“GOD IS SOMETHING different to all of us, you know?” the man behind the wheel had been babbling for ten minutes since I got in the back seat, and somehow our conversation had reached this philosophical theme of human pondering.
“He means something different to everyone. The bible, it has some trippy stuff in it – I read it and I’m like you expect me to believe this crap? I mean, Adam and Eve, what’s that about?! So what I say is God is different to all of us, He is just something else for each individual. Noah’s Ark, what’s that supposed to mean to me?”
He stopped rambling for a quick moment just to draw in some breath so he wouldn’t pass out. He moved his head forward and upwards to watch the traffic lights before he spoke again, but I knew his attention wasn’t on the road.
“What’s God to you?”
What a complex question to be asked on a short taxi ride. It was just a yellow cab, just like any other, with perhaps a quirkier-than-usual driver. He had a tattoo on his wrist, it could be a crucifix but I couldn’t see properly. His hair was longer than my shoulder length locks, and he often turned around to look at my reactions to his long rants. Somehow from the moment I banged the door shut so I could avoid taking the bus, we had been talking about spirits of the dead, haunted buildings and finally, God.
Marked by loneliness and gawker capacity, cab drivers can be intellectually rich people to strike up a conversation with. They work in their cars all day, only picking up company that wants to go from point A to point B. Witnesses to the world, they sit in their metal boxes and watch what happens around them, only inviting the outside world in when they want to. They gawk at all the people outside simply because there isn’t much else they can do. Even if they spend a whole day picking up clients from start to finish, their only choice is to look out the window. And the eye can’t help but to catch some unusual happenings.
Riding around a big city, they will collect stories from each client they transport. A metropolis is a meaty intellectual plantation. It’s irreparably true that each person will have a story to tell. Wherever the drivers go in the course of their day, they will meet more of the population than the average Joe who goes from his home to the office, from the office to his home. Cab drivers spy on the outside, but they live on the inside. And after they’ve lived, they drop off that piece of the world at point B, and never see them again.
And so, it is a proven belief that the owners of taxi cabs are exceptional conversationalists. In their hours of loneliness in the metal box they rummage through their minds and ponder until someone opens the door of the car. They’ve wondered for a long time now, so they have formed notions and can bounce it off a random stranger perfectly well.
It’s not all of them that reach enlightenment– loneliness must get to some of them, some are grumpy men whose bodies and minds have suffered from eternal fleeting goodbyes from clients they only cared for because of their money. But most days, they’re nice, sometimes appropriately intrusive and keen to be entertained.
Carlos was being appropriately intrusive and was more entertaining than seeking some amusement. It was only later that I learned his name, only after I shared what I thought God was for me. As all my conversations with taxi drivers were always forgotten as soon as I left the car, I had no problem replying such to such a personal enquiry. They’ve heard it all and seen it all. If he doesn’t like it, a fleeting goodbye with the bang of a car door is painless for both of us.
That’s not to say there aren’t any real tensions in their work even though they can invite the world in if and when they please. On my way to a building somewhere in town, my cab was almost run over by a bus that cut him off and would not yield. Power struggles aren’t left to the boardrooms; here was a violent battle of authority right on the street. It was almost a homicidal fight for space in the metaphorical office.
They sit in their metal boxes but they are as unsafe as the rest of us. The world comes to them, attracted by their yellow glow and a promise of no more aching legs.
They are connected and knowing. The best connected people in the world are the ones out there every day, talking to other human beings. One driver who dropped me off in front of my house was a close relative to the mayor, and owned a limousine company. He was wearing a one of those tacky, futuristic sunglasses that are often irritatingly sheer. His dress was not interesting, just a graphic shirt and some jeans – yet, he had powerful contacts and I wouldn’t have known it unless I had asked.
“I work in something different every day,” he told me. “My favourite job is being a crash car driver.”
His name was Felipe. Sometimes, he was hired to crash a car in style in front of a camera for a movie or a soap opera.
“You gotta be aware of your surroundings, that’s the secret.”
He started listing the people and things all around him, and how far from us they were. He hammered on until we arrived and then delved into his jean pocket for a card just in case I ever wanted to crash my car (in style).
Politics and current events live on the tip of many taxi drivers I’ve met before. Radio is their primary source of entertainment. Angry at whatever flimflam politicians are up to that day, they tell me the government isn’t doing anything right, what a disappointment this country is and where is all the morality?
Felipe accelerated down the road, and spoke just as fast as his car. He was showing off, but it was some kind of terrifying to be driven by this loony stranger.
“My office is in a barbecue restaurant,” he told me as he dropped me off. “Call me whenever you need me.”
He sped away and I watched him as he almost hit a pedestrian, avoiding the tragedy with his cat-like driving skills.
“We’ve known each other for ten years, they are the best people in the world,” another driver chatted on. “She’s visually impaired so I drive her around.”
“That’s lovely,” I said, a little bored. Well, it’s not like I knew him enough to be interested. But still, he was telling me about his best friends.
“They are a great couple. They used to be high school sweethearts and went their separate ways. Thirty years later they met again, by then she was already blind – she wasn’t born that way. Anyway, they met again and they’ve been together for a few years now. Isn’t that a beautiful story?”
“That is beautiful!” I feign interest at the time, I was distracted with my own thoughts just enough not to appreciate that in a short ten minute ride, he was sharing his personal life with me, a total stranger.
Loneliness or an irreparable trust in someone you will never see again? Both.
It would be duplicitous of me to criticize or dissect his reasons for telling me about his visually impaired best friend.
When Carlos asked me what God was to me, I answered him right away, confident that I’d never see him again. I told him that God meant love to me, and moments where you can feel love in your bones, when you can feel kindness and selflessness in your whole body. I shared a particular moment in my life where I though the feeling was divine and unique – a manifestation of a bigger power. It was too personal.
“That’s really beautiful,” he was already pulling up in front of my building and I handed him the fare. “Here’s my card, call me when you need a ride anywhere. I am your servant.”
Oops. Will I call? I think not.