“Do you know where that is?”
“Are you able to take me there?” (it is considered a tough part of town)
“Is it OK to take me there?”
Long pause in a wallowing 1970s vintage Cadillac with deep red vinyl and the smell of 48,000 packets of cigarettes.
“Perhaps we could get going. I need to be there in ten minutes or so.”
Cadillac drags its saggy butt into the traffic and we slop along down the road towards the freeway.
“Where are you from?”
Long pause and three indeterminate lane changes before he says “DC”. Not what I was hoping to hear. But I decide I need to place a priority on extracting the seat belt from under the seat where it was last jammed in October 1984. Mission failed. Take attention off the driving and direct it back to the driver. I used the term loosely.
Dropping any attempt at conversational subtlety I resort to something more akin interrogation.
“Were you born here?”
(Fool, ask open questions.)
“Interesting, where were you born then and how did you end up in DC?”
“I was born in Ethiopia and came to DC twenty years ago. I am an American citizen. Now, I don’t want to talk.”
(That is OK, you have done stuff all talking so far. Probably best you concentrate on keeping this wallowing beast in a lane and get me safely to Hope Street).
We arrive in Hope Street. It is a tough part of DC, on the “wrong side of the tracks”. He pulls up out side a community clinic where about twenty African Americans are involved in some sort of noisy (screaming) brawl. My Ethiopian friend was suddenly very animated.
“Come on, out you get. You need a receipt? Surely not. OK, OK. Quick quick, this is dangerous, I need to get out of here.” Frantic scribble, receipt handed over. I alight from the mother ship and hear him put the pedal to the metal. It wheezes its way like the fat man it is, barely gets any speed up, sloshes around a corner in a vaguely tight right hand turn and vanishes. I turn to the boiling crowd in front of me thinking this, white boy, will be interesting. Shake of the hand and a big grin – “Welcome”. It is my destination, after all.
My toughest taxi conversation yet. In the global fraternity of cab drivers he so far has been the exception and about as far from the singing madman of Jordan as you can get.
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