtrak at Union Station in DC where the cab lines are notoriously long. I was approached by a man who told me he had a limo service and could take me home for the same cost as the cab without waiting in the crazy long time. I think I was just exhausted from a very long day and didn’t run through any of the scary scenarios until I agreed and got into the black SUV where there was another man sitting in the front seat. Panic set in. Strangely enough, they took me directly to my apartment, charged what I would have paid in a cab and went on their way. I would NEVER test my luck like that again, however.
Weirdly, my taxi experiences in NYC have been uniformly good. I can’t read e-mail in a cab in NYC, though, because of the swerving necessary to make good time, but the cabbies never harass me. That black SUV situation is why my mother also prefers for me to rent cars. Too much potential for bad headlines.
three things — thing one: i don’t think you hate people. i think you hate “dealing” with strangers and, even worse, groups of strangers. me too. thing two: i love cab drivers and always try to engage them in conversation. i have almost always found them to be interesting people with fascinating histories doing unappreciated work in a high risk, low paying job. thing three: i once left my blackberry (yes, a blackberry) in a cab that dropped me off at jfk airport in nyc at 5 in the morning. i immediately realized my mistake and jumped into the next cab i saw whereupon the driver volunteered to take to the holding area where all cabs go to after they drop you off. it was a surreal experience as I looked out as the rows and rows of cabs in the pre-dawn light. hundreds of yellow cars and vans. the sounds and smells were overwhelming. a taxi middle-earth as it were. my new friend walked up and down the rows while i called my phone and he listened for the ring. we went at it for an hour to no avail. when i offered him money for his effort, he refused. he then took me back to the terminal so i could catch my plane. as i left him, he apologized to me for not being of more help. i thanked him profusely for the effort, rolled a few twenties together and deposited them in his hand when i shook it goodbye.
I COMPLETELY understand that taxi drivers do unappreciated work in a high risk, low paying job. It’s why I do not flip attitude at them and am on my best behavior around them — it’s hard work, and they get very little respect. And many of them are highly educated immigrants who, for a variety of reasons, end up in a job that doesn’t require higher education. I get all of that. But I think the difference in our approaches is a reflection of you being relatively safer out in society by yourself as a man than I am as a woman. I think men, for the most part, take their personal safety for granted. I think women, for the most part, never do.
Just now getting to catch up on the pseudonym blog! You are an amazing writer and reading your posts has made me smile and miss you very much!!
I had to comment on this one 🙂 — my “favorite” taxi experience was when living in NYC … my cab driver informed me that all women in this country were prostitutes. When I asked where he was from (I thought a reasonable follow up to a statement about the entire female population in the US) he became enraged and screamed at me that it was non of my business, I was a prostitute, etc., etc. I couldn’t do anything but laugh – which was clearly not the response he was looking for. Always an experience!!! Miss you and love the blog!
Holy moly. I’m so glad this happened to you, who would laugh, instead of to someone else, who would have enraged the taxi driver further and ended up dead. Not sure when I’ll be in your neighborhood again, but I can’t wait to see you and to meet R and especially E! Miss you too.
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