Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Guest blogger: Tel Aviv's taxis

by Ernest Stock
I gave up driving when I turned 80, and have since been using taxis a good deal. They will get you anywhere in Tel Aviv within 15 minutes or less, are not expensive, and there's no parking problem.

I must have taken about 200 taxis these last two years, and I don't think I've come across the same driver more than once; there's so many of them. And they're somehow all different types and from different backgrounds; there's no single mold that fits the lot.

And yet there are some common characteristics. The minute you enter a cab in Tel Aviv you're in the presence of a proud and vocal individual who feels himself the equal of his passenger. He is not shy in letting you know his views on politics or other subjects, or in drawing you out on yours. But he does this without being obtrusive or aggressive. If you indicate you prefer silence, he'll respect that too. But he'll keep the radio on, for his pleasure, feeling evidently that he has much right to being entertained as his passenger.

Nor is the radio the only voice you will hear during the ride. There is incessant chatter from the company's dispatcher on another speaker, and above it all the driver may, often as not, carry on a private conversation on his cell phone. Actually, "private" is not the right word, because you'll hear about anything from the man's marital problems to how he plans to spend the next weekend. Just yesterday, during a somewhat longer ride from a suburb, I heard my driver give instructions to his wife on how to fend off a persistent caller trying to get the parents to pay their son's debts.

Some drivers are expert players on the stock exchange and during the ride call their brokers. I sometimes try to make mental notes which I forget by the time I get home. The sums involved may be considerable. Indeed, I've heard a driver talk on the phone about a real estate deal in the hundreds of thousands (shekels or dollars, I don't recall which). Still, he thanked me politely when I added a small tip to the fare shown on the meter. (Unlike the New York cabby who some years ago handed me back the quarter I gave him, with a contemptuous, "You need it more than I do, mister.")

In general, one sometimes gets the impression that the man behind the wheel has other things on his mind and that for him driving a cab is not a full-time occupation. Only a woman driver told me she loves it because it relaxes her. On the other hand, a middle-aged male with a Russian accent told me last week that he spends half the year in Moscow doing business, and that during the half he spends here with his family he drives a cab because he is tired of staying home.

Another good thing about taxis in Tel Aviv, by the way, is that you can phone for one
from your home and it will come for you within five minutes.

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