February 2010: Snowmaggedon has hit the Washington, D.C. area, and everyone has been stuck inside their houses for what feels like weeks. The Metro is open for a few hours then closes back down. Buses aren’t running. I’ve dug my car out of the snow more than once, but am afraid to leave because I don’t want to have to murder the person who might steal my parking place. I would not look good in a bright orange jumpsuit.
Finally, after what seems like years, Metro announces they will open on Saturday and stay open until midnight. Pandemonium ensues. The bars and streets are packed with people who are desperate to get out and be with other people.
I make the trek in from the suburbs (really not that far), and I miss the Metro deadline to go home at midnight, but I figure I’ll get a cab.
Ah, the naïveté of youth, right?
Surprisingly, a cab quickly comes along and stops for me. I tell him where I’m going.
“No,” he says. “I’m not going there.”
“Uhhhhhhh…” I try to keep my patience. This happened all the time with cabbies who refused to take me to my apartment. “It’s the law. You have to take me.”
“You want to report me to the police?” he demands.
“Well, kind of,” I say.
“Fine. Here’s my license number.” And at that point he shuts off the engine and points to his license number. I mean, really?! “I wouldn’t take you there even if you gave me $50. I don’t care,” he says.
I argue with him for a minute more, lose my patience, get out of the cab and say—and I quote—“I wish you very bad luck.”
ZING! Right?! I told him!
Flash-forward a year and it’s March 2011 (funny how time works, eh?), and I’m in Bangkok, still struggling with the cab drivers.
There are a lot of challenges involved in cabs in Bangkok. And yes, I just wrote about motorcycle taxis, but the taxicab is a whole different beast. I’ve been in them a lot recently and they’ve been on my mind.
Challenge 1: Getting the cab to pick you up in the first place.
Sometimes I’ll wave for a cab, the driver will look at me, and then he’ll drive right on by. Argh. It can be quite annoying at times, especially if I’m in a hurry. I try really hard to give them the benefit of the doubt—maybe they’re going off duty!– but as I’m a pessimistic person by nature, that can be hard.
Challenge 2: Getting the driver to actually, you know, DRIVE you where you want to go.
This is where jackassery starts to abound in Bangkok cab drivers.
Probably 50% of the time I try to get a cab in BKK, the driver just flat-out refuses to take me where I want to go. Sometimes I want to know why—I’m apparently more of a masochist than I like to admit, because I really do know this is an exercise in futility, and it always causes me psychological anguish (YES, ANGUISH).
The answer is usually just, “No. No go.”
“BUT WHY?” You know how you’re not supposed to lose face in Thailand? I always come very, very close to losing it at these moments.
“No.” Usually this is accompanied by a very stubborn headshake and the cab driver refusing to look at me.
At this point, I get very grumbly and grumpy and get out of the cab in a huff.
But my number one favorite excuse for a driver not taking me somewhere in Bangkok is:
There’s too much traffic.
Oh, hi, Mr. Taxi Cab Driver, you drive a cab. For a living. In Bangkok. Like, the worst place in the world for traffic jams. Yeah, there might be a lot of traffic, but I’m not asking you to drive me for free. And you drive a cab. For a living. JUST SAYING.
Challenge 3: Getting the driver to use the meter.
I’ve lived in Bangkok for over 6 months. I may still be a sucker, but I’m not such a sucker that I’m going to go somewhere without a meter, especially as they usually ask for more than the meter would be, of course.
I’m going to start a new campaign slogan: “No meter, no love.”
It’ll be like the “No glove, no love” slogan, except not at all.
Challenge 4: Getting a driver who knows where you’re going.
Me, after I’ve gotten in a cab, in Thai: I’m going to R— Road, near Blah Blah Hotel. Do you know where that is?
Cabbie: Yes, I know it.
Me: **Sitting back, getting ready for a nice air-conditioned ride where maybe I can play Scrabble on my Kindle and hopefully the stupid computer player, Al, won’t cheat (Al’s a freaking cheat and he knows words that I don’t think are really words).**
Cabbie: Go straight?
Me: Uhhhhh…yeah, I think so…
Cabbie: Turn left at Blahblahblah Road?
Me: Uhhhh…no…go straight and turn right at Blergblerg Road. What the hell?
From what I understand, a lot of cab drivers in Bangkok have come to live in the city straight from the countryside approximately 15 minutes before starting their shifts and really don’t have any idea where they’re going; that’s why they ask YOU for directions. And don’t even bother trying to show them where you’re going on a map—you might as well be showing them a manuscript in ancient Greek and asking them to translate it to a Martian language. Not gonna happen.
Challenge 5: Not getting screwed over by the wrong route.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked a cab driver to take me to the Asok BTS station from my neighborhood. I’ve gone this route in cabs at least, I don’t know, 40 times. I know the way to go, and every cab driver goes approximately the same way.
Except the cab driver who decided to take me for a ride.
“Excuse me, why are you going this way?” I asked (in Thai) when he took a turn that was going to take us WAY the wrong direction.
“Oh, this is the way to Asok,” he assured me.
Okay. Sometimes I don’t know everything—I KNOW THIS IS HARD TO BELIEVE—so I figured maybe it was just another way to get there in the same amount of time. That’s happened before.
Ha! God, just about every time I think I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I should just trust myself.
By the time the meter was past the amount it should have been and we were stuck in traffic with at least another 25 minutes ahead of us, I got out of the cab and took the MRT (subway) just on principle. I showed him not to screw around with me! Right?!
Another time a cab driver clearly went the wrong way so we were stuck in traffic that was painfully not moving. My friends asked the driver why he chose to go the way with traffic instead of the way without traffic and he gave us a heated lecture about how this is the country of Thailand! And there’s always traffic in Thailand! And there’s traffic in other countries, too! All the time! So shut it, stupid foreigners!
We shut it. And then we got out of the cab and took the BTS train to our destination. We showed him!
Challenge 6: Remembering that there are good guys out there.
Sometimes things go just the way they’re supposed to with cabbie. I get in the cab, tell him where I want to go and get there in the right amount of time for the right amount of money. No jackassery. No arguing. Sometimes I even have pleasant conversations with the drivers and we both practice our respective foreign language skills and have a good time teaching each other.
Cabbies have a hard job. They have to work long, hard hours and deal with a lot of jackassery of their own. I respect that, and I definitely wouldn’t want their job.
I just want to get where I’m going without hassle, people. Is that too much to ask?
Cabbies: 1 Megan : 0
Really, they have all the power, don’t they?