One of the fun aspects of my job has been the opportunity to travel and see the world. In the last few years I have had the chance to visit some stunning places – Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, Australia, Czech Republic, Portugal, USA, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Ireland and various other places. Of course there are many differences between all of these places – the sights, the sounds, the culture, the religion, the people, the food, the booze, the music, the weather etc, but there is one critical cultural variance that always strikes me when I travel – taxi cabs.
They vary on two critical levels – (1) how chatty and worldly cabbys are, and (2) how much they like to gently teeter their passengers on the edge of death.
So, first up it is how chatty a taxi driver is. Am I the only person who has noticed that particularly in London and the US (notably San Francisco and Portland), there are a large collection of frustrated academics driving cabs? The US particularly so – I have had conversations about Chinese politics, historical events in the UK, the industrial revolution, the development of the American constitution, the philosophical changes in the US since Bush came into power and various other topics. In London in particular, cabbys like to serve this kind of discussion with a garnish of comedy and sensationalism. I was once in a cab with Matt Revell heading to Millbank when a cabby expressed his not-particularly-happy views about David Cameron (current leader of the Conservative party) and then underlined them with the fact that “he had heard” that David Cameron takes Cocaine in very, very unconventional way. Matt and I were left stunned.
But the real gem is the second element – the variations in how a cabby likes to walk up to death and poke fun at it. Please, please don’t do that, think of the children. There are more than a few occasions when I have got into a cab and felt like my life was about to flash through my eyes. This was most notable in Porto Allegre in Brazil where it seemed the goal was to drive as fast as possible, discouraging the use of seat belts, and then drive as physically close to the car in front of you. I will be honest with you – I very nearly shit myself a number of times while in some of those cabs. I don’t mind hoying along at high speed, but holy mother of all that is good and sweet…that was just a whole new level. Oh, and then there was Istanbul. Aside from when a cabby drove Mirco Muller, Michael Dominik and I 30KM outside of Istanbul as something of a con, there was one particular incident when said cabby decided to overtake traffic by driving onto the wrong side of the freeway, swerving from on-coming traffic, and then driving back onto our side. I think I must have buried eight holes into the sides of that car seat with my fingers. My most recent trip in Argentina was pretty similar – it seems the goal there is to drive the smallest possible car in the world, with un-adjustable seats designed for children, equipped with some kind of jet engine in it to drive as fast as possible, and…and this is the important bit…brake as late as humanly possible. Oh fun. Believe me, after two days of solid travelling and getting to Mar Del Plato at around midnight, that particular experience bloody wakes you up.
Despite this world of academia, decedent exploration of the unusual, and rollercoaster-like fun, it most be difficult being a cabby – how many times do you really want to be asked whether you have been busy on your shift and what time you finish? I got a little concerned about this with the cabbys that drive me to the train station in Wolves when I travel to London or Heathrow, so I try to mix it up and ask more unconventional questions. Then again, maybe this is why I get myself into these odd conversations with cabbys. Hmmm…