Stuff It

What's the point of writing a personal column if you can't bitch about your personal problems in it?

I don't envy taxi drivers. Theirs is a grueling, thankless job, demanding knowledge of the tiniest alleys in the most remote towns, and the ability to cope with impatient passengers who want a ride but are reluctant to pay. There are no days or nights in this line of work: You may be summoned or dispatched by phone, or be forced to wait for endless hours; the cost of maintaining the taxi keeps mounting and the prices of a trip are regulated by the state and do not always keep up with the outlay. Plus there's no family life to speak of. On top of all that, one is stuck at the wheel for hours, surrounded on all sides by people of both sexes laboring under the false illusion that they know how to drive a car and negotiate the traffic better than the driver does.

I do envy the late president John F. Kennedy. Not for being shot (once? twice?) by a (lone?) assassin. Not for his conquest of all the beauties of his day, although I admit I wouldn't have minded being with Marilyn Monroe in the same bedroom, even if I'm not sure what I would have done there. What I do envy is a remark attributed to him when accused of nepotism. He supposedly said: "What's the point of being the president of the United States if you cannot appoint your own brother to the post of attorney general?" Such a remark wouldn't have passed muster with Menachem Mazuz, although Justice Minister Prof. Daniel Friedmann might have approved of it.

Anyway, I'm going to apply JFK's philosophy to my relationship with taxi drivers, or rather to the way they (at least a significant proportion of them, anyway) treat me: What's the point of writing a personal column if you can't bitch about your personal problems in it?

Due to circumstances beyond my control I travel around town on an electric, three-wheel scooter. It serves me well for considerable distances, but as I have to travel even farther sometimes, I made a point of acquiring a scooter that is relatively light, collapsible and can even be disassembled into two parts if need be. I can, and do, fold it up and stuff it in the trunk of my car at times - admittedly, not without some exertion.

Thus far I've logged an impressive number hours of schlepping this little vehicle around the country and some parts of the world. I fold it up at the gate at the airport and let it be taken to the hold of the plane, and get it back at my destination, as if it were a collapsible baby stroller. I've put it in and taken it out of trunks of innumerable taxis in different cities all over Europe.

A marketable skill

My dexterity in folding and unfolding the scooter in just seconds has earned me the admiration and applause of taxi drivers and innocent bystanders alike. Indeed, I've even considered marketing this skill as part of a traveling circus - with me collapsing the scooter and daring to place it between the jaws of a roaring lion. No, wait, I think I'm getting carried away a little here ...

Anyway things were fine and dandy until I decided to enlist the help of Tel Aviv taxi drivers in my travels with the scooter around town. There are those, of course, who are extremely cooperative and helpful, opening the trunk willingly, volunteering to put the folded scooter (which weighs 21 kilos, but can be taken apart into two parts, of 12 and 9 kilos each) inside, and even helping me to the passenger's seat, saying "You don't have to rush" - to which I answer: "Rushing is not an option."

But on more than one occasion, I have met other taxi drivers. It's not only that they pass me by with their vehicles visibly unoccupied; indeed, that i s the lot of all those who hail a taxi. (Concerning this point, there is a suggested epitaph for a taxi driver that says "God caught his eye," which incidentally works for waiters, too.) I mean those who see my raised hand, approach me while opening the window on my side, declare with great confidence "It will not fit in" - and drive on. There are also those who stop and ask wonderingly, "Will it fit?" To which I answer usually, "Do you want to bet on it now, or after we stick it in your trunk?" Sometimes the drivers apparently suffer from lower back pain, so I put it in myself, and during the ride regale them with tales of travels with my scooter around the world.

I know that the scooter will fit into the trunk of any car, but if the trunk is unusually small, it will go in the back seat. There are no sharp edges to endanger the upholstery. But even so, I try at the outset to hail estate cars, or vehicles that I know have a spacious trunk. Thus I'm especially irked by taxi drivers who stop the car, look at me and my scooter with a disdainful eye, and declare, "It will not fit in!"

To this I answer, politely: "It will, if you'll just be kind enough to open the trunk."

Driver: "No can do. I have stuff in there."

Me: "No problem - it will fit into the back seat."

Driver: "Naaah, it will tear the upholstery" - and he's off.

In distress about this, I once checked the Web site of the Ministry of Transport, a portfolio entrusted to the extremely capable former chief of staff, retired general Shaul Mofaz. There, in the section entitled "Public Transport," after the details about fares and such, I found a list of things a taxi driver is obligated to do, or not do. It said: "A taxi driver will not refuse to carry a passenger and his luggage without a plausible excuse." In my humble opinion, "I have stuff in my trunk" is not a plausible excuse, but as we are talking here about Israel, I might be wrong.

There are personal stories whose telling can be of benefit to all. And as it is not fair to punish someone without issuing a fair warning in advance, please notify the taxi drivers among your friends, relatives and acquaintances thus: If anyone of them refuses to carry me and my scooter without a plausible excuse, I will pursue his taxi on my scooter until I can jot down his license-plate number, and then I'll file a complaint. As I can reach the amazing speed of six kilometers per hour, in Tel Aviv traffic I may actually become an uncooperative taxi driver's menace. Beware: You've been warned.