Standing on the roadside, waiting for a taxi in Beirut? In seconds 3 or 4 cabs make pirouettes to get to you regardless of traffic, other drivers, cars, horns… and the winner almost sweeps a passerby to get to you.
You’re inside, experiencing a unique ride, diving from the extreme right to the extreme left to get a few inches ahead of other cars while the driver is commenting on the latest political event, explosion, oil prices, Obama, the Russians, the Syrian conflict etc… Judging by your answer or silence, the tone changes. If you are an interested listener, you’ll get a general overview on the political state of the country with a more or less virulent critic on our government, corrupt politicians, impoverished society, hard times…Silent? You’ll be fed a keen analysis on the foreign conspiracy against Lebanon. The driver won’t show his political inclination unless he feels you’re on his side. The client is king! In the meantime, you experience somersaults, bumps, holes, last-minute screeching breaks while the driver is talking on his mobile or texting a potential client . The radio is on in the background with local music or the eternal political news.
No taximeter in Beirut!
Fares cost are discussed before you get in the cab. The driver starts by telling you” your price is mine” followed after you insist by a number you find fair or not. Once agreed, you ‘re in for the Beirut adventure. Shortcuts, one-way roads turned into 2 ways, heated exchanges between drivers, curses…are all part of the folklore; no hard feelings.!
Mentally and physically exhausted by the traffic, the monologue/dialogue, you reach your destination on time, feeling strangely a lot wiser but sad. You can’t help noticing that many drivers are at the age of retreat, working 2 shifts and barely making a living. Most of them were employed in companies but the bad economy drove them to work in their old age to be able to give their kids a decent college education.