taxi

Typically, I cringe when I have to take a taxi in the United States. The one exception was in Washington, DC, where we seemed to get exceptional service from the omnipresent Ethiopian taxi drivers we encountered. They were well-spoken, helpful, and eager to extol the virtues of the city.

That was atypical.

In June, the family and I took a taxi from San Francisco International to hotel row nearby. The Asian driver was in a snit at having to take us on such a short ride (you can’t walk there), and tore away from the curb without looking over his shoulder. I, sitting forward in the back seat I was sharing with Aubrey and Scott, grabbed his shoulder and told him to “knock it off and drive properly.” He screamed at me, “I drive fine. Is my life, too! You think I want to die?!” I told him grow up and drive. Needless to say, he got no tip and I scathed him on a Yelp review (though, all the reviews for that taxi company were scathing, so nothing will likely change).

This wasn’t the first time I’ve had an experience exactly like this, with pissed-off drivers who take out their frustration by careening blindly through traffic. Other times, I’ve had to tell drivers to put away their damned phones and quit texting while they drove me. It’s my life and I don’t want it snuffed by their inattention.

In July, I had a wonderful taxi ride in Boston, with a fellow from Cape Verde. He was delighted to hear that I live in Brazil, and we had a nice conversation in English and Portuguese en route to the airport. He even carried my bag into the terminal for me. (This gained him much-needed points after having asked me if my younger brother who was with me when I boarded the taxi was my son!)

As I say, typically, I am not a fan of taxi drivers.

But here in Brazil, I’d guess 90 percent of the drivers have been wonderful: courteous, careful, attentive, and professional. And they never “expect” a tip, always willing to give me change, no matter how small. Their cars are clean, they are nicely dressed, and they are unfailingly polite. If I want to talk, they’re willing, but if I’m not up to the challenge of a conversation in Portuguese, they let me sit in silence after our brief greeting.

Here in Sao Paulo, it’s safer at night to take taxis, rather than driving ourselves and then searching for a place to park. Plus, after 8 pm, the taxis can drive in the bus lanes, meaning we can get places in 45 minutes rather than 1.5 hours. I feel safe taking taxis here, since I usually call one using 99Taxi, which sends me a message with the driver’s name, car make, and license plate number. My taxi request is digitally recorded, and I receive a receipt automatically in my email after I pay. I’m pleased that there is a digital trail of who picks me up, in case something untoward occurs.

A couple of times when I thought a taxista was going the long way around, perhaps thinking I didn’t know any better, I have spoken up, suggesting that perhaps we should have turned a different way or tried another road. Both times, I’ve been embarrassed to discover that I was wrong and that they were not milking the meter. Now, I tend to trust them. I’ll speak up if I know a quicker way somewhere, especially if they haven’t heard of the street I need, and they tend to accept my suggestions, but mostly I sit back and let them drive, jockeying in the insanity that is Sao Paulo’s traffic, content to let them take the wheel.

One instant gauge of a driver’s ability is the once-over of his (typically, the drivers are men) car. If there are no dents or paint skids, I know I can trust his driving.

So a nod and a wave of thanks to the taxistas of Sao Paulo. Obrigada, to all!