Sometimes, I’m at odds with myself.

Let me explain.

Not having a car means that I have to take taxis at least twice a day – to and from work. Usually I only take service taxis, but on the rare occasion that I have to go visit some friends outside of Beirut, I usually call a private taxi service.

Friday after work, I had plans to go visit a friend in Hazmieh, where I lived for about five months before moving to Hamra.  Most of the taxi drivers that work for the private taxi company I use know me by name – I used to call on them twice a day when going to and from work from Hazmieh. Usually, the ride with them is very pleasant..we talk about life..about work..about how I’m enjoying Lebanon..about how they have to work a second job just to pay for their wives to go to the salon three times a week (true story!)..

But on Friday, my experience was very..very.. different.

I had given the taxi company instructions to meet me outside of DHL in downtown.  I was having coffee at a nearby restaurant with some friends waiting for the customary missed called signifying that the taxi is either close by, or at the appointed destination..I get the miss call, say my goodbyes, and start heading towards the taxi..then I get another missed call, and another, and another..until I look down at my cellphone and see that the taxi driver missed called me 6 times in a row..

“Something must be wrong.” I thought.  “Usually they aren’t this impatient.”

My pace quickened.

Finally, I got in site of the taxi and started waving just as he was about to miss call me again.  As soon as I get in the taxi, he started to rant,

“20 dollar! 20 dollar ticket!” he yells as he waves this piece of paper in front of me with indecipherable Arabic written on it..

“Excuse me?” I ask, unsure of whether he was trying to charge me $20 for the ride from downtown to Hazmieh..

“The police! He give me $20 ticket for waiting on the road for you!  I drive 14 hours a day and I don’t even make $20 dollar!” he says as he puts his head in his hands.  It was painfully obvious what a big deal a $20 ticket was to him.

I didn’t know what to say, usually the taxi drivers know not to wait on the main road, and swing around into the parking lot where they aren’t block traffic.  And I knew that I hadn’t kept him waiting for that long of a time to warrant a $20 ticket.  But even so, my heart broke.  The driver must have been in his early twenties, but the wrinkles around his eyes made him look a lot older.  He looked exhausted..exasperated..on the verge of tears.

I spotted a ring on his wedding finger and immediately my mind jumped into a different scene.  There I was, sitting inside his home..watching as he explained to his wife that he got a $20 ticket at work today..and saying, “I don’t know what we’re going to do..”

But my mind quickly came back to the present as we started swerving in and out of traffic..my body sliding left and right with every turn of the car..

“You see, there is no traffic here,” he said, as he whisked past old ladies, and children, almost knocking them over.  I don’t think I will ever get to accustom to how people in Lebanon drive with complete and utter disregard for everything and everybody.

I began to get a little concerned as his driving got progressively worse.  I decided it was best to keep my mouth shut.  I had just cost the man $20.  I remembered this, and opened my wallet to see if I had enough money to pay for the trip, and for the ticket. But after going through my wallet and my bag, all I could find was 19 thousand.  I’ve always had a bad habit of never keeping cash on me.

My silenced ended when we stalled on a ramp that feeds onto the highway that takes you to Hazmieh.  I looked up at the driver and saw that he was getting ready to REVERSE DOWN THE RAMP with cars coming our way!

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I yelled..

“Look at the traffic!” he said as he pointed to the sea of cars that lay ahead of us..

And then I remembered.  The Syrian and Saudi president were in town visiting the President at the palace in Baabda.  Of course there was going to be traffic.

“It will take us an hour and half to get through!” he exclaimed..

I glanced behind me and saw cars quickly approaching.  There was no way I was going to let him reverse down a highway..even though I knew that making him wait in traffic would cost him even more money..what was I supposed to do?

“Please.” I said.  “I would prefer if you didn’t. It’s not safe”

With a huff and a slam on the gas, we joined the impenetrable traffic jam.

And then the rage began..

Swerve. Honk. Stop. Go. Screech. Dodge. Honk Honk Honk Honk!!..like a live game of bumper cars..soldiers looking on at the crazed antics of this taxi driver.  I swear, driving in this country is enough for you to want OUT.

I kept my eyes forward.  Too embarrassed to look at the disgusted faces of the people in the cars next to me.  At one point we were at a complete standstill, which is when he proceed to get out of the car to survey the scene himself..Hands in the air he cursed..he cursed life, his job, the traffic…me.

He got back in the car just as the traffic started moving again, and within a few minutes we arrived at my destination.

“I knew it wouldn’t take an hour and a half,” I told him..which is when I handed him the 19 thousand, knowing full well that the ride costs about 11..”I’m sorry for the ticket, but this is all I have.  Next time, if you drive around there is a parking lot where you can wait for me..so that you won’t get another ticket,” he took the money not listening to a word I was saying, and sped off just as I slammed the door behind me..

I’m at odds with myself because a part of me feels that I should call the taxi company and tell them about the incident.  Under no circumstance is it ok to berate a paying customer for your mistake, reverse down a highway ramp, nor subject a customer to unjustifiable road rage..

But then another part of me feels that doing so would cost him his job, and me, my conscience.

14 hours a day, and still..a $20 ticket could be enough to break him for the month.  Does everyone feel this way, or is not being able to cope with unforeseen incidents, such as getting a ticket, limited to only taxi drivers?

It makes me wonder, would he have acted this way had he been compensated fairly for his efforts?

How much more strain can the Lebanese take?

17 Comments

Filed under life in Lebanon

17 responses to “Sometimes, I’m at odds with myself.

  1. This guy spends most of his day on the road, he should know where he can and cannot park.
    His behavior on the road is his responsibility. After all, had you let him reverse down the highway, and he got caught and earned himself another ticket, would you feel bad as well ?
    I think it’s simple. The guy made a mistake, in fact several, and he has no business taking it out on you. The fact that he did, gives you the right to call and complain about it.
    Now maybe he was just having a bad day, but again, he shouldn’t be taking it out on you…

    My two cents.

    • meinlebanon

      I always appreciate your two cents..and yea you were right..
      Can’t believe the dude really tried to reverse down a highway ramp!

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  3. Lipanantsi

    try ignoring all the rants and BS from taxi drivers. they are experienced hoodwinks. U did the right thing in NOT paying him the $20. Your conscience should be clear if you choose to complain to the taxi company. these idiots have no right endangering the lives of passengers/pedestrians or other motorists. now on to moped maniacs

  4. Dar El Akhdar

    I wonder which taxi company you usually deal with coz there are different levels of service depending on the company – but July 30th was exceptional on all fronts…

    Make it a rule of thumb – whenever we have dignitaries in town, STAY AWAY from the main roads leading to the presidential palace, grand serail and the hotels where the rich-and-powerful are staying

    Besides, you might as well give driving a shot – you’ll get used to our driving in no time (it’s the best practice for driving all around the world!)

    • Natasha

      I have to disagree with out on that one! I moved to Lebanon 10 years ago, I learnt how to drive here. Every single time I go back to my country and drive there I’m freaked out! As opposed to Lebanon, Brazil has A LOT of traffic laws, and the police are really strict. I end up driving at 50 km/h, with my 2 hands glued to the wheel and my eyes wide open so that I don’t commit any infractions. And still after all these years I can’t get over the way people drive, it’s with such disregard for others’ safetly, for their own AND for any traffic law (which we do have, but no one abides by). I prefer the walk in the heat than to drive.

      Dani, I would have felt the same way about the ticket, I completely understand you. But from he did after you know that it’s a recurrent behavior in him. He probably thought that by waiting for you in the middle of the street he would outsmart the law.

      hang in there!

      • Dar El Akhdar

        Hey Natasha!
        Thanks for your clarifications

        You know I’ve always said that driving is about having manners – and unfortunately, not so many people have this rare commodity these days on the streets of Lebanon…

        And the solution is probably not to have too many traffic laws – driving should be an enjoyable experience (despite the traffic and all…)

        But most importantly, driving should be earned and should NOT be treated as a God-given right

        It all boils down to driving school and the driving test if you ask me – and there should be regular follow-up tests to assess if the license owner is still worthy of keeping it!

        P.S. You should check Cairo traffic – Beirut would fair up pretty nicely in comparison!

      • meinlebanon

        I disagree! I think that there should be laws and fines imposed on people who break these laws..how else will they learn? Follow up tests? People pay so that they don’t even have to take the first test! They will just pay whoever it is to make sure they don’t have to take the follow up test! Yes, in this case, I think more stringent laws are the only way to go..

      • meinlebanon

        Ahh Brazil..can you believe that a country of that size is better able to cope with traffic than Lebanon! The good news is, if you can drive here, you can drive anywhere!

    • meinlebanon

      Give driving a shot? NO THANKS MAN.. Plus, I don’t even have a car, and don’t think I’ll ever buy one. And how could I stay away? I had told them I’d come over for dinner! They should stop traffic for me! haha jkjk..really though, I shouldn’t have gone at such a busy time..

      • Dar El Akhdar

        Quite I debate I initiated🙂

        Just to clarify – I do not condone reckless driving
        We’re all on the same team here😀

        Let’s wrap it up on an optimistic note: our Interior Minister is really going out of his way to penalize traffic offenses and improve the situation – I just hope that EVERYBODY will eventually be treated equally when breaking the law (I know after a painful $30 ticket that I will NOT speed on the “ring” flyover)

        And that was exactly the point I was trying to make: if you can drive here, you can drive anywhere!🙂

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  6. Simon

    I was away for a whole week on a snow trip, lost my phone, so not internet, and no google reader!
    I have to say, i love reading your blog, and to see 6 unread posts under your blog, that made my day🙂

  7. najla

    Was this guys name Ali? Cuz i had a psycho driver this summer that almost costed me the lives of my 2 younger cousins and myself. I had to scream for him to finally stop the car and jump out. I dont think i can ever adapt to the driving there, it gives me a heart attack each and everytime. BTW this Ali guy always blasts Whitney Houston – I will always love you and All 4 One – I swear ( he doesnt understand the words). I accidentally got in with him the second time not looking at him i heard Whitney Houston and said SHITTT not this guy again. Hes a maniac ! I found one man named George who took me to a ton of places outside of Beirut. The only driver that didnt give me a heart attack and hes extremely trustworthy. If you need his cell # let me know i highly recommend him.

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