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Taxi tales

There is an interesting read in Sunday Times today by a journalist who took to driving a cab to experience what life was like behind the wheel. It logged his encounters with the good, bad and ugly passengers. The most interesting part was that he developed haemorrhoids after nine days of driving a taxi!

Anyway, here’s my version from the passenger seat.

I date my worst experience in a cab to more than 30 years ago. I was rushing to get to university and had hailed a cab. This John Lennon-lookalike picked me up and we proceeded along the PIE on a ride which involved stops and starts and plenty of jerking on the expressway. He was NOT a good driver. Trouble started when he overtook a sporty-looking car with a surfboard on its roof. He nearly clipped the car. The ang moh driver was furious and so started a car chase down the PIE. Seriously, like in the movies. The cab had to stop in the middle of the road because the ang moh driver succeeding in overtaking us and blocked the way. John Lennon reached below his seat for a metal pole then turned to me and said: “Miss, you be my witness ah!’’.

This beefy ang moh in a sleeveless tee-shirt (surfer dude, I thought) came to the driver’s side and let forth a string of four letter words with plenty of finger wagging as John Lennon clutched his pole with both hands. Then he went back to his car and drove off. If I wasn’t so young, I would have taken more notes. But I was so terrified that I wanted to leave the cab – except it was along the highway. It was a very shaken John Lennon who got me to the university, in the shakiest cab ride of my life.

Future adventures were less exciting, involving drivers who were going to nod off at the wheel (Uncle! Wake up!), a couple of tipsy cabbies who swerved like crazy (again along highways where there’s no chance to hop off) and one who actually wanted to see what my apartment looked like. I told him my (non-existent) husband doesn’t like me bringing strangers home.

On a general note, though, I think our cabbies are a wonderful lot. They don’t try to cheat you; they are polite and give you a pleasant ride, especially Comfort cabbies, and they keep their cabs clean. The limousine drivers are the best of the lot, concerned about you like the radio music and whether the air con is just right. They know how to make just enough small talk to make you comfortable. One day, I stepped into this wonderful Merc with a very, very young man at the wheel. Much too young to be driving a taxi. Definitely below 30. He prevaricated when I asked his age and it seemed he was driving his father’s cab. No, I didn’t report him. He was very nice.

Taxi “uncles’’ and a few “aunties’’ I have encountered include:

a. The die-die want to talk to you cabby

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You know him immediately because he starts quizzing you not just on where you want to go and “how you want to go’’ but goes on to list the various ways of getting there nevertheless. Then he moves on to whether you’re working, shopping or why you are so late, early. If you are attentive, he launches into a tirade about road users before going on to lament his lot under this “garment’’. I don’t mind these garrulous cabbies; they are well up on the news. I think it comes from listening to the radio and having their pee or tea breaks with the newspaper in hand. But I’ve had to stop some of them from going on and on when all I want is a rest in air-con. That’s when I say: “Uncle, I am very tired. Wake me up when we are near there’’. Works like a charm.

b. The die-die must talk on the phone cabby

That’s the one who picks up his calls, yes, hands-free these days, and proceeds to gab on with whoever is on the other line. Usually, they think I don’t understand dialect and I’ve heard wonderful tales about mother-in-laws, buying Toto, arrangements for the kids, assignations for dinner ecetera. Of course, I sometimes hear about myself: a chabor going to Bedok. I really hate being with drivers with divided attention, hands-free or not. So I wriggled in my seat and make hrrrmppph noises and even let out a “Uncle, please be careful on the road’’. The last line works.

c.The “grunting’’ Uncle

You don’t know if he really heard you when you give your destination. You hoped that he heard your “turn left please’’ or “go straight’’. He points to the meter when you ask about the fare and when you say thank you, he grunts.  This sort of cabby stresses me out by his silence: I feel I must keep alert in case he took the wrong way.

d. The old familiars

I have come across ex-colleagues driving taxis, even an old university mate, ex-neighbours and neighbourhood fruit stall seller in the driving seat. They usually take no money from me, that is, I get a free ride. Of course, the question which pops into my head is “how come you driving a taxi now?’’ I don’t quite know how to phrase the question because I am not sure if it will cause embarrassment (on either side). The ex-fruit seller tells me plainly though that he earns much more now than he did before. Then there are those who have driven me before (I don’t know how they can recollect faces…) and actually tell me my destination before I do…

I think cabbies are cool. If you can get into a cab, that is. I call taxis often and many times, taxi drivers have asked why I was designated a VIP. I said I didn’t know. But when I left my last job, that VIP tag was taken off too, although I take taxis twice as often. I realised then what it meant to be VIP. You always, always get a cab, come rain or shine or isolated destination. Once, an operator kept in constant touch with me for 45 minutes trying to get a cab for me in heavy rain. When she finally got one for me, she told me the driver had been told to waive the booking fee. How nice! It’s different now. More often than not, I get a disembodied voice telling me that no taxi is available and to try again in 10 minutes. Or a text message. I think to myself: How the mighty are fallen. I am now trying taxi apps.

I think there are plenty of people who have horrible experiences with taxi drivers, just as they do with passengers. The interior of a cab is to me a most precious place. It represents a private contract between driver and passenger, one of security (the driver isn’t going to crash with you on board), of privacy (there’s just the two of us ) and society (we talk the same lingo). It’s the one of the places I feel at home, even with a stranger, as parts of Singapore fly past. It is also a reason I hope the industry is closed to foreigners.

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That is why I will wait for a cab I have called; I am never a “no show’’ despite empty cabs plying past. And even though there are occasions when I feel like bludgeoning a garrulous or cranky driver, I don’t. You might as well say, try the bus or the train and you might feel the same. Much cheaper too. Maybe.  What to do? I have been spoilt by taxi Uncles.

Written By

An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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