Taxi Cab Deathmatch

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…

  • http://vadi-blog.com Vadim P.

    ‘I will be honest with – I very nearly shit myself’

    Great story tho

  • http://www.marianoiglesias.com.ar Mariano Iglesias

    Am I crazy or did I just read that you took a cab to Mar del Plata? From Buenos Aires? That’s 450 kms dude, and possibly the most dangerous decision you’ve ever made! Everyone here knows to not do that for two reasons:

    1. It’ll be costy. Possibly 100 times the price of a bus ticket, that’ll probably take AS long (since BUS drivers also like to defy death)

    2. It’s hell insane. Cars on highways are not the best way to travel if you value your life.

  • http://blog.fedora-fr.org/fedora-paris bochecha

    Ah ah ah !

    I totally see what you mean about brazilian cabs.

    I spent one year there, and I was always afraid when getting in a vehicle. Buses, cabs, I thought I would never go back home.

    And the most exciting experience in Brazil I had: moto taxi ! It’s basically the same as with the car, but on a motorbike. Oh, and no need to have helmets for customers, nobody would want to wear a helmet somebody else would have worn before :shock:

  • Tiago

    Had no idea you’ve been in Portugal. When was that?

  • http://leonardof.org Leonardo Fontenelle
    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.

    Do you mean suppositories? It’s probably not that unconventional, because I already heard of people using that way. Supposedly, it doesn’t leave any physical signs of the substance use.

  • fede

    beeing from argentina myself you were very right in beeing afraid argentina have one of the highest marks in car accidents and deaths its quite crazy but ours cars are not small they are european size

  • http://hcalves.com Henrique

    Oh that’s great :smile:

    About Brazil: not just the cabs, a lot of people here seems to enjoy driving like crazy. You’re lucky it was Porto Alegre, not São Paulo traffic, which is a hell…

  • jono

    Vadim – oops, fixed. :)

    Mariano – no, no – I flew to Mar Del Plata from BA. No way would I get a cab, but I did get a cab from the Mar Del Plata airport to my hotel…driven by a guy who looked identical to Chris DiBona.

    Tiago – yeah I was there back in late October for a small conference attached to a huge LAN party. It was in Evora.

    Leonardo – not far off, dude.

  • Mark

    It is widely rumored that a Ph.D. is required to drive cab in Madison, Wisconsin. This is incorrect. A Ph.D. is only necessary to work dispatch. Drivers only need a Masters.

  • http://tumbleweed.org.za/ tumbleweed

    Those Wolves cabs are something – when I was there for LRL2007, my cab got stoned by teenagers outside the chippie… I don’t think you need to go too for for adventure.

    Made me feel a bit better about such occurrences back home in South Africa, (that we all try and pretend don’t exist) :-)

  • http://neuro.me.uk/2008/08/25/cabs-are-awesome-unless-theyre-not/ Cabs are Awesome, Unless They’re Not

    [...] Jono’s post about taxi cabs and close calls with death reminded me of how little hassle I’ve usually had with cab drivers. [...]

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    Great story, made me laugh. Ill be back, thanks.

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