The journey is the reward. 

The Petchary just returned from her travels, and realized that one of the rewards is often…a simple taxi journey.

The whole point of a taxi is not the meter...

The rather mundane, vaguely French (German?) origin of the word comes from the “taximeter” on which the fare is charged.   But  putting that aside, when you step into a taxi, you enter a fascinating and unpredictable world – one that can be intimate and personal, if you want it to; or brisk and business-like.  The nature and quality of your taxi experience depends on how much physical, and indeed mental distance you want to put between you and the driver.  And that can very much depend on your mood, stress level…and, of course, where you are headed.

In Ohio, the Petchary family was ferried around by a small taxi firm operated entirely by retired people.  There was Ron,  a pale and fragile man with a gentle disposition and lots of grandchildren.  There was Ken, thin and long-haired, who was highly amused when we had driven a couple of feet before picking up a puncture in the parking lot.  There was also a Vietnam vet with a scarf round his head.  There was no way you could hold these people at arm’s length.  They were much too interesting.

On her travels, the Petchary also enjoyed the company of Barbadian taxi drivers.  There was the jovial Denny, and the cool and composed Lascelles (a stately name), whose six-year-old son chirped to himself in an incessant monologue in the back.  “Oh yes, that’s my son,” said Lascelles laconically.  The Bajan taxi drivers were well-informed about the travails of poor Jamaica, and seemed to be trying hard not to sound complacent.  They complained about the “bad drivers” on Barbadian roads; their version of road hogs seemed remarkably docile to this Petchary, compared to the frenzied “robots” of Jamaica.

One more thing about taxis:  London taxis, the traditional kind.  There is something darkly menacing about them, despite the cheery Cockney drivers that are supposedly always behind the wheel (at least in the movies).   The young Petchary was actually afraid of them.  For a start, they are a funereal black.  And when you get inside, with a slam of the huge, heavy door, and sit back in the huge seat, you are in a kind of netherworld of blurry silence.  A sliding glass window separates you from the driver.  He rarely turns his head, and if there is any conversation he talks into the rear view mirror at you – the lonely passenger, so far away.  Then the glass window slams shut, leaving the traveler alone again.  Petchary’s husband once traveled in such a cab where a large German Shepherd dog sat in the passenger seat next to the driver.  A long, threatening screwdriver was attached to the dashboard.  He couldn’t wait to disembark.

A scary-looking line-up of those black London cabs.

By contrast, yellow taxis are a delight, a cheerfully scruffy symbol of a grimy, cluttered, striving metropolis.  And you get a different nationality, a different accent each time.  This time an extraordinarily right-wing Iranian; next time perhaps, a rakish Serb.  But disappointingly, those New York taxis were originally imported from France; not indigenous, after all… 

The last verse of Joni Mitchell’s sprightly, yet wistful hit song of 1970 goes like this…

“Late last night/I heard my screen door slam/And a big yellow taxi/Took away my old man/Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you’ve got/Till it’s gone/They paved paradise/And put up a parking lot.”

Joni’s Big Yellow Taxi

 Warning:  If you don’t know this song, it’s unbearably catchy.  So approach with caution!

2 thoughts on “Taxi

  1. Ok, you got me on those London cabs! I heard so much about them growing up – they were described by all as the ultimate in cabs! Why people wrote complete newspaper columns about them! When I actually arrived in London I could hardly wait to jump into a cab and experience the thrill of cab excellence. My fantasies/chimera came crashing down upon me like shattered glass. What a let down! Worn, torn, bumpy, uncomfortable, etc, etc. There aren’t enough words to describe how I felt. All my illusions came to a abrupt end. These cabs were nothing like SF cabs or their drivers who can barely wait for a customer to jump in so they can give you all the local news, their strong opinions on just about everything and quite possibly a blow by blow description of their marital problems. Give me a SF cab and cab driver any day. I love SF!


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