Being from Florida, a state notorious for its lack of public transportation, I’ve almost always had a car. As a teenager, living 20 miles from school and 1.5 hours from the nearest movie theater, having a car was a necessity. In university, I commuted or at least lived a ways off campus. I didn’t fly for the first time until I was 27. Until I got to Costa Rica I’d never been in a taxi, and the only buses I’d ridden were school buses and the around campus/drunk bus at FSU.
Here in Mexico, I don’t even have the leaky SUV I drove in Costa Rica. It’s public transport, bi-pedal locomotion, or stay my butt at home. I can get myself around pretty well, though. I know which local buses will get me where I want to go and which will take me to some scary outlying barrio if I stay on long enough. I have the website for the long distance buses bookmarked and I know you’ve gotta go the day before to buy tickets if you want to be sure of a seat. I’ve gone from a girl who had no idea what the inside of a taxi looked like to being able to flag one down in a heartbeat. I know quickly flashed headlights means, “Do you want a ride?” and a hand held out the driver’s window like a dead face-hugger means “I’m occupied.” While taxis in most of the world have a meter of some kind (in Costa Rica they call it la maria) here in Mexico I have yet to see one; I’ve learned that if you don’t already know the standard rate you ask how much they’ll charge to get you to your destination before you get in.
In Orizaba itself, the bus route is limited. They run in and out of town or in a circle that goes up the main drag, around to the mall, and back again. That’s pretty much it. Getting to work means walking (which I usually do) or taking a taxi. Getting to the more interesting places on the outskirts of town means taking a taxi. Getting anywhere in a hurry also means taking a taxi. In Costa Rica, taking a taxi meant calling the guy you or your friend knew who drove a taxi and having him come get you. It was more expensive, but it was a guaranteed thing. Here, you just flag down the first one you see. Let me tell you, it is a mixed bag.
Most taxi drivers range somewhere in the neutral zone. They ask where I’m going, and take me there. Some are a bit more chatty, asking where I’m from and why I’m in Orizaba. Some drive ridiculously fast, or retardedly slow. Some are really great. The one who took me from the ADO station to my hotel in Palenque was super awesome, telling me local history and pointing out the important spots in town as we traveled.
And then there are the annoying ones. Like the one who pulled up half a block early and on the wrong side of the street, then yelled at me when I said “no, up there,” because I had said my stop was en frente de the red car instead of adelante de. Really, dude? In English “in front of” and “ahead of” will put you in basically the same spot. Geeze! Or like the really sweet, wee little driver taking me to work one rainy morning who just would. not. shut.
the fuck. up. I am not a morning person. My brain does not talk before 9AM. I have to be at work at 6:55. And this little hobbit just yapped and yapped, giggling after every 6th word, only 3 of which I could understand. It wasn’t until we were half-way to the school that I realized he wasn’t even speaking Spanish half the time; he was saying random things in Nahuatl, repeating them in Spanish, and then asking me how to say them in English. There were also the three jerks who didn’t even speak when I got in, other than to ask “where?” and never so much as glanced at me. All three tried to charge me more than the standard rate. And all three got a blunt, “No. Hago este cada dia y siempre es…” Sorry dude, I do this every day. I know what to pay and I’m not some stupid, blonde tourist.
I think the ultimate in annoyance happened earlier this week, though. I needed to get from work to the post office before it closed. I hopped in the first taxi that stopped, and answered his a donde lleva? with la officina de correos, por favor. As he pulled into traffic it occurred to me that the shortest route was to the right, but he was going straight. I thought, oh well, his money. He can take the long way if he wants. And then he started talking. Not just talking, but turning around to talk straight at my boobs while he drove. I scooted as far away as I could and clung to the seat edge, sure we were going to die if he didn’t watch the road. After about 3 blocks, having ascertained that I was from the U.S. but living here, he asked “Where did you want to go?” I repeated that I was going to the post office and he laughed, “Oh, I should have turned,” and circled the next block so he could go back the right way. And he kept talking. To my boobs. Without looking at the road. It took me repeating my destination twice, refusing to give him my phone number, refusing to pull out my cell phone to record his, and assuring him that I had neither a pen to write his number with nor any local American girlfriends who would be interested, before I finally got there. I virtually threw cash at him as I dove out of the cab and into the safe haven of the post office. Portly taxi man sporting a 70′s porn ‘stache and giant, shiny pinkie rings, you are scary.