Over the life of this site, I’ve gone back and forth over the question of profanity. On the one hand, I’ve always been fond of the quote, “Profanity is the last refuge of the inarticulate.”1 On the other hand, sometimes a well-timed expletive actually seems much more effective than a well-timed expletive-deleted. Proceeding on the assumption that most or all of us are adults here, I’ve decided to take the plunge and stop censoring myself. Partly because if I don’t, there’s no way I can adequately tell the story of my cab ride today.
As of this morning, I’m back in London for another five weeks or so, for those who care to follow my exploits. I touched down knowing that there was a task that required my immediate involvement, so I hustled down the 200+ miles of corridors from the international terminal at Heathrow and through customs. Up against a deadline, I made a reasonable mistake — I figured that a cab ride, although more expensive, would get me to my hotel and an Internet connection faster than would the Tube.
Everything seemed relatively normal when the taxi stand attendant put me into a car with a 55-year-old with a paternal air. He looked at me seriously as I got in and said, “We won’t be taking the M4 today. There’s an accident that has had it backed up for at least two hours.”
“Great, sir,” I said. “I’m glad you have that information and that you know where you’re going.”
That out of the way, I don’t know where we ended up going. Heathrow is a ways outside of London. He tells me that there was bad traffic on the main artery into London, and all of a sudden there’s license to divert to whatever roads suit him. In the meantime, I’m being cool about it, telling him that I’m from Washington, DC and I’m used to unexpected traffic cropping up all over the place. And he’s noting that the Olympics are hitting London next year and the edict is that all ordinary roadwork has to be wrapped up prior to the Games, so everyone’s trying to get their projects done now, and remarkably we’re hitting traffic every direction from Sunday. And then we’re downtown and he’s telling me about how Obama’s in town, and that’s snarling traffic, too.
Have you ever heard the expression, “got taken for a ride”? I have, and now I know where it comes from. The whole time my cabbie is “stuck” in traffic all over, he’s on the phone with a succession of buddies while he’s driving, and although the conversations varied slightly, his two major points were: 1) “Can you believe where I am, and where we’re going? I can’t believe it’s taking this kind of route and time!” and 2) “Fortunately, I have an American in the cab who says traffic makes him feel right at home, and he’s being cool about this.” He kept telling me that as long as he’s driven, he’s never seen anything this bad.
He’s also swearing like a sailor with Tourette’s Syndrome. We’re sitting and he’s constantly, “Shit! Fucking bollocks! Shit! Fucking bollocks! Fucking shitting bollocks!” over the microphone.
London cabbies have microphones to talk to the fares in back. BTW. I just think that part is cool.
But all the excuses in the world and all the entertaining swearing in the world don’t counteract the fact that I’ve just been in London for a month, and I know some of the spots we’re passing by because Alison and I have just been there. And I know they’re on opposite corners of the city map. You can’t drive me down the Mall past Kensington and Hyde Park, then somehow past Regent’s Park, then cross the Thames to the south around Embankment, then come back across to the north again up as far as Holborne Viaduct, and not have me get a little suspicious. Not when we’re going to Tower Bridge. We have a straight bead on my hotel as soon as we hit Picadilly.
All kinds of excuses, yes? Well, allow me to retort. First, he can’t believe things have ever been this bad? No … not legitimately. In the history of late-for-work, I doubt anyone has ever taken almost two hours to get to the old city center from Heathrow. Not without trying to. And no one, until today, has ever charged me 112 GBP for a 20-mile cab ride. Not without trying to.
If you’re asking yourself why I didn’t speak up, you’d be within your rights to do so. My reasoning: he did appear to be generally committed to the proposition of depositing me at my hotel eventually, instead of driving me out to the docks somewhere and relieving me of the burden of caring for all those electronics and cash in my possession. I also wasn’t 100% positive until I looked at a map later on that I was being cheated, and anyone that full of cuss and vinegar wasn’t someone I wanted angry at me — and you should have seen this guy trying to gun down jaywalkers. He acted like anyone he managed to mow down would be worth bonus points when the rapture actually comes around. I’m pretty sure if you stripped his pants off, he’d have “Damn the Torpedoes!” tattooed on his arse.
We’re going to call any potential double entendres there an accident.
A third reason? It’s not my money, and I needed to break off the incident as quickly as possible to get to work. Taking a cab was a legitimate attempt to get online fast enough to make a difference in an important task, one for which my company still made more than it spent on the cab. But I have a whole sheet of notes as to the route we took, and I have a feeling my complaint to the taxi authority is going to raise more hell than is worth the bank notes this shithead took off me. For the minor sin of treating me like an idiot and the major sin of making me miss an EFOT deliverable, I’m going to raise a hue and cry that will hopefully cost him his hack license. It’s better to sound like a brave bitch in retrospect than to wind up in a bad situation that would have kept me from the work I needed to do, and I’m perfectly fine with denoument served room temperature.
The moral of the story? That depends on who you are. Americans: take the express bus to Paddington. It’s 16 pounds and 20 minutes, and you know it’s going to come in on time. Then it’s a quick ride in whichever direction you need via the Tube. Crooked, Tourette’s-Wannabe, Bat-out-of-Hell Douche Bag English cab drivers: don’t let the occasional polite American fool you. Even the nice ones only look naive and laid-back. Fuck with us at your peril.
1 Citation needed. If anyone knows the origin of this, I’d be extremely grateful — I’ve seen it for years but never with reliable attribution. Hint: it’s not Mark Twain.