Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hailing a taxi in Tokyo and Athens.



Tokyo, 1971, I was there as creative director for three months, until the one they hired got his working papers. I was on loan from the London office. I was treated incredibly well; they really know how to make somebody welcomed. I had a driver that picked me up every morning, a house with a housekeeper, everything to make my stay easier.

Japan is a beautiful country, with very polite people, nevertheless it is the other side of the moon, just as you think you understand everything, something happens that reminds you how different it really is.

OK, let me get back to the title, taxis here and there.

As I said, mornings a driver picked me up to go to work, he arrived spot on time, white shirt, black pants, a tie and white gloves, absolutely immaculate. He was available all day to take me wherever I had to go.

At night I did not go straight home, stayed late and then went out with some of the guys, restaurants clubs, bars, massage parlors, etc. After all it was Tokyo, and the early 70s.

At night, I would take a cab home, or somebody would drop me off at the house.

One rainy night, on the Ginza, I tried to hail a cab. It was pouring, but I was still optimistic, there were hundreds of cabs going by, and it was not that late. Cabs are stopping for people up the road as well as down the road. They just zoom by me to somebody down the road. I started to think it was a racial thing, do not stop for the Gaijine, especially in the rain. I do not remember how I got home, but I must have.

I was told the next day, by my secretary Mariko, that when it is raining or there aren’t many cabs, you hold up two fingers when you are hailing a cab, you would pay twice the price. Great system, I couldn’t wait for the next rainy night to try it out. I hold up two fingers, the preverbal English, “up yours”…it works, the cab stops, takes me home I pay twice the price, well worth it.

I am now in control of my destiny at night, at least I can get home.

It is very late one night, pouring rain, and my two fingers are not working, no cab is stopping or even slowing down, they just are zooming by me. I am a little drunk and I figure out if two fingers don’t work, maybe five fingers will work better. I hold up my open hand and point to it with my other hand, screeching brakes, tires smoking, cabs stopping, they would have thrown out any passengers they already had. A new way to hail a taxi, five fingers, seemed to work all the time. I must admit, I did try to play the innocent and only pay what was on the meter, it didn’t work, they could get really pissed off, rightly so.

What do Tokyo cabbies have to do with Athenian cabbies? When you try to hail a cab in Athens, he might slowdown as you jog alongside, telling him where you want to go, if he is polite he will flick his eyebrows up and speed away, otherwise he will just speed away. There is an independence to both groups.
I have to try the two-finger technique here and hope he hadn’t lived in England.

If he doesn’t stop the two fingers work just as well ”up your's vre.”

5 comments:

  1. Extremely enlightening and educational. A lot better system than NYC. Usually in NYC it's the cabbie that gives you the finger and it's always the same one.

    Great story Greg

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