THE cabbie-traveller relationship is both unique and potentially fraught. The smart driver reveals just enough personality to be ingratiating, but steers clear of sharing his deepest convictions lest he offend his customer.
On vacation in the U.S. years ago, Stanley and I had a taxi driver from Russia who drove us through a rough neighbourhood. Apropos of nothing, he said that if he were in charge, all homeless people would be lined up and shot.
“Huh. Any recommendations for a place to get good borscht?” one of us replied. There was no need to start World War III, especially with this guy potentially in charge of prisoners.
If you’re a family that uses local cabs regularly, the thing to do is to forge a bond with a tactful driver whom you like, and use his services often. This works well for everyone concerned. Our favourite drivers have brought us gasoline when we ran out on the highway, given our teens rides on short-term credit, politely ignored our inebriated blathering, sat in their cars with us chatting in the wee, small hours, and even regaled us with Pakistani songs about Lynn Valley.
Most cabbies put us to shame in terms of their level of industry. We met one who was working three jobs and exercising daily -- it was embarrassing to be driven around by such an enterprising character. The only explanation I could muster for the difference between us was that because he’s a Sikh, he wastes no time drinking. One day this fellow will either be our boss or Prime Minister of Canada. We’ll be left in his dust, blearily clinking glasses and calling another taxi.
The wonderful world of cabbies was on full display on my family’s recent trip to Chicago. We’d decided not to rent a car. Our drivers were almost all friendly and helpful and they greatly heightened our experience of the city. I had my doubts, though, about the fellow singing the praises of former hometown boy Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine.
“What’s so great about him?” I asked skeptically.
“He’s done a lot for women,” the cabbie replied.
“How so?” I asked. God forbid that either of my children sees Hugh Hefner as a role model. I’m already on the warpath against debauched rocker Tommy Lee.
“Hefner helped women get the vote -- and birth control,” said his biggest fan.
“I doubt that, but he’s certainly benefited from birth control,” I conceded.
“What does that building remind you of?” the driver then asked our 17-year-old son, Bart, indicating a skyscraper with a curvy silhouette.
“A woman’s figure?” Bart replied.
“See, a 10-year-old boy will say a Coke bottle,” said the cabbie. “So you must be in the adult category.”
Thanks, Hugh II.
Another driver took us to pick up our sodden children from the temporarily rained-out rock festival Lollapalooza and revealed his work strategy for such events. He’d ferry fans to the concert, but when it came time for pick-ups, he’d be MIA at the opposite end of town. Otherwise, he confided, he’d be carting around hordes of drunken partiers coated in mud and would have to scour the filthy seats of his car afterward.
A different driver informed us that he’d once had his face pawed by a young woman who’d climbed into his cab after Lollapalooza. “Let me guess -- Ecstasy?” he’d asked drily. “How’d you know?” she’d responded, with a blank stare.
The Chicago cabbie I remember best was from Jamaica. He’d been watching the televised Olympics in London and, the day I hailed him, was over the moon that the top sprinters in the world, men and women, were all from his cash-starved island.
He’d watched the sprint events with equally stoked Jamaican friends. Although he was happy to be living in the United States and pleased it had done well generally at the Games, he was delighted that Jamaica had trounced his chosen country in this category.
The exhilaration he and his friends experienced sounded much the same as Canadians’ when we won hockey gold against the U.S. at Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Games, but with the bonus of knowing firsthand the countless disadvantages that the Jamaican athletes had overcome before defeating their adversaries in London. This man’s joy was infectious.
In turn, I believe that my group made a lasting impression on the odd Chicago cabbie. One afternoon, while our children were amusing themselves elsewhere, Stanley and I caught a few cocktails and then a taxi with our hilarious Chicago friend Steve and his delightfully enabling wife, Cindy.
Our driver informed us conversationally that he was Muslim and was therefore observing Ramadan, which, he explained, meant “I can’t eat, drink or have sex during the day.”
Steve, sitting in front beside him, mulled this one over.
“You can’t have sex during the day?” he said. “Wow -- I guess my wife has been observing Ramadan for years! I didn’t even know she was Muslim.”