#11-10 – Taxicab drivers are their city’s stage setters.

When the wife is in the car there is no longer any discussion of other Babel drivers. She forbids it. “You,” she informs me, “are also a Babel driver and you must stop, complaining about others, insulting them and saluting them with that middle finger. We need more civility around here.” Chastened, I agree.

You can therefore imagine my surprise recently when she used some very unladylike language to describe the lack of intelligence and responsible family of a Babel driver who was impeding our progress. To make matters worse, this pathetic excuse for a driver was driving for Babel’s largest and most decrepit taxi fleet. It occurred to me that no matter where you go in the world, the taxi drivers are so appropriate to setting the stage for the city in which they drive.

In London, England for example, the drivers are generally garrulous, friendly, knowledgeable and drive with a certain dignity of their profession. They bespeak the stoic pompous charm of all Londoners with their lingering love of a crumbling royal family and the faded glory of the empire that used to be.

Conversely in Tokyo, Japan, taxi drivers who rarely converse with North Americans–because of the language barrier—are referred to as kamikaze (suicide pilots) by their own citizens and have spotless vehicles covered with antimacassars to prevent soiling. While their high speed is unsettling in the crowded streets, you soon find that you are relaxed in the confidence that they know what they are doing and they are expeditious in getting it done, just like the Japanese salary man.

Where the speed is totally unnerving is in Paris, France. After you have fought for the privilege of hiring (Parisians eschew the queue) a taxi, you wonder why you were so determined. The Parisian taxi driver is ruder than any flic and determined to hit someone or something. It is like being driven in a bumper car race by a raging lunatic. There are rare opportunities to pass on the narrow and treacherous streets of Paris but the drivers do anyway. As do most Parisians, the drivers talk nonstop about things that you are not sure you want to hear about.

Conversely, Babel drivers are more erratic than fast. They drive as though confused and are obviously not hired for their driving skills. You give them lots of room on the roads as you never know what they are about to do. They drive disgusting smelling vehicles that should not be allowed on the road. I rode in one once and while frightened and appalled at the interior, I realized that the transmission was constantly slipping and the poor driver was probably spending every cent of the fare to replenish the fuel the vehicle was wasting. I would have tipped him more generously but I had to tell him every turn to make to find my apartment building that every other driver in town uses as a convenient landmark.

What that tells you about us citizens of Babel, is something we will have to ruminate on.

– 30 –

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

Comments are closed.