This year, my worst enemies were cab drivers across the many countries I visited. With my experiences, I share these words of wisdom.
Never get into a taxi, if they don’t have a properly functioning meter. If they don’t have one, ask him for the price of the trip before you even get in. Then if they have a meter, go a block and see if it’s working like a saint. If it ain’t, get out right away.
In Morocco, I jumped into a cab by myself to take me to a market to check out these lights I was considering buying. I had made the same trip back n’ forth several times over a three day period. The lamps I wanted were super huge and I knew transporting them to Spain, back to America, or Egypt was going to be a hassle. So I kept going to the market changing my mind over and over again. I knew the cab rate by heart, so when I stepped into a cab and saw the meter spinning over at super rapid speeds, I knew I was about to get scammed, and Suzy ain’t one to let anybody scam her. No, ma’am and no way, Jose.
So this meter was spinning over like a jackpot machine in Vegas, and I ain’t fucking kidding. I asked the guy whether his meter was working properly and he said yes. Go figure. I was about to pay 22 times more than the usual. So when the cab pulled up in front of the hotel, I told him it was the wrong one and to pull up another two blocks further. Then when he stopped, I got out of the car and bolted. Can you believe the guy, in his 50s to mid 60s, ran the fuck after me?
So I’m running down the street and he’s yelling, “Haramaya! Haramaya!” Thief. Thief. And he’s pointing at me on this super busy street making all heads turn. So I keep bolting and extend my hand pointing in the same direction, yelling the same thing, Haramaya! Haramaya! It confused the fuck out of everybody! People would look at me and I’d point that the “thief” was ahead of me and made it look like I was running after “it”. Little did they know that the real thief was the old bastard running behind me.
In Cairo, I jumped into a cab with busted windows. Even the knob that pulled down the windows wasn’t there. So I was sealed up in this smoky ride where the driver was obviously blazed on hash because its scent was so strong, and powder, because he kept slurping his hand up his nose. He had his Shabi music blasted to the max and was singing along like they were Christmas carols. We almost crashed into other vehicles at least 9 times. On top of that, he kept staring at me through the rearview mirror like I was Anna Nicole Smith. So I tell him to pull over because I wanted to get out. I feared for my life, man! Then he says in Arabic, “Go where? The party has just started”. Then he locks all the doors and slams the speed to over 100. To avoid traffic, he goes up the sidewalk and people are jumping and flying all over the place. He’s about to hit a car so he reverses and slams into another one. I can’t roll down the windows or open the doors. I had no idea where he was taking me because were going in the opposite direction. Then he pulls out a knife and has it horizontally hanging in his mouth and flashes me this wicked smile with gleaming eyes.
So instead of acting scared, I smiled back at him and motioned for him to turn down the music. I told him I liked his style and that he reminded me of an old boyfriend. He got excited. Then I asked if he had anymore blow on him, he said no but that he could get some. I told him I had been depressed and needed a drink and if he knew where we could get some. He got even more excited. We exchanged names and I told him I was getting away from my crazy family so I could breathe. He then told me how his dad left his mom penniless after he died. So I told him that my dad had also left my mom penniless after he died too. He then said his sister took off with a German guy. I told him that my sister had also taken off with a guy but he was Russian. He said his mother was a tailor working long hours and broke her back so he works double shifts. So I told him my mom cleaned houses and lost her vision so I too work more than I used to. And like that, we became friends. So then he asked what I did for work and I told him I worked for this casting agency in the States and that he would be perfect to play this drug dealer in a Deniro film. He got so happy I thought his eyes were going to pop out. I told him not to worry about a visa and that he would be paid $10,000 a day. He could barely control the wheel. He kept saying The Godfather was his favorite movie.
I told him that we should go to a bar or a club and talk about it some more, but first I needed cigarettes. He says he has some but I told him I only smoked L&Ms otherwise my lungs would bleed. So he pulled over to this convenience market and is about to get out and get them for me. Innocently, I tell him he is my guest and my new star and to let me buy us the cigarettes and some munchies too, because I said I had just blazed too and that in the meantime, to call up his contact to get us some blow. I said I wanted 200 dollars worth and that I’d pay in cash. He was thrilled! He opens the door for me from the outside like I’m some kind of queen. I go into the store and right away ask the owner if there was a back door because this crazy drugged up cab driver wanted to rape and kill me. He asks me where he is and I point him out. He points to a door for me to disappear out of and I turn to watch him signal to three other men vending fruit across the street and they all head towards the cab. It’s then that I bolt off.
In Senegal, I had just gotten off a plane and am standing outside trying to decide which cab driver looked the safest. I had two bags with me and my camera bag was hanging safely under my arm. Right away, this tall scary looking fella pulls up in front of me and goes to grab my bags. In French, I tell him I was waiting for a ride but he was so insistent that I just gave in. As he drops me off and I go to retrieve my second bag that he put in the trunk, he drives off so fast before I could get it. I quickly took a picture of his license plate but it came out so blurry. Always make sure your bags are close to you. I should have known better because that same thing almost happened to me in New York. The bag he took had a large heavy Isis statue made of carved Lapis that I had wrapped in sweatshirts to give as a gift to a friend. No gold in there. But it was gold to me.
If you get into a cab and the driver won’t answer any questions and isn’t talkative like the rest, know that you are about to get ripped off. They do that so there isn’t a friendly vibe between the businessman and paying client. That way they won’t feel bad for jacking up the price. Driving cabs all day is lonely and boring, I’ve rarely met a cabbie who didn’t ramble throughout the ride. They like pointing out attractions or discussing politics and life. If you meet one that doesn’t, bounce.
I always haggle cab rates wherever and whenever I can. I’ve been in over 400 cabs in 2008, and the above mentioned were my most memorable experiences, not to say there weren’t others. I have my own driver now in Egypt named Ahmed. I pay Ahmed 20 pounds an hour which equals to less than 4 bucks an hour. He’ll drive me wherever I want to go, even between Cairo and Alexandria within the same day or to neighboring cities close to Alexandria which are like the Caribbean. The only problem with Ahmed is that now he’s begun to think he’s family. If I go to my favorite restaurant, Balbah, with some friends, it would be heartless of me to leave him outside in the car while we dined. So I invite him too. Now, it’s become unmanageable. Sometimes when I get into the car he’ll ask right away if I want to go to Balbah or Shaban, my other favorite place. Or he’ll ask how my friends are doing and request for their numbers. It’s my fault. There should always be a line between businessman and paying client. Not too far a line and not too much of a close one either.
It’s OK though when it comes to Ahmed. He hasn’t accepted payment for most rides now and has pretty much stopped charging me altogether…
Ever since I told him he was going to marry my sister.
-Suzy Kassem aka Blue Panther
Run! Run! As fast as you can. You can’t catch me, nor could a taxi man can.