Thursday, June 26, 2014

A cab sent from heaven

Or hell, depends on who is telling the story.
We have just dismbarked our boat after an early morning trip into the amazon and we have decided that a definite must see during our time in Manaus is the Fan Fest during a Brazil game. I have been lucky enough to see the host nation play, in stadium, only twice. In Korea and Germany. Because of the atmosphere, there is absolutely nothing quite like seeing the host nation play. However, if you can not make it into a stadium during a host country game, the next best thing is to find a Fan Fest site and soak it all in.
Brett, German, Kieran and I have just walked out of an ATM kiosk, although because of the air-conditioning we seriously considered just staying in that little building the rest of the day. We have decided to grab a taxi and head in the direction of Punta Negra which is, under normal traffic conditions a 15-20 cab ride. We have approximately 3 hours until Brazil kicks of against Camaroon in their 3rd and final group match. Because of the # of points each team has in the group, this game means a trip to the round of 16. This being the case, we know that the Fan Fest is going to be a spectacle. We also know that if we don't get there early enough, we might not get in at all. So back into the streets of sweltering Manaus we go. I see a taxi, whistle, get his attention and yell "Punta Negra" as I point directly at him. Wait for a response...and yes...he waves us in. Kieran grabs shotgun, Brett behind him, myself behind the driver and German in the middle with his feet on the hump. 
What comes next was a small bit of foreshadowing not immediatly recognized. The driver hits the gas, releases the clutch and his little car shudders as though it has been rode hard and put away wet more times than Mazatlan ski-do.
All 4 windows are down in our wobbly little chariot and I make the comment, "should've looked for a taxi with the windows up", as this would have been a sure indication of air-conditioning. But we have just spent the past 8 hours on a boat traversing the back waterways of the Amazon and we need to get a move on, so we figure it's best to just deal with the minor inconcovenience of a ride across town in a microwave. 
Our cabby appears at first to be just the type of driver we need, fast! He moves through the crowded downtown streets of Manaus with purpose. I am immediately reminded of my 1st trip to Mexico City where driving is reminicient of a game of Grand Theft Auto. Turn signals are for the weak, and if you get your nose in, you had better get your tail in right behind you or you are going to lose it. I can't help but smile knowing that considering the amount of money we have spent thus far on taxi's, this guy isn't thinking about milking the meter. We agree, after he has cut off 4 of the first 5 cars we have encountered, that he must be determined to get this fare to it's destination so that he can park his hot-rod and get in front of a TV for the game. But traffic is heavy! Seems as though all of Manaus is closing up shop and trying to get to where they have planned to watch the game. Cars are moving slowly...well most cars at least.
Our driver is getting more aggitated as the minutes pass. The other motorists in Manaus must not have gotten the memo that this is HIS roadway today. How dare they be in front of him! We come to a stop. He revs the engine, slams the car into 1st gear, we lurch forward and cut between another car and a bus...hit the clutch...coast...pop the clutch and cut off a truck on our left...the bus is now behind us and we look around at one another is stunned disbelief. This guy is for real! 
Stopped at a light we can see that he wants to turn left at the next light. He puts his hand out of the window to indicate to the car next to us that it is his intention to...AHHH fuck it, he just drives between 2 cars and now we are another car length closer to the light and stopped again.
He has a hanky that he uses to wipe is brow, and his arms, and his neck. It's hotter than purgatory in this little buggy, the engine must be stressed too so he hits the fan to pull the heat from the engine, and pulls it right into the cab with us. German asks Kieran, "is the heater on?", to which Kieran reluctantly responds while aiming the vent out the window, "I believe that it is." 
I think that Kieran and I should have been in opposite seats because I am loving this. It would seem that I am alone in my appreciation of this man's skills because I am the only person encouraging this display of blatent disregard of the rules of the road. From behind the driver I am bobbing my head from one side of his seat, back to the other, saying just loud enough to be heard, "Oh yeah, ariba, haha". German looks as though he believes he's eaten his last ham and cheese sandwhich. 
We are not exactly sure just how far we have traveled, nor how much farther we have to go, but I have no fear because our driver is wearing red and it is indeed the only color he sees. We cautiously point this out that the meter has died and gone blank. His mood is momentarily made worse as it is aparent that he had absolutely no idea what it read prior to it's malfunction. We have grown accustomed to watching the meter like hawks so we tell him it read $20 Real. He jiggles it and it pops back on. We say $20 from here and he gives us a silent shrug of acknowledgment.
Traffic has opened up slightly and we weave through cars like a jet plane on maneuvers when the unbelievable  happens. Our driver comes to a rapid halt at a crosswalk, puts his arm and head out the window and stops traffic. He then waves a young woman through the crosswalk, admiring her slow-seductive saunter until she has completely stepped onto the sidewalk on the opposite side. Like a bullet we are off again and the car is caught up in a fit of laughter and appreciation of his consideration of the farer sex.
We have come to a long line of cars backed up in both lanes. The path we are on comes to a T in the distance. The light is red. There is nothing to do but wait. I look to German and say, "should we tell him that there are 2 open lanes to our left?". This of course is a joke because those lanes belong to oncoming traffic. He inches left. Did he understand my joke? As we cut off the car in our far left lane and come to a momentary stop I look to Brett and say, "this is going to happen". It does. Like a jalopy shot from a canon we shoot into the nearest lane of oncoming traffic. Stradling the dividing lane we race toward the red light be we have come to the end of the line. We need to get back into our own flow of trafic because the light at the T is still red, and there is a raised median. We stop just short of the point of no return. We wait for the green light. As the signal changes cars begin to move forward, but not nearly fast enough for this guy. He hits the gas and we travel through the intersection from the wrong side of the median.
We round another bend and the car seems to loose power, we coast. I look over his shoulder and see that the gas gauge is reading empty. Then I realize that the speedometer is reading zero as well, but the check engine light works like a charm! We stop at the next light, when it turns green he starts the car back up, bolts through the intersection and skids into a gas station.
Leaving the car on he passes $20 Real through the window as 2 young female attendants begin to fuel us up. As the seconds pass it is obvious that his impatience continues to grow. The meter now reads 20 and he rev's the engine and inches forward. The pump is still in the car. The young girl looks to her fellow attendant with a WTF look on her face and cautiously removes the nozzle. As the sound of the gas cap clicks we shoot back into the street nearly clipping a motorcycle. This man knows no limits. When we arrive at the front gates of the Fan Fest we screech to a stop, got out, paid the man his money, and as the doors were closing I gave him and extra $10 Real and thanked him for the best cab ride I've ever had!

1 comment:

Andrew Wilson said...

Sounds like he drives like you!