The men that I seek out these days are well over 40, dark, slightly malnourished looking, and drive like grandmas. Gotta watch out for the pretty-looking young ones in their spanking new vehicles. Don’t trust that eagerness as they brave 3 lanes of traffic to arrive at your feet—more often than not, they are scammers who would take you for rides and cheat you of your cash.
My entire Thai vocabulary has been dedicated to making these relationships work. Sometimes/ often there are communication barriers that end up with me chucked out the door and left stranded on a busy street corner. But, once in a while, something clicks and there’s this immediate connection, and I sit back, relax, and dally in that sweet, sweet spot-- at the back of a Bangkok taxicab.
I’ve come to both love and loathe my daily taxi experiences. It is almost always a struggle. Does he* really understand me? Is he going to switch on the meter? Are we going to end up in the middle of a 6-car pile up on the expressway? Will he give me back my change if I gave him a one-hundred baht bill for a 40-baht ride? Cab rides in Bangkok may not always be wonderful experiences, but they almost never fail to fill me with wonder.
The worst ones are from the airport. Even if you're luckly enough to have escaped a 600-baht fare for a 300-baht ride, there’s really little chance of being spared from the 150km/hr ride down the elevated highway. Having probably spent years of their lives stuck in Bangkok’s horrendous traffic, these drivers steer with a vengeance. If you are the least bit sensible, you’d reach for the seatbelt fast, and soon find that there is none**.
The problem is that I probably know my way around the Bangkok Sukhumvit area better than the average Bangkok driver my age. Many of the drivers come from the North-eastern region, and it does appear that some drivers hop off the buss and jump straight into the driver’s seat of a cab. So while they may struggle to take you to, say… the financial district, they should have no trouble delivering you to the Laotian border in no time.
But wait, there are fun times, too. I particularly enjoy the guessing games—am I Malaysian, Korean, Indonesian or Singaporean (funnily enough, no one has ever guessed it on first trial). Some notable encounters include: middle-aged man blasting music by the Grateful Dead at 10am; chatty grandpa who was adamant about learning the population sizes in various Asian countries; driver with a big bulge on the side of his neck (goiter? I was being extraordinarily rude and couldn’t help staring). Despite my best efforts to explain my deficiency in the Thai language, there are still many who insist on turning their heads and talking to me in Thai. Note to self: I should really expand my Thai repertoire to include “eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, please!”
Which brings us back to my appreciation for the older drivers—if anything, their driving prowess is proven by the fact that they are still on the road, alive.
* taxi drivers in Bangkok are almost always men; although once I had an androgynous looking driver who did not speak a word or make a sound—creepy!
** technically, there are seatbelts in the back… but there’s NEVER a buckle.