Black Cab Driver

I am not proud of my behaviour in the following story, but I hope you will agree it is funny:

Always been a fan of London’s black cabs – those roomy, rounded, homely hybrids with the cheerful yellow light up front when they’re free.  They can turn on a dime in the narrow London streets, and their small but steady diesels grickle-grickle familiarly and patiently outside your door while you say goodnight to your guests.  They are invariably clean, and have ample room for your knees, your suitcase, or four friends.

And best of all, the drivers – the most voluble in the world since New York yellow cabs have been largely taken over by immigrant mumblers with cell phones – have ‘The Knowledge’ – an encyclopaedic overview of London, which is the size of LA but without any of the freeways or even major arteries.  Getting from one place to another in London is an absolute maze of tiny streets, requiring a literal couple of years of going around London on a moped, with the ‘A-to-Zed’ street atlas mounted on the handlebars, learning a series of routes, until you can recite them off by heart to the examiner:

“Get me from Earl’s Court Tube stop to Croftdown Road in Kentish Town” – and the aspiring cabbie will have to reel off the succession of perhaps two dozen street names involved in the journey – Portobello Road, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, Marlborough Place, Highgate.  And that’s only half of it, because there are perhaps a dozen possible alternative routes between any two spots, and depending on the time of day, a good London black cab driver will know the timeliest pathway to avoid the snarls through which most Brits drum their fingers patiently.

I drove in London for nearly 10 years, and certainly knew my way around the bigger streets of the West End, and fancied myself pretty canny on the various routes to my friends’ houses, but anything new required the A-to-Zed on the seat or lap next to me – before the days of SatNav, o ye young’uns.

But when my friend called me a mini-cab (the private competitors to the unionized black cabs), I assented rather than have to walk out to the Maida Vale with my suitcase to hail one.

Bad move: we were only going down to a hotel near the British Museum, but his guy – a studious looking young man from Ghana – kept looking at his A-to-Zed at every stop light, barreled down a road armed with ‘sleeping policemen’ – lumps designed to slow him down, but instead bouncing me up out of the back seat  of his little Vauxhall (Chevy) every time.  When he took me to the wrong destination, and had stopped to consult his map yet again to get me back to where I was going, I lost it.

“For crying out loud, you have thrown my head against the ceiling, taken three wrong turns, and now delivered me to the wrong address and now you don’t know the way to the right one!”

“I am sorry, sir, but I am not a black cab driver.”

In my annoyance I misunderstood:  “I don’t care what colour you are, if you are going to hold yourself out as a taxi driver, you should know the city you drive!” I cried, throwing a five-pound note into the front seat and clambering out with my bags.

It was only as I climbed into the black cab I found nearby (who did sweep me to my hotel with calm assurance) that I realized my mistake, and blushed at the memory of his nonplussed face.

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