I was once convinced that the weirdest or most awkward of cab encounters were contained strictly to the island of Manhattan. The normal cab experience in New York involves the word “no” yelled sternly from the driver himself in response to one’s query if he happens to be going Uptown. In general, they never seem to be going in the direction you need to go. And there’s always a split second of analysis on their part, as they determine whether it’s worth their while to carry you from Point A to Point B (it rarely seems to be and in the rare instance that they determine it IS, they act as if they’re doing you the biggest favor in the world.)
A few years ago I was once in a cab with a Japanese coworker of mine, during her first trip to the Big Apple. It was winter and it was snowing and because of this, it was naturally 90 degrees inside the cab. Meanwhile, she and I looked like the kid in “A Christmas Story” with the amount of clothing and layers we had on as defense against the storm outside – in short, we were shvitz-ing. She got hot, she rolled down the window. She realized it was down too much, she put it back up. She accidentally kept the button pressed too much so she adjusted it again so it was just right. What did the cab driver do? YELL AT HER to “stop playing with the window.” Of course I sat up in her defense but it was too late. She was appalled that anyone would speak to someone else like that (after all, she’s from Japan, the country of polite). My poor coworker never recovered from that NYC cabbie experience.
On a different trip, I was in the car with a Muslim driver from Iraq at a time when the sun was beginning to set. We were driving into the city from the airport and he realized he would soon need to participate in “Salah” the formal prayer of Islam, done by Muslims at various times of the day. The sunset one was fast approaching, so he whipped out his dinner (packed by his wife, he told me) and proceeded to eat prior to dropping me off and heading to prayer. Except, being the polite man that he seemed to be, he couldn’t bear eating in front of me and not SHARING. And that he did. I don’t know what I ate precisely but it was both weird and intriguing and definitely the first time I had tried Iraqi food. In NYC. In a cab. From foil wrapping.
Given all of the above (and trust me there are other similar stories), you can imagine that it seemed really, really unlikely to me that I’d ever find a city where cab drivers were just as rude, weird or awkward. Be that as it may, Santiago is quickly securing its spot at the top of the “Cities With the Weirdest Cab Drivers” list.
One time, post a fluke night out dancing (we weren’t feeling it), me, G, a gringa friend and her boyfriend, attempted to hail a cab at Providencia with Pedro de Valdivia to take us about 4 blocks in the cold, dark night. Though the cab driver was going in that direction, after we all piled in, he told us to get out because he felt we were “abusing” the right to take the cab because of the “short” distance. Did I mention he was going DOWN THAT STREET and would pass right by where we needed to get out? Hello??? Do the cab drivers NOT care about making money – not to go out of his way, but down the same street? I was floored – not only because of his logic but because of how truly appalled he seemed by the mere notion of driving us four blocks in the direction he was already going. Needless to say, we walked the four blocks, all the while my gringa friend and I bashed the cab driver, Chile and the world in general – we were so pissed. (For the record, G thoroughly believed we were overreacting and when I stated it was “the principle” he asked me why the gringas always fight “on principle.” Aaaaaahhhh!!)
Then there was the time I took a cab to the U.S. Embassy to pick up my new U.S. Passport. An exciting trip for me because I had just become a citizen and thus, was about to retrieve the proper documentation stating just that. As it turned out, the cab driver was a die hard Communist.
[I get into the cab.]
Me: “The U.S. Embassy please. It’s on Andres Bello, please take XYZ route.”
Cabbie: (as he drives onward) “The U.S. Embassy? Why would you want to go there? That place should be destroyed. The U.S. is the devil.”
Me:[in my head “sweet. now is not a good time to tell him about that citizenship accomplishment.“] “Oh yeah? Well you know, sometimes certain documents are required from them, so that’s why I’m going.”
Cabbie: (groveling) “Those damn Americans think they own the world! I’m not surprised you have to do all this crazy running around to get your business done. They don’t make anything easy and like to flex their muscles to the whole world.”
Me: (smile plastered on my face) “uh huh. Yeah well I need something from them to travel. What are you gonna do? It is what it is.”
Cabbie: “I’d like to travel to Cuba …”
Me: “Oh, do you have family there?” (recalling that I had read somewhere once that many Cubans have come to Chile to seek better opportunities for themselves and their families.)
Cabbie: “No, it’s just one of my lifetime dreams. Now there’s a wonderful country and a man who has the right idea, that Castro, God love him.” (pause) (sigh) “Yeah, one of my lifelong dreams is to go there and I’m going to do it! Before I die, I will go there. And you know, those Americans, you have no idea how many times they’ve tried to destroy the Cubans. I know why too – the resources. The Americans want to get their grimy hands on all the valuable resources anyone might have – they’re so greedy they can’t stand to see others have valuable resources!” (cabbie is now adamant.)
Me: (noticing the Cuban flag on his windshield) “Uh huh… yeah I read that Cuba has really nice beaches.”
And so on and so on. He would rant and pound his fist against the Americans, all the while singing songs of praise for Cuba and Castro. In response, I would talk about their beaches and ask about the food and the rum. Perhaps I should have defended my fellow Americans but I ask you: alone in a cab, on your way to get your U.S. Passport, with a ranting Communist at the wheel, what would you have done? I rest my case.
Then last night, I was in a cab and the driver was a pleasant man in his late 60s or early 70s. He gets to talking to me about the woman who was in the cab before me, a “beautiful, striking” woman about 50, who was married to a former military man (so she told the cab driver.) The cabbie says to me, “Do you know that she was in the cab for 20 minutes and during that time her husband called her 5 times? FIVE TIMES!” Apparently the woman had guests invited to her house at 8pm and her husband was freaking out – to the point of stalking her and calling her names – because at ten minutes to 6pm, she still hadn’t arrived at home. Long story short, the cab driver proceeds to tell me 1) what a jerk her husband was 2) how men should treat women delicately and 3) how he himself still “makes love” to his wife and enjoys her as he always has in the past 30 years that they’ve been together. Um, what? Scratch record, stop the music. Then he proceeded to inform me that on some nights, she will put on an apron – not to initiate “lovemaking” – and “serve” him a pisco sour as if they were in a restaurant. Likewise, on some nights, he’ll play the waiter, placing a dish towel across his arm, and serving HER a pisco sour. Again, not as a signal that “lovemaking” time is about to begin, lest anyone be confused.
By then we had arrived at my apartment so I didn’t have time to ask him to differentiate the “yes to lovemaking” cues from the “no to lovemaking” cues that he and his wife had established. I got that the waiter/waitress role-playing game fell into the “no to lovemaking” realm, but what if, say, one day she forgot to put on her left earring? Is that in the “yes” or “no” realm? ….
I guess we’ll never know.
The moral of my blog post is this: if you find yourself in a situation where you have to take a cab in Santiago, don’t bother bringing your iPod. The cab drivers are just as likely to talk to you as if you aren’t trying to ignore them and you’ll find yourself hearing about the intimate details of their sex life OR about how Karl Marx was definitely on to something. My suggestion? Try to steer the conversation towards a topic so shocking, they’ll be the ones asking their friends why all the weirdo passengers choose their cab for their transportation needs.
I’ve decided that my outrageous story from now on will be that my lover, the goat, broke up with me and ran off with the neighbor girl.