At the same time, the family minivan is over ten years old now, and it's questionable how much longer it's going to last. We seem to be spending money on one costly repair after another, and I worry about MFW getting stuck on the road somewhere. So recently we bought a new car (actually the first new car I've ever owned; even with rising income I've still mostly bought late-model used cars). We still have the van, so for the first time ever we are a two-car family. Wow, what a difference! I am overwhelmed by convenience.
The best thing is this: When I travel for business, I can now drive the van to the airport or the Amtrak station and leave it parked there while I'm gone, which previously wasn't an option, because MFW needed it. But more importantly: I can drive home in my own car and don't have to take a taxi.
There are few things I dread more than the taxi ride home from Logan Airport. When I step off a flight at 10 PM on a Friday night I just want to go home. Right away. But instead I have to go stand in line at the taxi stand with a couple dozen other cranky travelers and wonder when it will be my turn. Once in the cab, I will have to explain to some guy who barely speaks English where I want to go, and remain alert throughout the trip to ensure that we actually end up there. I'm accustomed to dialogues like this one:
|Me:||See that street up there on the right? You need to turn onto that one.|
(Ignores me as he continues the cell phone conversation that he's been carrying on in some obscure language ever since we left the airport.)
(More loudly this time) Hello?!
(Temporarily pausing his conversation): Wha?
(Speaking slowly) I want you to turn right onto the next street.
Here right? (Yanks wheel suddenly to the right, sending us careening toward the curb.)
NO! At that street that's coming up!
Yes! See where that car ahead of us just turned?
You need to turn there.
OK. (Continues on a trajectory that implies we will not be turning right any time this evening.)
Here! Here! Turn right HERE!
(Hits the brakes and makes a screeching right turn into the street.) OK.
The trip to the airport doesn't bother me at all, I guess because for that trip the driver knows exactly how to get there and there's not much to be explained beyond which terminal I want to go to. I really don't mind riding in taxis in general. I have had the opportunity to do it in many parts of the world. Here are a few recollections of some of those experiences.
I've had mixed experiences with New York City taxis. I periodically go there on business and take the subway where possible, since most of the places I need to go are near a station and it's comparatively convenient. Occasionally I take a taxi, though, especially when I have to travel between two points that would require me to change multiple times or walk a very long way from the last station to my final destination. I once heard Jerry Seinfeld say in one of his routines that apparently the only thing you need to get an NYC taxi license is a face, and I can vouch for that. During the day the traffic limits the speed at which you can drive through the streets of Manhattan, but at night, when the traffic dies down, the excitement starts as soon as you step into a cab.
|Your Life Is In My Hands|
There was the guy who was barely tall enough to see over the dashboard but drove with his seat tilted way back, one hand on the wheel, while with the other hand he squeezed one of those spring-loaded hand exercisers through the entire ride. There was the greasy guy with the generic Eastern European accent who argued with me for fifteen minutes at my destination that there was some exorbitant "special tip" included in the price. There was the clueless guy who, when I said I needed to go to the Sheraton at the corner of 7th Ave. and 52nd St. asked, "Where's that?" (For an NYC cab driver this should be about as hard to find as his left knee.)
The strangest driver I remember was the African guy who went shooting up the expressway from JFK toward Manhattan and then a few minutes later suddenly veered off it into the parking lot of a gas station/convenience store. As he jumped out of the car, he said something that sounded like, "I need some water for my eyes," but I wasn't sure whether that was what I had heard. A few minutes later he got back in the car with a bottle of cold water. He unscrewed the cap, put the open mouth of the bottle over one eye, and then tilted his head way back, sort of like he was trying to drink through his eyeball. He repeated the procedure with his other eye, then a few more times with each eye as I sat there dumbfounded. Finally he screwed the cap back onto the bottle and as we raced back onto the expressway he explained sort of matter-of-factly, "It helps me stay awake when I'm driving."
Living and traveling in Germany for many years, I had the opportunity to take a lot of taxis there. The only way I can think of to describe them is that they are mostly mid-sized Mercedes cars that are clean, efficient, reliable and very dull. Almost everywhere I've been, taxis are painted in bold colors, probably so you can spot them easily on the street, but German taxis are always a nondescript beige color.
|Reliable, Comfortable and Dull|
The same Fiat-derived car model was the vehicle of choice for taxi services in Barcelona, Spain, where I lived for a few months in the late 1980's. I didn't ride in them often, because I could usually take the subway to wherever I was going. So my main memory of them is just the swarms and swarms of them that seemed to be everywhere I looked. The apartment I stayed in looked out onto the Avinguda Diagonal, a wide avenue that cuts diagonally through the entire city. It seemed like no matter what time of day I would look out onto it, it was one honking mass of black and yellow.
|The Horn is the Most Important Part|
Apparently Tokyo has a weird address system that does not include names for streets. Each time we were going somewhere, someone at our destination would fax a map to my colleague; before we set off in our taxi, he and the driver would stand puzzling over this map for ten minutes or so until they figured out how to get there. I don't know how they got along before fax machines. I imagine that GPS systems are considered to be a must-have item for any driver there nowadays.
|Hop In, Charlie-San!|
|Feels Like Empire|
A couple of years ago I was working in Hoboken and usually staying in a small hotel in Secaucus, NJ, which is as unpleasant a place as the name suggests, but it turned out to be the place with the quickest commute between hotel and office. To get home in the evening I started out by walking a block or so to the taxi stand that was next to the train station. The trip to my hotel from there would cost anywhere from $30 to $45. The drivers at the high end of this range were not impressed when told that I had made the same trip 24 hours earlier for $10 less. They just referred me to "the rate book", a mysterious artifact that I imagine to be guarded by an army of ninja warriors in a secret location because as far as I can tell nobody has ever actually seen it.
But apart from the fact that I was getting reimbursed, I was happy to pay whatever it cost because at this taxi stand, which was pretty much the only place in the area where you could easily find a taxi, you don't choose a taxi, it chooses you. You line up at the taxi stand and a cab slowly cruises down the line; the driver points at each potential passenger, who names his or her destination and the driver either motions for that person to jump in, or else just points to the next person in line. It's not just your destination that matters, it also matters whether your destination is compatible with that of the other passengers. I say "other passengers" because in all likelihood you will be one of three or four total strangers crammed in next to each other, each of whom is going to a different place and each of whom will pay a separate fare. Since my destination was usually the furthest from the station, I always got to sit in the cab while everyone else was getting dropped off somewhere else.
|You Are Not Worthy|