I was lazy and took a taxi home today. In my defense it was freezing and erring on the dodgy side to walk home. I jumped in at Baquedano and, as per usual, the driver locked the doors.
“Why do taxi drivers do that?” I asked him, purely to spark a conversation.
“Because people on the street open the doors.” He responded.
“Has that happened when you have been driving?”
“Of course. It happens all the time, in all parts of Santiago, especially when people are talking on their cell phones. They open the door and snatch it. So now I always make sure the doors are locked, especially because passengers start blaming me if I don’t”
Five minutes later and we had established my life story, including a detailed account of my relationship with Luis and the birth of Emilio (in a pool, if you are also interested). We had touched on numerous other topics and were now sharing photos of our children at the traffic light.
“This is Jaime’s fifth birthday party” he shows me now, and I am blown away by the effort. There was a huge altar of balloons (like at Elisa’s party), personally drawn Minion balloons, Minion decorations and food mountains splayed across two tables. I told the taxi driver his son looked like a happy boy, and he really did.
This is not the first time taxi drivers have proudly shown me pictures of their children. I don’t know what it is, but saying I have a son seems to break alot of boundaries that previously used to hinder me. Not long ago I had a driver from Peru take me down Hernando de Aguirre and personally tried to find Luis a cheaper taxi to rent on the internet (and consequently made me late for work!). Another time I got into a taxi at the same time as a fire engine siren was sounding, and the taxista proudly showed me his volunteer ID hanging from the visor.
“When the alarm sounds do you have to go running?” I asked him.
“No no no, this was in the United States, ten years ago! I was a voluntary firefighter there for twenty years but I stopped when they began changing all the regulations as it made the job so complicated. Now I just drive the taxi, but my heart is with the bomberos.”
Speaking of bomberos, not long ago I had a former carabinero driving my taxi. He was a policeman all his life but was now retired, and drove the taxi for some extra income. Unlike all other taxistas, his health was covered by his pension and didnt need to live “day by day.”
I asked him what the biggest problem was in Santiago today.
“Definately the delincuentes, without a doubt. They are the bane of this city.” An answer which I am sure surprised no-one.
I am also offered endless advice from taxistas who are usually the first to admit that everyone in their profession is out to con tourists. I spoke to a very lovely driver the other week in Conchali who used to drive Santiago buses before they changed to TranSantiago (“it all went downhill then” he confides conspiratorially).
“Always watch for the note swapping. That’s the big one. That and driving the wrong way. Oh yes, they will try anything! Listen to me, mi reina, be careful in the taxi!!”
Maybe I have been taken for a ride alot in the taxi – I have no idea – but generally I get taken where I want to go the right way. I’ve had the “you’ve given me a 1000 instead of 10000” once and occcasionally I get a grumpy man who is clearly in need of a new profession. Once I even had a woman driver – and she was nice as pie – and only worked until 9pm when it became too dangerous. It is dangerous at night, while in the day it’s agonizingly slow and poorly paid. But its a job and there are so many drivers who genuinely love meeting gringos and learning about their (odd) ways. Hands on heart – and I know I’m biased – but I think Santiago has friendly and courteous drivers (for the most part). I’d love to hear your stories though – i know some people have great taxi tales!