The question of Roman taxi drivers has been plaguing the city for some time now. Self-owned taxis are driven by drivers who generally belong to one cooperative of the other, all part of a large lobby which plagues and often holds hostage the Mayor’s office. It is a generally well-known fact that many, many licenses are often sourced, purchased and not necessarily “earned” outside of Rome. Legend has it that if you were to search 10 drivers, you’d find as many as 8 of them have licenses from Pescara, Terni, Ancona or some other underwhelmed city not far from Rome.
Taking a taxi in Rome has become a gamble. Will he be kind and service-oriented? Will he act as though having to give me a ride somewhere is an imposition to his busy schedule? Will I hear endless sugary hits Baglioni and Venditti tunes from the 80s at the highest volume or will it be interminable arguments about La Roma or La Lazio (depending on whether the decals on the dash are Giallorossi or Celesti)? Will there be the sweet aroma of dope mixed into the grungy Marlboro stench or will the Evergreen hanging from the rearview mirror make my stomach turn? And when it does begin to turn because of the smell, the heat or the rapid weaving between lanes of traffic, will he allow me to open my rear window without a lecture about how the wind affects his cervicale? Or will he be a she? Oh, that is a rare and generally appreciated occasion!
Here is one episode of Roman taxi idiocy which makes me crazy with rage: taxi comes to take me to the airport. I tell him it’s a credit card fare to make sure he’s not one of those POSfobes whose portable machines are always mysteriously broken. “Si’, si’, signora. Ce l’ho.” We pull into the terminal and he realizes he’s left his ‘man purse’ (literally ‘borsello‘) at home with all of his documents, including his license and his little portable credit card machine.
Insert here cultural sidebar: It is late afternoon, just past traditional lunch time. Here’s a guy constantly on his phone Whatsapping even as he drives. He gets a call or two. The mumbling and smirking are so transparent, he’s lucky his wife isn’t in the car with me. He’s clearly been somewhere other than home for lunch and gotten something a little extra on the side. During his little afternoon love distraction, he left his borsello where he stores his credit card machine much like he’d have taken his entire car stereo with him every time he parked his car in the 80s. Something about gadgetry that men have to always take them with them.
So, here we have a two-timing taxi driver speeding to airports with no license on him. And I’ve got no cash and he knows it. This is a business expense I had hoped to put on a credit card but his gadget is in a boudoir somewhere. I bet he’s regretting his little fuga already! The wife would be rejoicing in Karma coming back to bite him.
Yet, I’m the one to suffer. In a fair, Western, working world, I’d say “well, I’m sorry, I have a plane to catch”. Instead the lavativo suggests I leave my bags with him while I frantically look around for a Bancomat (and everyone knows those abound in Rome’s Fiumicino Airport). Off I go in a rush and overheating. Then I stop: “Hold on. What’s wrong with this picture?”
I go back and suggest he follow me so I can then pay him and be on my way. I take my bags– yes, I take them — ever heard the word cafone? This is its embodiment. I, client, carrying my bags like a mad woman running through Fiumicino looking for a cash point as the slow, unprepared, imbranato taxi driver follows behind, talking on his phone.
When I do finally find the ATM, I turn around and ask him if he has his receipt book with him. “Oh, mamma mia, I’ll run to the car and be right back.” Yes, I actually wait for him. The alternative to all this would have been my responding to his initial claim “‘sti cazzi” and been on my way. But police and carabinieri and public bystanders, all with an opinion would have ensued. I make it to my gate with no time for my airport manicure but in time to find the 60 Sicilian Middle School students lining up for my budget flight to Catania: the kind where you have no assigned seat and the quickest and craftiest gets the good seat. As if with 60 12-year-olds there is such a thing as a good seat.
Insert happy ending sidebar here: Landing to a view of active Etna at sunset, I rejoice in my new assignment which will bring me to Sicily again and again. As for those rambunctious, pushy, little tweenies, here’s the trick to no assigned seat flying: recognise that the first to board the shuttle to the plane will be the last to board the plane. I, therefore, can write to my heart’s content on my little device, sat on my little bum (ok, poetic license), drinking my little espresso and be – what a concept – the last on the bus and the first on the plane! So, first seat, first row, slept the whole way. Now to my room with the waves gently lapping just off my balcony, grilled sword fish and some ridiculously wonderful pasta peppered lightly with toasted local pistachios. And this is why we put up with awful taxi drivers and the like.