Taxicabs, space, and stories

In a city of approximately eight million people, it’s inevitable to make connections with strangers. It’s palpable in the energy, how one syncs into walks, the air in places visited, and the overall shared space. Getting in a taxi, for example, exposes one to close-range vulnerability due not only to the shared space but the implied trust placed on the driver to deliver one form point A to point B.

Some Taxi Traffic

Some Taxi Traffic

One can argue with the taxi driver as to which route is faster or why he refuses to turn on the taximeter after a certain time, but must essentially give up a bit of freedom to accommodate to the system. The proximity one shares with the taxi driver can potentially make for awkward silences, but these silences have the potential of turning into therapy sessions, dangerous drives (hopefully not), or storytelling time. The last one being my personal favorite.

This is precisely how I’ve come to collect a myriad of taxi stories, from the graphic-designer turned driver whose wife wanted him to be more jealous, to the driver who politely showed me his razor blade and club used for protection against potential thieves. The latter proceeded to recount specific instances where the use of the mentioned materials was necessary – he claimed it once saved a life. Another guy even encouraged me to launch a political campaign after a heated debate at three in the morning.

Stories aside, protocol for getting a taxi in Bogotá is simple. With friends, family, or preoccupied Colombians, it’s almost certain that a cab will be called. The numbers beginning with any number other than one and followed by six ones (ex. 3111111) are easy to remember. I’ve politely noted cellphone numbers in the past, but seeing that I cannot differentiate between who gave me what number, it’s better to stick to the 3111111s. The cab arrives quickly arrive and a code is asked; answer it, and off you go. On the street, however, a mere waving down will do. Keep in mind that car doors here are abnormally light and that the slamming of doors is the quickest way to anger a cab driver (this can be used to one’s advantage).

from poorbuthappy blog, Taxi Strike

from poorbuthappy blog, Taxi Strike

Previous strikes prove that the taxi community in this city has a fraternal-like bond, which exudes some fascination for me. For example, if one driver happens to exit his cab on the street, it won’t be long before others stop by to inquire what the problem might be. This isn’t stated in the chaotic driving system of the city, but simply understood. And though there is a clear male dominance within the taxi driver community, it doesn’t imply that women don’t drive taxis in this city.

As far as the stories go, I’m sure there isn’t a special protocol for instigating some banter – just the will to put yourself out there a bit. Hey, it could be a good language lesson.



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