On The Subject Of Taxis

Контент 18+ Taxis and taxi drivers are among the things in life that I generally hate. Which does not mean that I lump them together as a single evil force or that I would cast them, one and all, in a concentration camp if I could. As in all walks of life, the odd Good Samaritan may pop up in one of those meter-machines, plenty of decent sorts are just doing their jobs , and, maybe best of all if, like me, you just find peculiar people fascinating, there exist a multitude of glorious freaks for whom driving a taxi represents the final slim thread between staying afloat on the sea of life or just sliding off the edge of the world.


The fact remains that, especially when sojourning somewhere as a tourist, my worst experiences have come at the hands of unscrupulous taxi drivers. I am certain that everyone reading this could contribute a horror story or two. So, in the wake of all the snow that came tumbling down on Moscow recently, accounts of such unpleasant episodes have surfaced. For example, one of my students told me that when she found she could not operate her snowed-under car one morning and was forced to use a taxi, she found, to her dismay, that the usual fare of 500 rubles had skyrocketed to 2000. (Later she confessed that she had forgotten to check the price-adjustment ahead of time.)


My reaction, while surely not one of surprise, was that of what I would call a combination of sympathy, empathy, and anger. My position that many taxi drivers are nothing more than opportunistic parasites who prey upon those who are helpless, naive, or desperate was reinforced. I mean, just because you have someone 'over-the-barrel, so to speak (at a disadvantage) should you then feel some sort of twisted 'moral' imperative to rip them off as much as you can? Or should you rather show them a bit of compassion and treat them fairly?


And once again I reverted to my ongoing (and hardly original) assessment of the human condition: to wit, as the saying goes, we will have a better world when we have better people. Forget communism. Forget capitalism. Forget religion. Forget social planning. We will have a better world when half the landscape is not dotted with cretins and creeps...
Now, I like very much to discuss such controversial issues with my students. To my mind, it makes the lessons more interesting than just rehashing 'present simple vs. present continuous.' And so, when I broached the subject of taxis in Moscow, presenting my own grumpy agenda about ''those fucking bastards'', etc., I was shocked to find that virtually all of my students sided with the taxi's policy of raising the fare in 'special' situations such as when people are stranded and have no other recourse (let's say the metro is too far away, time is critical, the wife is about to have the baby and your car won't start, etc.) Law of Supply and Demand, insisted these grandchildren of the proletariat revolution.


In fact, one of my very bright pupils, Oleg, took pains to point out the structure of taxi service in Moscow, including a detailed account of Yandex taxis -- which apparently rule the roost, having something like 75% of the business -- Uber, and another one which is called "Gett", or something like that. He explained that the fleet is limited and, while in normal circumstances there are enough cars to go around, under extraordinary conditions when demand is heavy, everything simply must be converted according to a plan of who is willing to pay for immediate attention and who is willing to wait two hours. It's the old "You get what you pay for" logic of which capitalism is based, and I suppose it is reasonable. Do you want a blow-job or a hand-job? Also, it appears that fares are different in the center than in the outskirts and even fluctuate from rush-hour rates to those of the less frantic hours -- mid-morning, late afternoon, etc. I had to give Oleg's opinion its due: business is business. It made sense.
It's the same, after all, in other industries. The airlines charge a lot more during peak tourist times, and so do hotels. When the World Cup comes to Russia next summer, prices will go up. In Europe, they even charge 'tourist taxes'' at the hotels (apparently it's not enough that people come from all over the world to places such Italy to spend their money -- nope, the hotels STILL have to gouge them for a few euros more.) When I lived in tourist-rich Florida -- St. Augustine, to be exact -- all of the so-called attractions (most of them shit-holes in my opinion), had one price for the locals and another one for the tourists.


So my mind remains divided. One the one hand, I understand the idioms that "you have to make hay while the hay's a-making" and 'strike while the iron is hot" -- both of which mean that you should make the most of your opportunities before they fly away. Besides, nobody ever said that the world is a nice place (I refer again to the observations I made above).
No, my mind is divided, even after Oleg's input, because, although I comprehend financial reality, the darker side of it points instead to a more base -- and repulsive -- aspect of human nature -- and comes down to our tendency to exploit the vulnerability of others when our advantage is served by doing so. Or, in the charming words of a black man I used to know in the streets of Jacksonville: Always Punish Weakness.
Sure, the animals do it, so why shouldn't we? Ahhhh, but we are HUMAN, right? Isn't THAT why we are candidates for 'Heaven', unlike the dogs and cats?
The soul brother was ruthless and proud of it. (But are corporate people any different at the core -- once you get past the phony smiles?) In short, if you are not strong enough to live, why should anyone feel sorry for you if you die? And you can dress up the sentiment any way you like, but it still comes to the same thing. On the street or in the office.


Well, maybe it depends on just how high you have managed to climb on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, but I personally have better things to do than cheat other people merely because I may find myself in a position to do so. I might fight you, but I won't kick you when you are down. Is that worth a few points for good behavior or not?
Let me explain it this way. Several years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Greece. It turned out -- until the incident I shall describe -- to be a fabulous occasion. Because the economy was terrible in Greece, we managed to get a 5-Star hotel for a very low price. From the big breakfast room high in the hotel, we could make direct eye contact with the Acropolis over on the next hill. We made excursions and the tour guide was great. In May, the Greek landscape has a classical olive green hue that brings the ancient world back to life, and we savored it. Finally, we took a long ferry ride and spent several days on the last of the chain of islands, past Santorini, atop a mountain looking down on the sloping blue and white village and the Aegean Sea.
When we arrived back in Athens (11 hours on the ferry) the taxi boys were of course out in force. We accepted a lift from a sort of aggressive guy who had 'red flag' written all over him. He wanted a big price, but I bartered him down to something I could live with, in this case, 30 euros. I sat in the front, my wife in the back. He spoke some English, so the ride was sort of friendly and I began to change my opinion of the guy. When we stopped in front of the hotel, I gave him my last money -- a 50 euro note -- and got out of the taxi to open the back door for my wife while the driver made change. When I returned (five seconds later) he held up a 10 euro note and insisted that was all I had given him. Well, I was foggy from the sea and I couldn't be certain. So I capitulated and asked my wife for another 20. It wasn't until we were back in the room and I was able to concentrate that I fully realized what had happened.


Perhaps I am small-minded in my own right, but it spoiled my holiday and to this very moment when I think back about our time in Greece, the dishonest taxi driver is what I remember. And here is how it all goes down:
Basically honest people find a comfort zone with each other and do not EXPECT treachery. We feel that we can leave our belongings with our colleagues and go to the toilet without these colleagues picking us clean before we get back. So our guard remains down.


Then we take a taxi and, since we are basically honest, we at least halfway expect the taxi driver to be the same. In other words, we are THINKING like honest people, not like crooks. We have a different mentality. But, as is often the case, the taxi driver is a PREDATOR, and so HIS whole mentality is to try to spot a weakness in you or catch you looking the other way. His entire operation is based on sizing you up and scheming for a means to rip you off -- if not one way, then another. So: even if you have been warned about, say, taking a taxi in a foreign country (especially), your tendency is to expect honesty anyway for the simple reason that YOU do not think like a criminal. But HE does.


Imagine that. Imagine living your whole life with no other purpose than trying to fatten yourself up at the expense of innocent people. For those of that mentality, be they taxi drivers or computer hackers, or whatever, they should just get up and eat a bucket of shit for breakfast.That is the most suitable cuisine for such rats...


Among the people I have had to misfortune to encounter in life who fit the description I have just rendered, quite a few of them drove taxis.
So, OK, taxi-folk, when the blizzard or hurricane or the earthquake strikes, by all means, raise your fares. Win the world! -- it is yours for the taking. But maybe ask yourselves when you look in the mirror: am I a human being or am I a fucking hyena?

===Eric Richard Leroy===

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