Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Black and White

Black and white taxi in Ramses three years ago as an argument ensued over the cab's driving
Has anyone noticed the increase in black and white taxis recently? The white taxis, as seen from previous blog posts (!!Warning!! New White Taxis in Cairo and Update: White Taxi Deceit), were introduced to decrease carbon emissions making the infamous black and white nearly obsolete. That was, until, the revolution.

Now I’ve noticed that more black and whites are popping back on the scene. Why is this? Since the white cabs (as well as governmental subsidies to help drivers purchase the new models) were introduced, black and whites became illegal. Drivers with one of these cars would be stopped and fined by police. And since police are not entirely back in place, even the ones that are do not garner any respect to enforce the law.

My friend Bobby Alkady said, “I prefer taking the white cabs because you don’t have to talk. The black and whites feel they need to increase their tips by making conversation.”

Well, that’s one thing but for many of us that aren’t fluent in Arabic, that reasoning is unimportant. For starters, the white cabs are much cleaner with working air conditioners - and in Cairo heat, that’s muy importante. The meter creates less stress for those that aren’t able to negotiate in Arabic and you don’t inhale tons of gasoline fumes on the way to your destination.

However, I have to be honest – the heightened black and whites back on the street make me reminiscent of my Cairo just three years ago. While it doesn’t bode well for someone who is unfamiliar with Cairo or negotiating in Arabic, I have to admit that for the most part, I prefer black and whites. Many of you will think I’m crazy, but please allow me to explain.

I successfully negotiated a black and white to Zamalak last week while going to the Chinese embassy. I had no idea exactly where it was located, but since I was able to pre-negotiate, it didn’t matter if we got lost (or my driver deciding to just go in circles on purpose) as my fare was already decided. I didn’t have to constantly monitor the meter to ensure it wasn’t rigged, get upset at traffic, etc.

My driver drove like a bat out of hell, instead of the slower-than-a-90-year-old-with-a-broken-hip-for-fear-of-hurting-the-car’s-shocks. Was it scary? Of course. However, it reminded me of how terrifying my journeys used to be. Just close your eyes and pretend you’re on a roller coaster at the local fairgrounds (ie the ones that are put up in half a day).

And you know what else? You have to love the ash tray that’s on the side under the window. Sure I know that cigarette has probably been in there since the dawn of man, but I don’t have to bend over to ash or try out the window with ash blowing all over me.

The use of tools on the door panel are always a treat. The screwdriver in the window to hold it in place or the pliers on the window knob – excellent rigging indeed.

Oh and don’t forget the blue lights with the lovely additions of mirrors, stuffed animals, random hanging items, etc. Or the springs that shoot up your butt.

See, these are all fond memories for me. They make me laugh and remind me of the adventures Natalia and I used to have as we trekked all over Cairo.

Finally, even when whites were beginning to take over, most of the time I opted for a black and white if I had the choice. The reasoning: most of them know every crook and cranny that Cairo has to offer and are geniuses when it comes to getting you to your location the fastest route possible. Have you seen Cairo traffic?

So if you ask me, besides the obvious environmental impact that they have, I don’t mind them at all. In fact, they always leave you with a story and sometimes that story might be like the time I was going to the airport to pick up a friend and a part fell out of my cab while racing down the Autostrad. The cabby seemed unmoved and continued on until the car came to a stop. Guess that was an important part of the car after all buddy.

And thus he walked back, picked up the part, jimmied it in and we were once again off.

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