Thursday, October 30, 2008

cab ride

strangest cab ride ever (or at least to date).
I got in a cab to go into the Northern part of town the other day - the part of town where I spent my more formative years, and where we don't tend to spend any time at all in the current chapter of our lives.
This was actually my second attempt to cab over to a mall and get a pair of headphones in the same day. Earlier, I had tried to take a cab across town in the middle of the lunch rush, with one of the main arteries through town (6 de Diciembre) shut down for protests (yes, protests and demonstrations are a big art of life here in the capital. It's usually missed, since we either work from home or walk everywhere). That cab attempt lasted about five minutes, when we progressed from on end of the block to the other, and I decided to table th trip until a better time.
so, I tried again a few hours later, when most of the city was back in their offices, or homes, or wherever they go during the workday. I hailed a cab, got in and we were off on our ride. As those that have visited here before know, it's a good idea to check and make sure that the cab has and is using a meter. It ameliorates the haggling, hastle and hurt feelings at the end of the trip. Instead of a meter, though, this cabbie had a little plasma tv, about the size of those handheld DVD players out there, taped to the lower dash board - down by the gear shift. There were wires taped all over the ceiling and running down to the little tv set, pulling the telenovela (latin soups) out of the ether. And the sound was turned all the way up.
Now, I know that there are souped up cabs in various cities across the US, providing commercials or other televised programs for riders in the back. And I know that there are now tvs in the back of all sorts of SUVs and luxury cars. But this wasn't tv for the passenger - this was tv for the driver. At ever light (and there were a lot) he'd stop, pull the emergency break (not sure what that was about, except that he wanted to rest his right foot), and watch the tv. When traffic around would get going again, he'd look up briefly and start driving, looking down periodically, for what I thought was a disconcertingly long time, before glancing up again.
To fully grasp the ludicrousness of this scenario, you have to understand what traffic is like in a developing country. First of all, we're in a tiny vehicle. Think mid-80's Sentra, and this thing is smaller. Second, there are few automatic cars, and this cab wasn't one of them, so the cab driver is shifting through the gears while not paying attention to where he's going. Third, and probably most important, traffic in this city, as in most latin countries, is crazy. There are cars goig through stop lights and red lights. Cars double or triple parked, in the middle of a thoroughfare - cars weaving between lanes, coming out of hiddent driveways, backing up from off of the sidewalk, and generally doing things that require the full attention of a driver and quick defensive tactics. And that's not even considering the hordes of people standing in the road between lanes, playing the part of matador against the car's bull impression.
Anyway, we made it to our final destination, eventually, and it turns out that there was a meter, and it was running, under the TV. Go figure.

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