I don’t own a car. I don’t need one. I live in Bangkok, a place where you can hail a taxi in your shower. Okay I’m exaggerating, but in Bangkok, taxis are everywhere. I can walk to the edge of any sidewalk, raise my hand, and three or four taxis will fight to the death to get the fare; imagine one of the motorized fight scenes from Mad Max with the dialogue dubbed in Thai. The victor will slide to a halt in front of me and beckon me inside while he reaches out to dislodge a battle-axe from the hood. It’s quite convenient. Nevertheless, despite the convenience Bangkok taxis provide, once I’m in one I often hear a nagging question in my head, namely, why the hell don’t I buy a car?
It’s not that all the taxi drivers here are bad. Many are friendly and honest, and they will convey you to your destination without undue hassle. Some, however, are better endured under the influence of Xanax. I am taking it upon myself, therefore, to inform you about the types of taxi drivers you will need to beware of should you visit here and provide some insight on how to best survive them. I have classified them into five categories: The Mad Scientist, The Frugal Frumper, The Pale Rider, The Predator, and The Mentally Deceased.
The Mad Scientist: Unless you’re as fit as a NASA astronaut, you should probably tell this fella to take you straight to the emergency room because he’s going to put you there anyway…you might as well get there in time for them to restart your heart. The problem is there’s no way to spot this type of driver before you get in. You won’t realize what’s going on until you see a space up ahead that looks too small for the taxi to squeeze through. If you notice the driver squint his eyes at the gap and then check his seatbelt, get ready. And by get ready, I mean assume the crash position. You are sitting in the taxi of a mad scientist, and he is about to test the theory that an object will elongate and grow thinner as it approaches the speed of light.
But, hey, the good thing is it seems to work. It’s not something you should try with a weak heart or without a diaper, but it really does seem to work. I can attest to this from experience. From the second the driver begins his run at the gap, my body begins to collapse in on itself. First, my stomach turns into a golf ball, and then the remaining cells in my body crowd together and hug each other in fear. My eyes bulge out, probably because my skin is trying to hide on the other side of my head, and all the air in my lungs abandons me with a whimper as I instinctively twist my body into a sideways posture to become more streamline. The taxi is now a missile. Just before we reach the gap, my eyes duck inside and hide somewhere down around my tonsils…my testicles are already there. My body has never been thinner. I’m as thin as a sheet of paper, and because my heart has stopped beating, every bit as white. Then, it’s over. We are decelerating. The mad scientist in the front seat is enjoying a chuckle. I open one eye. We are through. We made it.
The Frugal Frumper: This guy is dinner at Denny’s compared to the mad scientist, but he will still provide you with an experience that, if you let it go on long enough, will leave you suicidal. He is also known as The Green Pedal Pumper or The Eco Imbecile, and his mission is to concurrently save the world and make you wish you were dead. He does this by driving in a most irritating manner; one that he is convinced conserves fuel. It doesn’t. In fact, it most assuredly uses more fuel than the normal, sane method of driving. I will, however, say this for his method… it does give your neck muscles a good workout.
Here is how it works. He stomps on the gas, making the engine go FRUMP and the taxi noses up and lurches forward. The G-force of the acceleration plasters you against the seat, your head bends so far back you are looking at the sky through the rear window. Then he abruptly takes his foot off the accelerator, whipping your head forward until this time you are looking at your shoes. He coasts for a while. When the taxi has slowed to a crawl, you will hear another FRUMP, and the whiplashing process starts all over again. This will continue until you reach your destination. Sound like fun?
Part of me wants to strangle him. The other part of me also wants to strangle him. Fortunately, both parts agree it wouldn’t be a good idea while he’s driving so I satisfy myself with making his life miserable. My favorite way to do this is to emit groans of sexual ecstasy each time I’m thrown to and fro. This earns me dirty looks from the frugal frumper, which only encourages me to groan louder. I am enjoying this far more than he is. He is becoming agitated. He shifts in his seat and looks over his shoulder at me. I lick my lips and give him a wink. And when I see he’s as sorry he stopped to pick me up as I am, I let out a high-pitched orgasmic scream, smile, and tell him to let me out so I can smoke a cigarette.
The Pale Rider: This fella offers no entertainment value at all. His real name is Death. You don’t want his services. Thankfully, there is a way to spot him before you get in. On his dashboard will be an apotropaic shrine, complete with a few Buddhist talismans and a flower rosary hanging from the rearview mirror, and if you look inside, you will see white smudges in the shape of a pyramid on the ceiling where a monk has blessed the car. All of this is designed to protect the driver from accidents, and from the idiotic way Pale Rider drives, it is clear he truly believes no harm can come to him. I, on the other hand, am not so confident. I spend the whole ride with my fingers dug three inches into the upholstery and my eyes the size of volleyballs.
My first experience with Pale Rider wasn’t too bad when I first got in. We were in Bangkok traffic where everything was bumper to bumper so there wasn’t much he could do, but when we got on the tollway where he could let it out and run, I was so scared I almost got religion. It wasn’t that he was driving twice the speed limit. The problem was how he would weave wildly in and out of traffic and tailgate anyone that dared to block his progress…and by tailgate, I mean he got so close to the car in front of us, all he had to do to have anal sex with the other driver was unzip. It was insane. If the other guy so much as tapped his brake, we were goners. It probably wasn’t a good idea to distract Pale Rider at that moment, but I remember squeaking something about slowing the fuck down, and evidently, my squeak was still in the range of human hearing because he immediately began to back off. Then he looked over his shoulder at me and said, “What’s the matter, aren’t you in a hurry?”
I told him, “I’m not in a hurry to die, if that’s what you mean.” Then I instructed him to take the next exit. I hailed a new taxi for the remaining ride home…one without a shrine.
The Predator: This vermin preys on tourists. You will find his taxi outside the major hotels, tourist sites, and those certain areas that specialize in the sex market. He has a slimy quality about him that is visual. He wears wraparound sunglasses, a pinkie ring, a toothpick in his mouth. He never smiles. When you get in, he will invariably lean over the seat to inspect you…he pushes the sunglasses down his nose to get a better look, two beady eyes appear. I love this guy. I’m going to have fun with him.
I know what’s going to happen so I try not to speak in Thai at first; I tell him the address and that is all. Satisfied he has a sucker in his cab, he pushes his sunglasses back up and pulls away from the curb. He does not start the meter. I wait a few moments and ask, “Meter?” Him: “No meter.” So I say, flatly this time, “Meter.” Him: “I take you, 500 Baht.” I ignore that and say again, “Meter.” Him: “Meter broke, 500 Baht.” And by this time he is well into traffic and far from the tourist site where he picked me up. If he lets me out now he will waste gas to get back there, and then he will be at the back of the long queue of other predator taxis…so I now say, in Thai this time, “If your meter is broke, I’ll just get out here.” His head whips around and again he unleashes his beady eyes on me. He curses in Thai under his breath. I smile.
The Mentally Deceased: I tweeted about one of these gents a while back. He was old, although to say he was old is something of an understatement. He was a poorly preserved antique, and his brain had gone to rust. I looked up from my reading to find we were on a road oddly bucolic for the middle of Bangkok where we were supposed to be. I leaned up and — not too loudly because I didn’t want to stress his heart while he was going 50 KPH and in control of the steering wheel — I said, “Where the fuck are we?” He rounded and looked at me as if he was aware for the first time he had a passenger. I continued, “The Sky Train?…at Mo Chit?” And at that point recognition came into his eyes and he started bobbing apologetically. He had forgotten. He was sorry. He’d taken the wrong turn. He would adjust the meter so I wouldn’t have to pay. He was embarrassed.
And that, my friends, is the problem with the mentally deceased. They are such genuinely sweet people you cannot possibly be angry with them. He had me feeling guilty for not going the direction he was going. I heard myself telling him, “It’s no problem, don’t worry. We’ll get there soon enough. It’s no big deal, really.” And, of course, I wouldn’t let him adjust the meter. I would pay the full amount. I guess the lesson here is that if you’re a tourist and don’t know the route to your destination, it is probably better to avoid the mentally deceased taxi driver. You tell him to take you to Bangkok’s Weekend Market and you’re likely to spend the weekend in jail for trying to enter Burma illegally. However, if you do happen to find yourself with such a driver, I strongly advise that you remind him often where it is you’re going, avoid loud noises, and keep a close eye on his pulse.
So there you have it. While writing this I had to go out a couple of times and I took taxis hoping for a terrible experience to share with you. Unfortunately, both drivers were friendly and professional. It really pissed me off. But that just underscores the fact that most of Bangkok’s taxi drivers are excellent. The five woeful beings I just described are rarities for the most part. Oh, if you’re a tourist, you’re going to run into The Predator a few times, but just know that their meter is never broken, and if they refuse to turn it on, get out. It’s not as if it’s going to be difficult to find another taxi. All you’ll have to do is raise your hand and watch as three or four of them fight to the death to get to you first.
[I dedicate this post to the lovely and ever young Denise Railey, known on Twitter as @sunnysocal. She was another friend that urged me to start a blog. She might well have been the first to suggest it, but it’s been so long ago I can’t remember for sure. That’s what happens when one is slowly transforming into one of the mentally deceased as I am. Denise’s first novel is in the works, but you can enjoy her writing now at her blog: http://deniserailey.wordpress.com/ ]