It was his 23rdyear of driving taxis in the city of Buenos Aires. Gabriel was tired of it- the customers who stiffed him, his wife who left him, his kids who never appreciated him, the country that left him poor, tired, and worst of all Argentine. Gabriel, although reaching his 64thyear of age, was not one of those San Telmo taxistas, the ones who stood by their aging Renatas glorifying the age of Perron and what he did for the working class (not the last time he was president and had returned from Paris, but the first time he ran the old working horse that was Argentina). To be perfectly honest, he didn’t really give a shit about those two bit men, he didn’t belong to a “Radio Taxi” union, his car was in his name (about the only thing he prided himself on)(although the car was wearing and showed signs of age in the damaged and sticky apolostery) and preferred to disassociate himself from the people of his craft.
Gabriel, after all, was a solitary man; embittered and lonely he preferred to turn his back on the world before it had time to perform the same abandonment to him. Doing so had come at the price of his wife and children, most thought that it was the other way around, that Gabriel suffered because of his them not in spite of them. Like he always said, “I have seen everything. Blood in my taxi, blood in the streets, all the same to me.”
His Argentina was a sad one. September 22ndwas no different. He ran the 4 to 12 pm shift, not out of obligation, but of custom. The same cotton shirt, that used to be ironed with care, was crumpled and crusty from overuse, as always was under his green driving Bustamente driving vest. In the 60’s Bustamente was a sure mark of class, but over the years the holes had increased in size, so much so that whole fist could find a home on the right side under the armpit.
On that particular night, driving through the Microcenter down the widest avenue in the world, 9 de Julio, he spotted some female customers of varying ages on the street corner. One looked to be slightly older than the rest-Gabriel although he was old and lonely, still remembered the old familiar taste of a woman. He preferred female customers for many reasons, one were his perversions, another were they made easy targets. Especially, since these particular women were foreigners.
“Paranas y Santa Fe” por favor.
“Joelle, are you sure that’s the street that Millon is on? Why don’t you call Chandon and ask,” said the one they called Megan. She was sitting to the right of him in the front seat. A seat he preferred empty and avoided by most of his customers.
“Espere un momento, senor. Es que no se muy bien donde vamos. Pero, si nos puede dejar en Santa Fe y Paranas es igual y luego vamos buscando el lugar,” said Megan loudly to his right, deaf ear (deaf because of the many customers who had become to yell at him as they generally felt ignored by the their taxi driver).
Gabriel, hardly understood English, but could tell from how the front one was yelling at the back ones that they were confused about the location of their destination. He didn’t feel particulary generous as to finding out where exactly they wanted to go but decided that since Paranas sounded like Baranas (a little suburb on the outside of Buenos Aires) that he would begin to drive the unassuming American foreigners in that direction. That way he could make an extra 20-30 pesos depending at what part of the journey they realized he was leading them in the wrong direction.
As he drove down the wide avenue, passing Santa Fe, he made a sharp left into the exodus of people trying to return to the comfort of the suburbs. The American women were yelling ugly words from the front seat to the back seat without pause. Suddenly, Megan turned to him in the front seat and angrily began in Spanish, “wait, excuse me, where are you going? Why are you on Calle Libertador? You passed Santa Fe?”
Gabriel, bewildered and distracted, answered wearily that he was taking them to Baranas and continued his gaze forward.
Megan started again, “I don’t think you understand the street names. We are going to Paranas and Santa Fe. You need to turn left on one of these streets to go back up.”
Gabriel turned and explained quickly and rashly, “you told me to go to Baranas. I am heading there, there is traffic. You want to go to Santa Fe now. Impossible. I can drop you off at Callao and you can walk up, but impossible to take a left hand turn… Do you understand me? I am speaking Castilian Spanish. I don’t know what you speak.”
The exchanges between the two were growing quicker as the three women in the backseat, within their first month of Spanish, sat dumbfounded as they watched their friend enraged. They had been warned about this, this so called “joy-riding” that the taxistas loved to use to take advantage of unassuming foreigners just to make more pesos. However, Gabriel had made a big mistake. Not only did Megan speak Spanish, but she hated the business of tricking tourists.
“Maybe you don’t understand me clearly? I am speaking Spanish from Spain. The original Spanish. So either you drive us up Callao or you leave us here…”
And that was how I got kicked out of a taxi on the middle of Libertador.