Wednesday, 30 September 2009

LENNY KRAVITZ: "Mr Cab Driver"

In general, taxi drivers in any part of the world seldom excel in trustworthiness. If you don't tell them explicitly, they "forget" to switch the meter on, after which they will demonstrate their first-class acting skills at the end of the trip, when they bluntly name you any price that pops-up in their mind. The only mathematical certainty is that this fare will be at least triple the price of what the meter would have indicated. Let the bargaining game begin…
Or they do put on the meter, but then they show you all around town and keep driving, undisturbed by your nervous wiggling on the backseat. When you finally break the silence and voice out that question “Are you sure this is the shortest way?”, only then do they unnoticeably adjust their course into the right direction. As by miracle, you reach your destination in no time thereafter.

Then there are the taxi drivers who stop at the souvenir shop of their “friend”. “Just look, Sir. No need to buy.” You show your annoyance by saying that you didn’t ask for that, but yet you remain polite. You go in, stroll through the shop and put up a smile. Three minutes later you are in the car again and pretend you don't see the disgruntled expression on the taxi driver’s face, as he realizes that he won’t get any commission from this shop. “Let’s go.”

Then…there is this same taxi driver who halts in front of “his uncle’s shop”, not even ten minutes later. Now your annoyance turns into anger. You don’t need to fake when you tell the guy off. “I don’t want to step out here. I don’t need anything. Just bring me straight to where I asked you to bring me.”
“Please, Sir. Please go in. It only takes a few minutes. No need to buy. Just looki-looki, Sir.” You keep your cool. The motor is warm, but turned off. "No, I am not stepping out. Keep driving!"
“Please, Sir. You would make my uncle so happy. Please, do it for me, Sir.” There are those acting skills again. In a few seconds, your brain makes the trade-off between wasting more time in that pointless discussion, or just swallowing your pride and going inside.
Five minutes later, you step back into the taxi again, just as empty-handed as you were when you left it. It would have been “two minutes later”, if only you had had the courage to stick to your stand when you originally refused that cup of tea that was offered to you by that irritating and crappy “uncle”…
“Let’s go”, you sigh.

And then…there is that same taxi driver who parks his car, hardly another ten minutes later. In all your naivety, you knew the answer even before you asked. “Have we arrived? Is this the place?”
Sixty seconds later, you are on the pavement and you see yourself mirrored in the window of that so-called “sister’s shop”, cursing the guy who brought you there and using all kinds of vulgar words you had never imagined hearing out of your own mouth.
To ventilate your frustration, you slammed the door while shouting “get away from here!”, only later realizing that you actually threw him a note for much more of the meter price, and didn't wait for the change. And still you are not where you were supposed to be ages ago…

Ah, taxi drivers and change. Either they claim they don't have it, or they give you the wrong change: too little, or a note that is no longer in circulation. Then you are stuck with a bank note that nobody wants to accept, since everybody-except-you seems to know that this note is no longer in use.

The worst cab drivers of all? You probably find them at airports. One after the other will tout and ask you if you need a taxi, unstoppable like flies circling around you. Only when you finally reach the official taxi queue will you be freed from them. Or they refuse to take you on board, after they find out where you are heading to.

I encountered another remarkable species of taxi crook at Ulaanbatar Airport recently. He drives a yellow cab and his English knowledge was apparently enough to understand the name of the hotel. We drive off. After a few hundred meters, the car starts shaking. And slows down. It goes off the road almost, at the very extreme right. Then accelerate, but when putting the engine into second gear, the car starts vibrating again and almost halts. Cars overtake. The taxi driver repeats the trick, without success. So there you are: you just arrived in an unknown country, longing for a refreshing shower but instead receiving a bad omen at the start of your holiday: a taxi breaking down. We continue at walking speed. A hill in front. The driver changes strategy. He goes totally off-road. At that point of time, I had yet to find out that in Mongolia, the difference between the road and the steppe surrounding it is often hardly visible. Anyway, he drives his car off the road and makes a big 180 degrees turn. He stops, makes a move with the gear handle, turns his head towards the back seat and…the car starts speeding in reverse gear! He reaches 70 kilometer per hour driving backwards on the dusty gravel up the hill. Scary! Before, he had hardly reached 20 kilometer per hour driving forward on the asphalt road of even surface. This is crazy! And yes, he’s totally aware of that, and enjoys the thrill. He shifts his eyesight from the rear window to me, with a pale face holding tight on the backseat, and starts laughing and roaring in a way only villains in cartoons do.

On top of the hill, the car slides from backward to forward like an ice ballet dancer, when the driver steps abruptly onto the break. He changes to first gear again and lets the car roll down the hill, where he parks very neatly next to the gas pump of a petrol station. He steps out and chitchats with the lady who tops up the fuel for him. As if nothing happened.

The engine hums peacefully when he turns the start key minutes later. We drive off, once again, but now the car behaves like a first-row student. No shaking anymore. A completely smooth ride. The only thing that had caused the car to shake earlier, was an empty fuel tank. But don’t tell me that the taxi driver didn’t know about that when he queued to pick up a customer at the airport…

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