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Citylife: Come back August taxi drivers

September 1, 2009
Photo courtesy of Flickr user smith120bh (cc)

Photo courtesy of Flickr user smith120bh (cc)

Elaine Green is Business Editor of the Athens News. Her Citylife column on the blog is a lighter look at life away from her usual business beat.

Now that September is upon us, the roads are beginning to clog up with traffic and fumes. August was blissful in the city centre – empty roads, clean air (prior to the fires at least) and best of all, polite taxi drivers. Was it the empty streets that suddenly turned that most rude of beasts, the Greek taxi driver into charming and entertaining chauffeurs?

On returning from my holiday, halfway through August, a friendly taxi driver shared the pleasure of the open road and the lack of road rage. He asked me about my experiences and I listened with interest to his plans to go to Kephalonia. The windows were open, the breeze flowing, and one of my favourite old Greek rembetika songs Ego Plirono Ta Matia P’agapo (I Pay for the Eyes that I Love By Vasslis Tsitsanis ), was playing on the radio.

I arrived quickly at my destination refreshed and with “kefi” or in high spirits. When I asked for a receipt it was provided speedily and without complaint. I tipped the driver some 60 cents rounding up to the nearest euro. Two days later I had a similar experience with another taxi driver (although without the extra bonus of Tsitsanis).
With the roads deserted, the cost was also cheap enough to be worth a taxi in the sweltering heat.

Rewind to early July and a sadly typical experience of obnoxious taxi driver. Short of time leaving a press conference at Caravel, I hopped into a cab to Singrou. But progress was slow, not just from the traffic, but every few yards the driver stopped to see if other passengers were also going my way. He lit up a cigarette and then told me I was strange (periergi) because I politely asked him if he would mind putting it out. The electric windows were also locked from the
front and he pretended the rear ones were “not working”.

Upon arriving after a slight de-tour for another passenger (another infringement), when I asked for a receipt you’d think I was asking for the moon (even though this is the law). The driver shouted at me to go back to my own country if I didn’t like the ‘system’ (his system) and refused to give the receipt as well as complaining about my not having
the exact change. Needless to say the only tip I gave him was to be more polite or change jobs. I arrived at my destination frazzled on this occasion.

When the charming August taxi drivers return from holiday later this month and next, I can only pray to hail one of them when in need – and not the usual rule-breaking ignoramuses eaten up by rage I seem to stumble upon. Are the charming chauffers out there somewhere, or without the empty roads to calm will they too, like some Jekyll and
Hyde movie, transform back into beasts?

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