This story is about my experience with a pirate taxi driver in Mexico City was part of I writing course I took years ago. I decided to share it with readers. Hope you enjoy it!
After a long day of sightseeing, it was time to transfer to the airport. From a shaded plaza, in front of the Cibeles Fountain located in the Roma colony, my husband proceeded to hail a cab.
A few minutes later, a taxi driver slowly directed his vehicle toward us. A group, consisting of three men in business attire, ran towards the taxi in an effort to ‘steal’ the cab from my husband. Several instructions were shouted to the driver at the same time.
The driver dismissed the other party while directing his attention to my husband. One of the other guys, in a spurt of angriness, told the driver, “Who do you think you are, #*%*@?”
“What did you say?” asked the driver. The man proceeded to insult him with harsher words this time.
The next series of events is not clear in my mind. The taxi driver got out of the car and one of the guys jumped over him. All I could hear was my husband shouting, “Run!”
While we were hurrying to the other side of the plaza, a man approached us, “Do you need a taxi service?” After agreeing on a price to the airport, my husband jumped in the front seat. I took the back seat behind the driver.
Distressed by what just happened my thoughts began to organize, “Wait, what are the colors of this car? I think this is an all wine car. Oh no, we just got into a pirate taxi.”
Mexico City, with a population of 21 million, is served by thousands of taxis. Even though I have my reservations with this transportation medium, the ones in Mexico are cheap, fast, and convenient.
Many friends who live in the city have assured me there should not be any problem as long as I stick to the registered taxis (painted in wine and gold colors). For every registered taxi in the city, there may be 3 guys transporting people in their particular cars. “Those unlicensed, impossible to track services, are the ones you should avoid,” have said my friends countless times.
It is not a secret. I have been in this situation before (in other countries). Call it naivety, distraction, or stupidity. That is why I couldn’t understand why my paranoiac state was causing sweaty palms and shaky legs.
Taxi drivers have always been my go-to source of encyclopedic information, current trends, latest music happenings, and adrenaline-induced adventure. The description of their vehicles (registered, licensed, speedy, gypsy, hack) has never been related to the satisfaction derived from riding with them.
Riding to the Airport
On the day of the altercation, after seeing two 50 years old hitting each other, the last thing I was going to do was to notice the color of the car which was taking me out of the conflict zone. Seconds after boarding, my eyes were scanning all areas in an evidence-gathering mode. My husband connected with the driver right away. They were laughing out loud like childhood pals.
The inside of the car was immaculate, with no rough surfaces or sticky carpets. The windows went up and down in a zilch. There was even a vanilla aroma. The driver itself was a middle-aged, well-dressed man. His accent revealed he was not from the D.F. I didn’t hear one ‘chale guey’ during the entire conversation. His smooth-talking denounced how he has used his “entrepreneurial” skills to survive in a rough city.
My reconnaissance efforts didn’t yield any suspicious activity. It was time to embrace the situation and get the best out of it. At least, I was riding to the airport in style.
“The people in this city are crazy,” I heard the driver say with added emphasis. “I have to deal with rude and drunk people. I have been accused of robbery by clients. Some people don’t want to pay. This morning one lady couldn’t hold herself and peed over one of the seats. She cried of shame but common man,” he said while hitting the steering wheel. I was begging that lady didn’t seat in the same spot I was.
Even though I have got to know Mexico City well, I couldn’t determine where we were. The shadiness of the buildings couldn’t distract me from the huge amount of cars trying to squeeze throughout the skinny lanes. I was expecting to see flying vehicles since they were already on the road, the emergency lane, and the green areas. The stressful scene didn’t seem to provoke a hint of bitterness in the driver. He continues telling his stories, jokes, and observation in a cheerful way.
After a phone call full of romantic terms, the driver started to talk about his family. “My daughter is visiting from the States. I surprised her with a trip to Huatulco. Once she returned, she found a brochure and got fixated with Hidalgo. I had to take her to the Prismas Basalticos and Tula. I spent a big chunk of cash on her but that is why I work.”
Finally, we got out of the fastidious jam and started to gain velocity over an elevated expressway. At that point, we were in full conversation, shooting questions, and answers to each other. It felt like on a road trip throughout the nook and crannies of the biggest city in Mexico.
The camaraderie didn’t take my sigh from the erratic things this guy was doing. No hands on the steering wheel. Talking on the phone on the sharpest curves. Kissing a goat’s foot hanging from the rear mirror (his lucky charm). Maybe all taxi drivers have a hint of madness. Not by selection but because their jobs have shaped them like that.
“Hey, buddy. We are about to arrive. Can you pay me now? I don’t want to get in trouble with the police officers patrolling the airport,” the driver said pleading for our comprehension. At this point, we didn’t have to pretend anything. We really felt like a friend was taking us to the airport.
Seconds before parting ways, when waiting for a spot to park in front of the terminal, the driver took out a business card from his wallet. “Guys, make sure to call me up if you come back to the D.F. I can help you with anything you need,” he said looking straight into our eyes. “If you want to do the touristic circuit, I can take you to the Pyramids, Morelos, Hidalgo, Puebla, and even Acapulco.” We thanked him for everything, shook hands, and waited till he was out of sight.
Once inside the terminal, my husband started to laugh. “The nickname of the taxi driver is ‘Gato Seco.’ I saw it on his card.”
I started to chuckle not only because of the nickname but because of all that happened in the previous hour and a half. “Did you notice his taxi was unlicensed?” I said while trying to compose myself.
“Oh yes. But I didn’t care. Every time we come to this city, we get the most unique taxi drivers,” said my husband, and I couldn’t agree more with him.
I have always said people are the ultimate reason why I travel. The events of that day could not have confirmed more my way of thinking. All the wonderful sights in Mexico City such as the Independence Angel, the Museum of Anthropology, the Chapultepec Castle, the world-famous UNAM Campus, Coyoacan, and the Zocalo, will have to forgive me.
I prefer the humanized city of street vendors, shoe shiners, artists, and pirate taxi drivers. From now on, it would be difficult to think about Mexico City without remembering Gato Seco’s stories.
Who has given a human face to a city you have visited? What is your favorite taxi driver story?