Taxi cab confessions
Driving lanes don’t exist in Cairo. At all. On highways, on city streets. Nothing, anywhere. Even if they physically exist, they don’t matter on a practical level. Amoebic mobs of cars rule here, breezing past any imaginary notion of a speed limit.
“It’s such an easy way of handling things,” Katie said last night, after we watched two cars magically avoid a metal-bending collision on a narrow street. I’m sure this happens all the time, quietly; we only noticed because, as one taxi driver went heavy on the brake pedal, his vehicle basically fishtailed into a row of parked cars and screeched out the most bonkers, I-am-so-close-to-absolute-destruction sound, ever. “You just do what you have to do and move on.”
It’s true, and sort of appealing. Abstractly, at least. Like making a collective decision to rely on a natural rhythm, mostly beyond your control, to dictate life or death. It also requires a degree of blind trust in your neighbor that my dad – and most other Westerners – would auto-dismiss.
“It’s not you I’m worried about – it’s everyone else.”
That was his mantra when we both thought I would learn how to drive in high school.
Here, it sort of is what it is.
Visually, the traffic accordions. All day, every day. So yeah: Sometimes you’re almost perched on someone else’s bumper, but other times, you’ve got more than enough space to get your automotive thing done. It all evens out. Consistency simply doesn’t factor into Egyptian driving. Neither does safety. But it’s bizarrely functional for the only people that really matter in this situation: Egyptians. Plus, we haven’t seen one accident yet.
If none of this matters to you, I totally understand. Until last night, it didn’t really strike me either, and I’ve been watching it up close.
But then I was in the back seat of Mustaf’s miniature cab, with Nick and Katie and James, and we collectively knew two Arabic words – “thank you” and “Mustaf” – and we were hopelessly lost, and so was Mustaf, and he was gunning it anyway, shouting to other cabbies for directions, silently passing cigarettes around, then a light, and he was chain smoking, too, either because he was freaking out or coolly uber-conscious that we’d never take a more dangerous taxi ride, and also how scared we were to die, probably, with other cars whipping by and motorcyclists almost ricocheting off his bumper, and he knew one English phrase – “thank you” – so we sat there, bracing ourselves for 30 minutes, voicing our gratitude over and over.
But we made it to TGI Friday’s OK.
Another reason Cairian driving habits are curiously appealing: Getting places always feels great.