We spent much of the week in taxicabs, going from one meeting to another in London. For some reason, the taxi drivers were unusually talkative this week.
For example, a traditional black cab stopped for us on the ramp to Blackfriar’s bridge. The driver was not at all the typical English cab driver. Instead, there was a woman behind the wheel – an attractive woman of about 30, with long dark hair and a black dress.
“Where do you come from,” she asked.
“Originally, from the US,” we replied.
“Yes, you have a bit of a southern accent. I just melt when I hear a southern accent.”
“Well young lady,” we shifted our accent quickly…from the tidewater of Maryland…across the Potomac…and down along the Virginia piedmont. By the time we got to the other side of the bridge we were moving across Georgia faster than William Tecumseh Sherman.
“Well…aaah aam veairy paleeezed to make yawr chawmen acquaintance,” we told her. Our accent was so thick with pecan pie and grits it was amazing she could understand a word. But we were determined; by the time we got to Charlotte Street she was going to be a puddle.
Instead, she did the talking…
“I lived in America for about 5 years,” she continued. “I had such a good time. I loved it. Let’s see, I visited New York, of course…but also down in Virginia…and even Florida. Then, I went out to the West Coast. That was fun too. It’s such a big, beautiful country.
“It’s a pity about the people, though. I probably shouldn’t say this to you. Because I can see you are a gentleman. A real Southern Gentleman, of course. But not all Americans are very well mannered. They’re all very nice. Well, they’re mostly very nice. But that’s different. They’re just not always very polite. In New York, they act like they don’t have time to be polite. I mean, I can tell New Yorkers when they are visiting London and they get in the cab. They don’t say, ‘Thank you,’ when I pick them up. They don’t bother with ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon.’ No, they say: ‘I wanna go to Buckingham Palace.’ I mean, I guess it saves time. But it’s not very nice.
“The southerners are more polite. But even there, you get some parts of the population that don’t seem to be very well brought up. You go into a fast food store and they don’t look you in the eye…or say anything. It’s strange. And then when they do talk you can’t understand what they’re saying…
“The West Coast is a little different. But sometimes I got the impression that they thought being polite wasn’t very cool. It was as if they were imitating New Yorkers. I don’t know. I probably don’t have a very good grasp of American customs, but that was just something I noticed.”
We continued a lively conversation.
“You’re probably wondering how I came to be driving a cab. Well, I tried a number of things. But I like driving a cab. My father is a cab driver. So is my sister. It’s a little game with us…trying to remember all the little streets in London and how to get from one place to another without getting stuck in traffic. That’s what we talk about when we get together. And it’s not a bad way to earn a living anyway. Because you can work as much or as little as you want.
“As long as people have the money for the fares, it’s not bad. For a while there earlier this year, it was pretty grim. But now, people seem to have money to spend again. They’re going out…they’re taking taxis. It’s like old times.”
Another taxi driver misunderstood the American financial system:
“One of my sons works in New York. I don’t know how he does it. They don’t get any vacations. I couldn’t live like that. But he says he likes it. Says it’s stimulating. And he’s with a bank. He works 12 hours a day, as near as I can make out.
“But what I don’t get is how come you have one fellow working 12 hours a day and others not working at all? It doesn’t make sense. Why not split the work up…spread it around? Let others have a shot at it. Wouldn’t everyone be better off?
“The whole US financial system makes no sense to me. I don’t know why working people put up with it. They get no vacations to speak of. And they don’t have a system of health care. If you get sick, you have to pay for your care yourself. But if you’re really sick, you can’t work. And if you can’t work, how can you pay for your treatment. The whole thing seems balmy to me.
“But what do I know, I’m just a cab driver…”
Still another had more personal matters on his mind:
“I’m just here a few days a week. My wife and I live in Shropshire. Way up north. That’s where her family is from. Our children are all grown up. They’ve moved away from London. And my family has passed away. We just have her family, and they’re up north. So, she wanted to leave London and move up where her family is.
“I can’t stand it, to tell you the truth. It’s beautiful. And you go into a shop and the shopkeeper knows your name. It’s charming; you know what I mean? But I’m used to London. Up there you can’t go get a cup of tea after 5pm. Everything is closed. So, I get bored. That’s why I drive this cab. I should have retired years ago. But I can’t bear sitting around. I’d rather drive the cab…get out…meet people. It’s just much more interesting. And I can do it when I want. Nobody tells me what to do. If I get tired, I just stop.
“I come down here and spend a few days driving the cab, then I’m ready to go back to my wife. That’s a nice thing about it too. She gets tired of me after a few days. I probably get on her nerves. And she probably gets on my nerves. So I come down here and work…and then when I go back, she’s happy to see me again. It works out real well for everybody.’
Until next time,
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