It’s raining sideways, the cold wind is whipping the trees. Canadian spring. We have a flight to catch at the Toronto Island Airport and are dropping our loaner vehicle at a dealership about 30-minute cab ride away.
The cab driver opens the trunk of his taxi, we deposit two bags in and go back to the waiting pile to get the others. His phone rings and, inexplicably, he slams the trunk shut and proceeds to yell into his phone.
I’m freezing running back and forth from our pile of bags to the cab. Why the heck is the trunk closed? And why the heck are we putting our bags down on the wet ground while Mr. Cab Driver just stands there, yelling into his phone.
Garry asks him to re-open his trunk, somewhat less than politely.
When we finally get into the back seat of the dirty car, Garry and I look at each other in disbelief. Did that really just happen?
He thinks our destination is Pearson Airport, a mere 10 minutes away. He stares at us rudely in the rear-view mirror when we tell him, no, we need to get to the Island Airport. Will he turf us back out into the cold, driving rain?
The ride downtown is one of the roughest, bumpiest cab rides either Garry or I have ever experienced. He wiggles the wheel back and forth, trying to channel Mario Andretti or something. His passing skills on the four-lane highway are downright scary. Sharp lane changes without looking until he’s halfway into the manoeuvre. His jerky acceleration and fitful braking nauseate me.
His phone rings. It’s the theme from Barnum and Bailey, seriously. He lets the circus ringtone go on and on before finally answering. Again with the yelling.
By now Garry and I are in fits of giggling in the back seat. It’s so bad it’s good. We whisper simultaneously, ‘I guess we know our next blog topic… cab ride from hell.’
Taxis have always been part of my life even though I was a teenager before riding in one. In Moncton, the cab company was Gay’s Taxi and the drivers of those ’59 Dodges and Plymouths looked more like movie stars than cabbies.
In 1962, one of them won a ’62 Mercury Monterey with a 300 HP 390 V-8, factory duals and all. Gay’s Taxi was on a roll and I wanted to go somewhere, anywhere in that hot cab. Never did.
Over the years, there have been plenty of taxi rides. I like to sit in the back seat of a beat-off taxi and let someone else do the driving and figure out where to go. If they have an accent, I usually ask where they are from because more than likely I will have been there. There’s always something to learn from a cabbie.
A few cab rides stand out like the one in a dilapidated Peugeot cab from downtown Bujumbura, Burundi to the airport. He got there on time but the flight had left an hour early so I got to ride back downtown with him. Bang! Crash! Radio blaring.
I’ve never been in an accident in a cab, but almost. At 03:00 in the morning on the way to the airport in Tehran, Iran, the cabbie jumped a traffic light. We came a hair from being T-boned by a massive tandem dump truck. Quiet ride the rest of the way, save the driver’s mutterings, surely thank-you’s directed to a higher life form.
Then there was the time in London, England where I hopped in and out of those sparking clean black cabs all day, attending business meetings. After a few rides, I noticed the cab drivers were all playing Roy Orbison songs and realized he must have passed away. Sad rides the rest of the day.
But my favourite cab ride was in Chennai, India (formerly Madras). It was the end of the London – India leg of our 1997 around-the-world record drive and we were hopelessly lost. I got out of the record-setting vehicle, a Vauxhall Frontera, and my co-driver Graham McGaw took the wheel. I hailed a motorized rickshaw cab, crawled inside and gave the driver the address of our hotel.
“Follow this rickshaw, Graham!”
With our destination in sight, the cabbie let me take the tiller and, for a few minutes, I was employed. But my fare was the cab driver and I was being tailed by a vehicle with my name on it.
Only in India