As previously noted in this blog, taxis are a fundamental part of life in the UAE. You will all be relieved to know that things have improved a great deal in the 4 years I’ve lived here. Once upon a time to get into a taxi was to put your fate in the hands of a complete stranger; a stranger whose personal hygiene was as questionable as his ability to drive. But it must be said that the UAE has done a good job in improving the experience and overall standards. But there are still some drivers who fly under the radar of good, upstanding principles.
I use taxis a fair bit, primarily to take me to and from hotel bars; they are an important tool for me. The other day I went for a beer. The first step of the challenge was to acquire myself a taxi. I stood by the main road near home and waited for about 5 minutes. Like all roads in Al Ain there are 3 lanes on both sides. I saw from afar that one of the old fashioned Toyota Corolla white and gold taxis was gently approaching on the inside lane. I never ride in these, too many bad memories. It’s all well and good reaching your destination quickly, but upside down and on fire? He drove by politely in case he thought I hadn’t seen him. No thanks mate, I’ll wait for a silver one.
Another few minutes past and in the outside lane a silver taxi appeared. Obscured by heavy traffic I accepted that he a) wouldn’t see me and b) would be unable to get across to the inside lane and stop for me. I was wrong. He did see me; seconds later he was swerving across the road sending other cars and even a bus into all other directions, leaving a trail of twisted metal and fire in his wake. I admired his passion for the job but entered the car with caution, fearing that he would drive off whilst I was still saddling up.
Once I was seated I told him my desired destination and went to fasten my seatbelt. I had a belt, but unfortunately there was no clip. We were already travelling at break neck speed, in the wrong lane, I was in too deep. I had to think fast, faster than he was driving at least. I held on to the plastic handle above the rear passenger door with my right hand and positioned my left leg up against the front passenger seat, hoping it would hold in the event of a collision. I had planned to use my left hand on the hand brake if the driver passed out; I had to consider all possibilities. We careered around the first roundabout in the wrong lane, ducking and diving through the other cars, they were everywhere. The horns; they were so loud. He continued to floor it seemingly unaware of the carnage he was leaving behind.
As we reached warp speed I felt it was appropriate to begin reciting the Lord’s Prayer. But there was no time. I must have blacked out a little as we arrived at the hotel moments later. I tried stabbing myself with a key to see if I was still alive. I was. It was truly a miracle. Pale faced and quivering I handed Mad Max his small fee and exited the cab promptly. I have seldom needed a beer that badly.
In hindsight I could have done more. I could have told him to slow down for starters. I could have got him to stop so I could get out and wait for another taxi, one with seatbelts. I wondered what the journey in the white and gold old style taxi might have been like. But after all I did arrive “safely” with lady luck firmly on my side.
I like to offer solutions or advice to my readers, after all that is the purpose of the blog (or so I like to believe). So if you’re waiting for a taxi, and he approaches at a steady speed in the right lane and puts his hazard lights on before gently stopping, he will have seat belts and will provide you with a safe trip at a comfortable velocity. If he swerves across three lanes causing a bus to explode then the odds are that the seatbelts have long since been cut out by firemen who tried to save the life of the previous passenger. This added with the possibility of arriving at your destination sliding on the roof in a ball of flame will not make for a nice trip. You’re better off letting him go and waiting for another one.
Technically it should be silver. But use your instincts…