I have a weird thing against taxi drivers. Whenever I step into a cab, I am convinced they are going to try to hustle me.
Or kill me.
I once shared a cab with Liana while we were in Amsterdam. I was tripping hard on a space cake and lost sense of time and space.
I became convinced that we had been in the cab for hours (turns out, it was minutes). And that the driver was taking us to a deserted field on the outskirts of the city where he planned to murder us in cold blood. Probably with an axe.
Like I said, tripping hard on a space cake.
Spoiler alert: I never made it to my hostel and am currently dead.
I think it’s the utter lack of control that gets to me.
Despite my skittishness around taxis, I do use them. Especially while traveling.
Especially when a friend is soooooo excited to see me after I have flown eighteen hours to visit her in a foreign country, that she opts not to pick me up from the airport and instead suggests that I get a cab to her apartment.
I’m sorry, was that sarcasm too thinly veiled?
Allow me to be more clear: I flew from Minnesota to Abu Dhabi to visit Louise and she told me to get a damn cab from the airport to her apartment, rather than pick me up herself.
Ok, I made her take the airport shuttle bus when she came to visit me in Barcelona, but that is not the point!
The point is, after eighteen hours of flying, I had finally landed in the Abu Dhabi airport and had successfully reconnected with my luggage.
The next step was to find the exit and a cab driver.
I walked through the unfamiliar terminal, trying to get my bearings. But frankly, I was feeling quite overwhelmed.
Maybe it sounds silly to feel overwhelmed in an airport (after all, they’re just carbon copies of each other, right? If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.). But it’s easy to feel disoriented after a long flight.
Plus, I’m not totally clear on the UAE’s perspective on women.
Is it weird that I’m traveling alone?
Should I be more protective of myself? Of my things?
Where should I be on a scale of conservatively cautious to viciously vigilant?
So, while I’m trying to gauge my surroundings and whether I’m attracting undo attention, I’m also trying to locate the damn exit.
Which is about as much cognitive ability as my mind can handle.
On a good day.
Lucky for me, airports are pretty much idiot-proof.
I was able to find the exit: a large, sliding glass door, which was part of a wall of massive windows that brought sunny, natural light into the bleak, grey terminal.
Even I couldn’t miss it.
I figured I would walk outside and find the taxi stand, no problem.
But before I could walk outside, three guys stepped into my path, bringing me and my rolling luggage to a sudden halt.
I was startled, but not alarmed.
I mean, these guys were wearing white collared shirts and khaki vests. The only thing alarming about them was their fashion choice.
And frankly, even that wasn’t their fault.
Their preppy uniforms were clearly the fault of their company, whose logo was stitched into the Leave-It-To-Beaver vests.
“Do you need a taxi?” one of the guys asked.
“Uuuuuh, yeah actually, I do,” I said, still disoriented. “I’m going to the US National Bank building on Reem Island. Do you know where that is?”
Louise had warned me that a taxi driver might claim he knew where her building was, but then once we were in the cab and near Reem Island, he might turn around and ask me where the building was.
As if I knew the layout of all the neighborhoods in Abu Dhabi.
Unfortunately, Louise had never actually clarified how to tell the difference between a driver who said he knew where he was going and one who actually did.
But honestly, these guys looked so professional, that I wasn’t really worried about it.
They spoke to each other quickly in another language, and seemed to agree on where the US National Bank was located.
Although, honestly, they could have been talking about the best way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I would have had no idea.
Before I knew it, one of the guys had taken my bags in hand and was leading me outside to the car.
I followed him thoughtlessly, amazed by how quickly it had all happened.
Well, damn, this is convenient, I thought.
I was still feeling a bit overwhelmed and disoriented, but now I was feeling vaguely proud of myself, too.
Although why I should feel proud of myself for finding a cab, Lord only knows.
But I had managed to find a taxi driver – and one who actually knew where Louise’s place was! – without breaking a sweat. Or even fully leaving the airport.
But just as I was feeling smug and self-righteous, I walked past an airport security guard.
This security guard had been standing two feet away from me and these guys, watching the entire exchange.
In fact, his nearness had comforted me because it meant that these guys were not scam artists or pick pockets.
But now, as I passed him, the security guard gave me a Look.
And that Look said, “Gurl, you are getting hustled,” which is apparently the same in every language/facial expression because I read it clear as day.
The Look also seemed to say, “But screw it, this is not my problem.”
Which is also probably universal.
Suddenly, my Spidey senses were tingling.
My old taxi-driver-phobia came rushing back.
Shiiiiiiit. Am I getting hustled? I wondered as I followed the driver outside.
I watched as the driver went out the door and took a right, to the black cars on the curb.
I looked in the other direction, to my left, and discovered a long line of taxi cabs waiting with their green lights on.
The tingling Spidey senses transformed into alarm bells.
I have no idea what’s going on here. And worse, I have no idea how to figure it out.
“How much will this cost?” I asked the driver.
This was my attempt at playing Sherlock Holmes.
“200 dirham,” he said.
Crap. Sherlock Holmes might know the conversion of UAE dirham to US dollar, but I do not.
How much is 200 dirham?
Is that the equivalent of a month’s rent? Or a cheeseburger?
I literally have no idea.
The only thing I know about the USD-UAE dirham exchange rate is that, when I used the currency exchange counter, I gave them $400 USD and they gave me $1,500 UAE dirham (mas o menos).
I did some quick mental math in my head.
2 + 2 = Fish
Crap, I forgot that I’m bad at math.
But my Spidey senses are telling me that something is off in this equation.
“What’s the difference between these cars and that taxi stand?” I tried again, pointing to the awaiting taxis to my left.
“Oh, this is a professional car service. Those are just regular taxis,” he explained.
Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner.
All of the pieces suddenly came together into a clear picture:
The dorky (but professional) khaki vests.
The positioning inside the airport.
The condescending look of a security guard who is watching a hapless damsel get pounced on by profiting prey.
This was a professional (aka: expensive) car service.
Oh, hell to the no.
“Thanks for your help,” I said abruptly, grabbing the handles of my luggage. “But I’m going to take a regular taxi.”
“Oh, ok,” he said, acquiescing my luggage. “Yeah, it’s probably cheaper that way.”
Luggage in tow, I rolled my way over to the regular taxi stand, feeling a mixture of annoyance and gratefulness that I had nipped this whole episode in the bud.
The new (regular!) taxi driver helped me put my bags in the van and we were off.
As we made our way to Louise’s apartment, I enjoyed the view of Abu Dhabi and the highly unusual pitter patter of rain.
It rains only a few times per year in Abu Dhabi and it happened to be raining when I arrived. It felt pretty special.
A few miles into my trip, I noticed that the taxi’s meter wasn’t running.
I thought this was odd, but I didn’t say anything.
After all, I had just dodged one taxi driver scam.
What’s the likelihood that I stumble into a second one?
…yeah, I think you see where this is going.
I figured the meter was just broken or something.
Finally, we arrived at Louise’s building on Reem Island.
“What do I owe you?” I asked as he helped me pull my luggage from the trunk.
“100 dirham,” he said.
Ah ha! So I was right. Two hundred dirham was too much for this trip. I knew it! You can’t pull a fast one on me, I thought, feeling vindicated.
“I want to tip you, but I only have a twenty,” I said, after handing him the 100 dirham. “Do you have change?”
“Sure,” he said.
He took my twenty dollar bill…twenty dirham bill?…and gave me five back.
I looked up at him, confused.
The guy had just given himself a fifteen dirham tip.
First of all, I found it extremely presumptuous that he gave himself a tip.
Second of all, Louise had told me that some tipping is customary, but like five dirham. Ten at most.
What the hell is going on here?
I remembered the supposedly-non-functioning meter and suddenly my Spidey senses were tingling all over again.
“Umm, I’m going to need more change back than that,” I said awkwardly.
Again, I have no idea what the conversion rate is, but I’m feeling simultaneously annoyed and uncomfortable.
Rather than hand over all my change and let me make the decision, he tentatively gave me another five.
Which means he still has a ten dirham tip.
I’ve flown eighteen hours, I don’t want to have this fight, Louise said ten dirham was within the appropriate range, and I don’t know how much ten dirham is anyway!
So, I said, “Peace out, homeboy” and lugged my bags into Louise’s apartment.
Louise flung open the door to greet me.
After some enthusiastic hugging and…ok, some jumping up and down with spontaneous, juvenile clapping…Louise asked me how my flight was.
Which led to me telling her about the professional car service vs regular taxi service debacle, and the weird, I’m-not-really-sure-what’s-happening-here incident.
Her jaw hit the floor.
“First of all, 200 dirham (about $55 US) is more than double what it should cost you to get from the airport to my apartment, so thank God you didn’t take that option,” Louise said.
*dusts off shoulders*
“But you still got hustled. It should have cost 80 dirham and he charged you 100, then forced you to give him a 10 – almost 15! – dirham tip,” she said.
*puts dust back on shoulders*
I’m not gonna lie to you, I fumed about this for over an hour.
I know, I know. It’s such a small, stupid thing. But it’s just one of those things that totally gets under my skin.
“If it makes you feel better, that kind of stuff, like, never happens in the UAE,” Louise said.
Weird, but that actually does not make me feel better.
In fact, it reminds me of my first break up: “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Or in this case: “It’s not you, it’s U…UAE!” #dadjokes
I was pretty riled up about it for a while (admittedly, longer than I should have been). I took a massive chill pill when I realized that I had lost 30 dirham (110 dirham-80 dirham), which is the equivalent of $8 USD.
But I was still annoyed.
But it’s the principle of the thing, damn it.
This does not do good things for my taxi driver paranoia.
Well, let’s look on the bright side: I got hustled…
But at least he didn’t try to kill me.