The campaign for the abolition of taxi talking starts here

Getting into a cab in New York is generally like entering a little yellow bubble. Sure, there might be a slightly musky smell from the previous passenger, or the driver’s lunchtime burger/kebab/sag paneer, but on the whole drivers keep themselves to themselves. Most drivers are too engrossed in impenetrable conversations with various family members, and don’t bother giving you a second glance after they’ve found out where you’re going. There might be a small exchange between the two of you when you realise that they’ve taken you to Central Park West rather than Brooklyn, but other than that you can largely enjoy your journey in relative peace.

The same can’t be said about a black cab journey in London, or indeed most places in the UK. Clearly there are some drivers who keep quiet, only speaking to ask their passengers questions such as “is that bloke going to throw up?” But there’s a sizeable proportion for whom the period of time between passengers is a temporary break in an otherwise non-stop all-day conversation. I say “conversation”, but really what I mean is a “bitter and marginally aggressive diatribe against anything and everything that moves”.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to listen as a driver railed against governments, immigrants, teachers, parents, young people, Asians, the disabled, upper class prats and the police.

A faked phone call will get you out of listening to some of it. But eventually you just have to submit to the drivel, and hope that you don’t hit heavy traffic.

Taking a cab with The Best Man, The Beancounter and Sickly Child this weekend, we encountered the chattiest can driver in the world. Within a matter of minutes, he’d told us that his daughter was a top model (and showed us a picture), that he had accused his now son-in-law of being gay, and that he and his sons were all handy with their fists and would batter anybody who crossed them (or his daughter). That was shortly before he tried to marry off Sickly Child to one of his punch-happy boys, obviously. Oh, and that during the 60s he had been George Best’s driver who had once failed to persuade a drunken George to get out of bed to go and play for Manchester United.

We were only in the taxi for fifteen minutes, but by the time we got out of the car we were exhausted.

It’s enough to make you pine for the dubious odours of a yellow cab.

8 thoughts on “The campaign for the abolition of taxi talking starts here

  1. Paul Sheffrin

    Have you ever wondered what happens when a hairdresser takes a cab? Do they have simultaneous monologues? Perhaps we could have a new Olympic sport: synchronised ranting!

  2. Expat Mum

    I was always quite astouned at their general knowledge (as well as Knowledge) I have to say.
    The thing I hate in Chicago is when you get in a cab, give your destination, and they ask which way you’d like to go – which is taxi-driver-speak for “How the hell do I get there?” Oh for the Knowledge.

  3. Sarah

    LOL dayum that guy needs to be on a reality show! Couldn’t agree more on the ban 🙂

    Otherwise move to rural Okieland where there are no taxi’s!!

  4. Jan

    Sarah’s right. There are no cabs in rural Oklahoma. There is a minivan that will pick several people up at a time and transport them around, but needless to say, my town is not on their route. Going out and getting hammered is a thing of the past, now we have to stay home and get drunk. 🙂

  5. Lillie

    Almost ten years ago, during my second visit to London, I hailed a black taxi in my quest to find an internet cafe. The hotel concierge gave me the address of one (that no longer existed) in Soho Square. I hop into the taxi, and the first question after “where are you going, Miss?” was..”are you married”?.

    I replied..”are you nuts?”… then quickly changed my answer to ..”No, I’m not”. He proceeded to tell me that he was divorced and remarried now for 20 years. He’d come home to find his wife in bed with two other guys.

    (I didn’t know how to respond…”lucky her? “… “I’m sorry to hear”…or “Did you join in?”.)

    The next taxi driver was telling me how much he liked Americans, they we were fun lot and good tippers. But, Australians were terrible tippers. (Again, how does one respond to that?)

    But, the worst was last year. I was returning home late. As soon as he found out I was American, he starts up with his opinion of George Bush. I tried to put an end to that immediately by telling him the truth, I don’t follow politics, I don’t even vote… and I don’t complain about anything either.

    Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water, he starts up with 9/11. How it was planned and carried out by the American goverment. A whole big conspiracy. He suggested I write down the name of a web site that had all the information to see for myself. Just to shut him up, I took out my eyeliner pencil, and pretended to write it one of the pages of my passport (I didn’t have pen or paper with me)

    Then he started up about Princess Diana and how she’d been murdered. If it hadn’t been 2 o’clock in the morning, I would have asked him to pull over and let me out, in the middle of Kings Cross, or just jumped out while the cab was still in motion. Suffering serious injury would have been worth it.

    When he finally dropped me off, he smiled, wished me a good holiday, and added..”it was very nice chatting with you, Miss”…..and added, “don’t forget to look up that web site”…

    I just smiled…and waved …and nodded.

  6. Dylan Post author

    Paul – I love the idea of synchronised ranting…I’m sure there must be a few more ranters that would enable us to turn it into a team event…

    Expat Mum – The Knowledge is truly a wondrous thing. Although maybe GPS will put an end to it over time??

    Sarah/Jan – moving to Oklahoma is a way off yet…I’m still getting used to NYC. Although if I ever did move, maybe I could become a taxi driver? The fact that I don’t drive might pose a small problem, but it’s surely not insurmountable…

    And Lillie, thanks for that story! I can only apologise for my fellow countryman. You have to make sure that you turn off the intercom next time!

  7. Alasdair

    Dylan – a hackney’d tale, if e’er I saw one !

    Lillie – could you have tried the trusty “Chilly, for June, isn’t it ?” signal that it is time to move on to safer topics of conversation ?

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