Sunday, January 15, 2012

Talking to the Taxis

One of the fun things I get to do almost everyday is talk to my taxi drivers. I run with a taxi crew I call "the grandpas" and they probably know me better than anyone else now!

Riding with the grandpas happened by accident. Moving into the place on El Batan, we noticed there was a taxi syndicate stand just up the street. I didn't use them at first, but then I started to appreciate the convenience of having taxis waiting for me whenever I wanted one without having to call for a ride. And so we began spending a lot of time (and money) together.

The grandpas got their name because the group is anchored by two drivers who are (approximately) 100 years old each. Riding with one of them terrifies me because he can't really see over the wheel and big cars seem to scare him. He is also cranky about people trying to give him anything other than exact change - but he's there in the afternoons when I need a ride, and that's just how it goes.

The other truly ancient driver is adorable, especially this season. Apparently they decided that since they have foreigners as regular riders, they should learn some English. He has mastered "Good Afternoon" which he tells me every morning on my way to getting a ride for my 9 am class.

It's not that no one in the group speaks English - some of them worked in the States, and many are much younger. Out of the 30+ cars in the syndicate, I know 6 of the drivers well enough to have their life stories. Chatting in traffic, you can pick up a lot - Bruno, for example, says he's relieved to have left his delivery route in NYC because taking bread to the Italian bakeries meant getting involved with the mafia and you know, those Russians are crazy.

We chat about visa issues, the weather, vacations, my students, their kids, and anything else that comes up. Many women riding alone in Cuenca complain that their taxi drivers hit on them - not my regular guys! They're married (one with 6 kids!) and besides, at 3 - 4 rides a day sometimes, they already know all about me and my boyfriend.

It is sometimes a check that I have to watch what I share - the taxi guys have lots of time on slow days to share stories. Everybody knows when I'm on vacation, doing exams for the school, upset about something at work, etc, etc - even the drivers I don't talk with regularly. On the other hand, I know quite a bit about their habits and lives, too, so I suppose it evens out in the grand scheme of things.

The other thing that evens out is the price I pay for taxis. As a regular, I pay the minimal fare for everything - something I'm reminded of when I dare to ride with another set of drivers. Cuenca has more than 100 taxi syndicates, some of which have over 70 cars. They can set their own rates for fares from their home base spot to the rest of the city, but good luck finding out what those rates are without being a regular rider, and good luck getting the best rates with a random cab hailed off the street. That's just the way it goes, and I'm lucky to have a set of good cabbies I can trust since I live in one part of the city and work in another.

So do come for a visit - fares are down for 2012 to Ecuador, and then you, too, can talk with my taxis.

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