On this trip, I have expanded my mind and my heart. I’ve learned to look past cultural differences to see the person underneath. My heart is more open. I am calmer and kinder.
Except for taxi drivers. I hate ’em.
There is no one on this planet I distrust more than a taxi driver, and whose actions I subject to more analysis and cynicism.
As Exhibit #1, I present the taxi driver who drove me from the Istanbul airport to my hotel.
I sit down with a piece of paper with the phone number of my hotel. He calls them and gets directions. All is light and cheerful. He loves Americans. I am already enchanted by Turkey.
Smiles drop away when I point out that he hasn’t turned on the meter.
“No meter. Fixed price.”
“Oh? How much?”
“One hundred lira.”
“Impossible. It is only 40 lira to Taksim, which is further.”
“No, no. Fixed rate, because of traffic.”
“It’s Saturday, how could there be traffic?”
“Fine, fine.” He turns on the meter with a heavy sigh, as though he had tried to help me and been rebuffed.
I realize this will be war.
We chat a little bit more. He checks to make sure I have my seatbelt on. On the highway, he pulls up next to another car and asks the passenger for a cigarette. He offers me one and asks if it’s okay if he smoke. I recognize this for what it is. He’s defusing the tension, hoping to get me relaxed again. I know these taxi drivers, everything has a purpose. Taxi drivers are sly, subtle, crafty. Above all, nothing is simple and straightforward with them.
Then he starts pointing at my hat, which is sitting on my lap and saying something, the only word of which I understand is “Muslim.”
“What? I’m sorry, I don’t understand
“I Muslim. Can not see.” Oh! He wants me to use my hat to cover my thighs, some of which are visible because my dress is not super long. He’s not being harsh or shaming; unlike most request to “cover up” that I’ve ever heard there’s no implication that I should be ashamed. He’s just asking a favor. But wait. A favor he’s waited more than half the trip to ask. This is just another distraction. He wants to lure my mind away from its objective: to not pay too much for this taxi ride. I move the hat, with a smile, but underneath my will is iron. I will not be fooled, deterred, distracted or jollied into forgetting the real business at hand.
I keep my phone, with the map and the routing very visible, and make a point of checking it every time he turns. There will be no scenic route.
We get to the neighborhood of my hostel within fifteen minutes. There was no traffic. He drove very fast, which I approved of, but also made me suspect some darker scheme. “Don’t trust it,” I said to myself. It’s all show.
When we arrived to the neighborhood, it transpired that my hostel was difficult to find. I saw it on my map, clear as day, but he wouldn’t make the turns I suggested. Instead, what followed was cartoon-style zooming around narrow cobblestone streets; zipping up, zipping down, releasing the clutch to tumble backwards at high speeds. Women in black hijabs clutched their children protectivelty to their chests as we zoomed past. Old men scurried to evade certain deah. Children grabbed their soccer balls and watched us zoom past from the safety of the doorstep, like fish watching a barrracude from the safety of the reef.
He could have given lessons to the roadrunner. I almost checked to see if the coyote was behind his, so dedicated and fast was his driving, as though we were being pursued.
We were a plague upon the neighborhood. If I didn’t know btter, I’d think he was trying his most conscientious best to get me to my hotel as quickly as possible. But I do know better. He caroomed around corners, stopping abruptly to shout at another taxi driver, or random pedestrians. It looked like he was asking for directions but I am sure that he was saying “I have a tourist in the car and I have to pretend to be getting directions while I drive up the cost! Ha!” And they said “Good for you! Ha!”
I know how the world works.
Finally, we arrived.
This is when I realize he had, at some point, turned off the meter. He turned it on, I saw it, but I didn’t keep an eye on it. See what I mean about the deviousness of taxi drivers?
We stand on the street, my luggage between us, facing each other like two gunslingers in the Old West.
I keep my phone in hand. The ultimate escalation, if he insists on this “fixed price” business, is to take a picture of him and his license plate and threaten to report him. Calmy and sauvely, I will say “You see this? When I go back to the airport, I will show them this” dramatic pause to take a picture “and I will ask if it is true that there is a fixed price of 100 lira. And what do you think they will say?” And then I would look at him with the cold, pitiless gaze of a snake while he stutters and mumbles and eventually offers me half the normal rate. Unfortunatley this did not happen.
Instead, we haggled.
We ended up with 45, which was too much, but I am merely mortal and very tired. Taxi drivers would deliver someone to the gates of Heaven and not let them enter until they got their fare.
Never trust a taxi driver.