Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stalked by a taxi driver

First, a note. I actually started to write this entry early in the week, but am finishing it on the weekend. Therefore, please ignore the time and date stamp (in order to avoid confusion!) Next, a note that the photo above is of Second Cup, a chain of coffeehouses in Toronto that is a big competitor to that other coffee company that starts with the letter "S." OK, now we can get started.

I took taxis a lot in Toronto, because that's what you do there when you're traveling on business and don't have a car. Anyway, I had some very interesting taxi drivers. "Interesting" is a word that can connote many things, so I do use it loosely. :-) As is often the case in other large cities, my taxi drivers have all been from somewhere else: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia, Eritrea, etc. (and there is nothing wrong with this, it's just the way it is.) And many of them are very chatty

It occurred to me this week - after the five-thousandth time of riding in a taxi (OK, so I'm slow) - that being a taxi driver is probably a lot like being a bartender in that you never know what you're going to get when it comes to your customers: will he/she be friendly and interesting? Morose? Drunk? Psycho? Also, I imagine that it might be quite boring at times to be a taxi driver (even dangerous, in some places). So perhaps that explains the "Insights Yellow" personalities of nearly every taxi driver I've ever come across who speaks English.

This week I met the chattiest taxi driver in the universe. And he's also a stalker. That's right - I will explain momentarily. Let's just say that "Eddie" (not his real name) made me want to learn how to use Toronto public transportation.

This all started randomly, when Eddie happened to be driver who picked me up at my hotel one morning. I gave him the address of my destination, and hoped that would be it: that I could just ride in silence. Because at that time of the morning, I was still not really awake and wanted to enjoy some peace. But Eddie wanted to have a conversation. So, with my good Midwestern and Southern manners, I indulged him. This turned out to be a big mistake.

First, he asked where I was from, so I told him. As is the case nine out of ten times, he wasn't sure where Indianapolis is, so I explained: "it's near Chicago" because mostly everyone has at least heard of Chicago. Well, that opened up the door for him to tell me that he had a good friend in Chicago, that he had been to Chicago previously, that he liked Chicago except for the wind, blah, blah, blah. Well, after all that, I was then obligated to ask him where he's from, which then opened the door for him to tell me his whole life story. He was born in Eritrea, where his father was a doctor (all taxi drivers' fathers are doctors). But there was a war and the family had to move. They had a choice of Britain, the USA, or Canada (I've heard this before - not sure why, say, Norway or Argentina are never options?) and chose Canada because they already knew some people here. 

Then he asked if I was married. OK, I've learned over the years just to go ahead and say "Yes" to this question, and I've also realized that it's easier just to also answer "Yes" to the question of whether I have children (and it's best to say that I have a son). So I did this, and THANKFULLY that was the last of the personal questions. Eddie wanted to talk about himself. He's married to a woman who works for a pharmaceutical company (ironicly) and they have a 2 month old daughter. Would I like to see a photo? (he hands me his cell phone, I ooh and aahh about how cute she is, and ask if she's sleeping through the night, and he tells me all about that). Would I like to see his Father's Day present? (I feign interest again, and he shows me an engraved business card case).

[NOTE: So far, nothing here is really atypical of any other taxi ride I've ever been on. You see, for some reason, taxi drivers always end up telling me their life stories. I'm not complaining - this is just a fact. Sometimes, they even ask me for advice on problems: with wives, girlfriends, children - now that I'm older, they're even asking me for advice on dealing with mothers-in-law. So at the end of the ride, seriously, people - I always kind of have a feeling that I should be the one charging them, not the other way around. Unfortunately, that's not the way it works.]

So anyway . . . that first morning Eddie took the Don Valley expressway, explaining that we'd get there much more quickly than if we took Danforth Road. Danforth is a well-known street in Toronto. It passes through Greektown and has about a gazillion ethnic restaurants and neat little shops. It also has a million stoplights, but you can get to the office in 20-25 minutes. The expressway route, however, took nearly 40 minutes. Also, the fare ended up at $40. (It's $28 if you take Danforth.) Oh, and by the way, his credit card machine was not working, so I had to pay with cash. I realized after the fact when recounting this story to R, my co-worker, that Eddie had screwed me over. I didn't worry about it too much, though - because I figured I'd never see him again.

But the next morning, when I headed out to find a taxi to take me to the office, guess who was there waiting for me? My bud Eddie! 

"You are glad that I remembered to pick you up, yes?" he said, beaming. I forced a smile.

"Is your credit card machine working today?" I asked him, because I was running low on cash. 

"Yes, it is working now very good," he promised.

"I want to take Danforth instead of the highway," I said, firmly. I could see the disappointment in his face, but he agreed. Off we went. Guess what? It took only 22 minutes and the meter fare was just over $26. Hmm! I handed him my credit card. He slid it through and we waited, waited, waited, but there was no "signal" from the credit card machine. So he put it through again. And again. And again. I sat. We waited. Finally, it went through, but not after giving me something extra to stress over. 

The next day - Friday, my last day in Toronto - I got up earlier than usual, hoping that I could give Eddie the slip and be gone by the time he got to my hotel. Oh-so-quietly, I headed out into the lobby, being as invisible as is possible for a woman of my size (that was me trying to hide behind the fake trees). I tried to sneak a glance out the window, and lo and behold, guess who immediately made eye contact with me, as if we're sharing some sort of psychic connection? Eddie. 

So I rode with him for the third and THANK GOD LAST time, and by now I'm no longer the sweet old lady from Indiana who listens and seems interested in conversation. I've turned into . . . Super Bee-yotch!!! I don't smile, I don't talk . . . I just get out my Blackberry and pretend I'm working . . . anything to avoid conversation. Maybe if I'm mean or psycho, he'll stop stalking me! Despite this tactic, he asks if he can take me to the airport that afternoon (because I'd made the mistake of telling him during my first ride that I would be leaving on Friday).

And I'm thinking . . . sheesh . . . the meaner I get, the more he wants to hang out with me. WTF?!!! But gracefully, I told him I already had a ride. When we got to the office this time, the credit card machine worked just fine (and quickly), I thanked him one last time, and then I faded away into the office building . . . like a corporate cowgirl riding away into the sunset. And I didn't look back.

So if you ever go to Toronto, and you need to take a taxi, here's my advice to you. Pretend like you don't speak English. Pretend like you're from Iceland, and speak only a rare dialect of Icelandic. I guarantee this will save you a lot of grief. Especially if Eddie happens to be your driver.