One taxi, two taxi, three taxi then four. Taxi (Life) Lessons in Portugal

Taxis: the good, the bad, and the ugly

When Ron and I travel in a foreign country, we rarely use taxis, so the whole experience of using them is a bit “foreign” to me. We’re usually driving, riding the train, or just walking. But when I recently went to Portugal by myself, I had planned to use taxis a bit more because I didn’t want to waste too much time finding buses and walking miles in hours to get to my destination hike. Furthermore, I had heard that taxis in Portugal were rather inexpensive, efficient, and friendly, so I looked forward to the convenience while getting from A to Z in Portugal.

Taxi #1: the vile ride

The first ride, what I have come to call “the vile ride,” was such a misrepresentation of the good of humanity that I can only do what we learned while living in St. John’s Newfoundland and affectionately call “the Newfie Nod” a specific side cock of the head which can denote a number of things from a simple greeting to an emotional “oh well, what are you doing to do about it?”

I had just arrived in Lisbon, still at the airport and went outside to find a taxi ride to my night’s lodging. I just assumed you go to curb side and wave your hand, but I quickly learned that it was required of me to go through the “cow corral” like the other hundreds of people and wait your turn. I took a few steps, stopped, took a few steps, stopped, turned one corner, took a few steps and waited, and on and on all the while wondering just how many taxis there could possibly be because the wait wasn’t a wait for a taxi to arrive, but for the seemingly equally long line of taxis to simply take their turn to pick up those of us waiting our turn. My turn came and before I could even take a breath the taxi driver was out of the car and had opened the boot. I waved him on by motioning to my back pack still strapped on, saying I will keep my pack on and began to get into the back seat. The driver remained outside and then with quite a huff, he slammed the boot and got in the car.  Then, having been instructed to do so by the hostess of the guess house to which I was going, I asked the driver that It would be “around 15 euros, right?” Then like a bolt from the sky he turned to me and with a face as fierce as his word he sharply spoke “You have no respect for me!”

Being taken back, I didn’t immediately say anything, which would have been impossible anyway for he went right on, repeating that I have no respect for him and that whenever he travels, he is respectful. His chastisement in tone and gesture indicated I was possibly the most of low life he had yet encountered.  Within a few moments of his barrage I attempted to down scale the tone by indicating that I was easier for me to keep the pack on given it was strapped to my body and I was already seated and that I didn’t want an extra expense by putting it the boot. Then regarding the amount, in my honest attempt at redemption told him that I had been informed of the approximate cost and simply wanted to confirm the expected amount. This explanation along with my subsequent apology was to no avail for he informed me again in no uncertain terms that I have “no respect,” that he did not know the amount, that the meter would tell him, and he would charge me for the luggage anyway.

Silly me, I then tried to assure him that this being my first day in Portugal I was just going by the recommendations rendered only to be met again with his spewing. Now, given he had already started driving, his suggestion that perhaps I would like another taxi, was a bit late. Finally determining that this man simply wanted an argument I declared that I would no longer discuss this in anger. He sped on and I held on for dear life as he acted out his temperament though his driving jerking across lanes, around vehicles of all sizes and barely keeping all four tires grounded through the round-a-bouts in what surely exceeded even the tourism warning of fast taxi drivers.

In a continued heated silence, we neared my destination. He slowed down, checked the address, stopped the taxi. In preparation for my departure, I had set my mind to be as kind as I could and display a genuine regard for him despite himself. After I paid the due 18 Euro and began to exit the car I said “I wish you well”. However, as soon as the door was closed and he began to sped off I could hear him say with his head out his window “fuck you”.

Taxi # 2: an honest mistake.

Having enjoyed my evening in Lisbon (on foot), I awoke to a beautiful morning enjoying what seemingly only European cities can provide, the most delightful sidewalk cafes filled with leisured patrons and nearby pastry shops to die for.  I did my best to also “take it easy” for a short time although I was anxious to get on my way to the Metro which would take me to the major bus stop where I intended to get a ticket to Porto Covo to begin my hiking excursion down the Fisherman’s Trail along Portugal’s beautiful coast. Once I arrived at the bus station, I was disappointed to learn that I had missed the first bus and there was not another bus available until 4 PM. Shoot. It was only about 9:30 which meant another 6.5 hours till the bus left and then another four hours on the bus. Ten hours. Darn. I had already lost one day due to a lengthy delay out of Chicago which in turn caused a missed connection out of Madrid to Lisbon. I didn’t want to delay my hiking intention and end up just being a “tourist” for a full day so I sought out a taxi. I found an attendant outside the bus station and asked about taxis going as far as Porto Covo. He waved his hand in an easy manner as he said that of course taxis would take me anywhere I wanted to go. He directed me to the taxi stand where again, standing in a line (short one, thank goodness) I asked the locals about taxis. They widened their eyes when I said Porto Covo and kept them wide in facial warning that it would be expensive! Humph. I waited my turn and began my internal debate of choosing between the utiles of time or money.

When “my taxi” pulled up I leaned in the window and asked if he could drive me to Porto Covo. “Porto Covo?”, he asked, as if he had just hit a gold mine.  “Yes, Porto Covo, can you do a longer ride this morning?” I asked how long it would take and how much it would cost, off the meter (I thought that I might need a bargaining chip). He had to check. I leaned back out of the window while he did his research. He came back to me with a hesitant smile and reported that it would be 100 klicks and about as many euros. I asked for a firm price. He then stated firmly that he would drive me to Porto Covo for 100 euros plus whatever the highway tolls might be, maybe as much as 30 euros. I confirmed that it would be off the meter and a flat fee for the mileage plus tolls. He re-confirmed. I bit my lip as I studied his face. He looked good, “clean” as I like to describe relatively healthy people. “Okay, let’s do it but I need you to give me a few minutes to go to the bathroom and get the cash (he wouldn’t take a credit card, his bargaining chip, I suppose).” He said sure, and showed me where he would be waiting. I jogged back to the bus station, did my duty and grabbed a quick espresso, having an absolutely lovely encounter with the young man serving me, and then giddily jogged back down to the waiting taxi. I was excited as I got in his cab because I was going I was going H-I-K-I-N-G!  He was excited too as he gestured to the meter to prove it was a cash agreement. He was going to get P-A-I-D! And so the two of us, each happy in our own way took off. I had no interest in conversation, looking forward to viewing the country side but I did venture to declare to him that I was an honest person and he returned the favor of noting that he too was a good and honest person. What could possibly go wrong with an easy morning 100-euro excursion? Within a few klicks I loosened up and offered that I had just turned 64 the week before and had come to his beautiful land to hike the Fisherman’s Trail. He had recently turned 62 and had not been to Porto Covo for many, many years and thought it would be nice to see the little seaside village again. That was the extent of our conversation. Traffic was easy, we were out of the city within a short time and on the main expressway passing various sites common to such drives. The silent ride was pleasant and going smoothly. After a bit we hit the wine country to which I gleefully exclaimed “Portugal Vino!” He turned to look out the window and chuckled, “yes, vineyards…good wine, Portugal. Good wine.” We rode on. Two good honest introverts doing their own thing made for a pleasant ride as I followed along my scant map noting the sign posts for a few of the cities and regions along the way.

The road stretched on and then I heard him sigh. I paid no mind knowing it was a “long ride”.  A short time passed then I heard him sign again.  And then, again but louder. I realized, that yes, this really was feeling like a long ride and that we should be there soon. And then yet again I heard him sigh as he began to dishevel his hair with his hand. I wondered what was going on. I noted that awhile back I had heard an alarm ping on his phone but I had paid it no mind and didn’t make the connection until he said that there was a mistake. A mistake?  He confirmed as he pulled off the highway (we had already gotten off the toll way and were on a lesser trafficked dual highway) onto a bit of gravel patch on which an abandoned car was sitting…just what was this mistake???

He held up his phone and said it was wrong, it was not 100 km, but 175! OUCH. No wonder it was feeling “long”.  My first thought was this is going to take longer than the expected hour while I simultaneously knew he was concerned that this was an unmetered ride. He reiterated that this was a mistake and did the hand in the hair thing again. I tried to keep the calm by saying “let’s think this though” but I knew it wasn’t going to work when he said “this is an omen!”. “No, no omen”, I said, “just a mistake.” “Are we on the right road?” I asked, wanting to get control of the situation “Yes, I know the road” he said in frustration, “but the kilometers are wrong!” He had me look at the speedometer he had set on trip. Yes, I could see it was already well over 100 km, and Google was now telling him there were 35 more to go.

I knew right then that there were a few decisions that were going to have to be made and that I wasn’t going to foot the full bill on this but thought it best that I keep my musings to myself. Sitting there on the side of the road I simply noted that he agreed to get me to Porto Covo. Bless his honest soul, he sighed again, this time with his hand to his forehead, and turned back onto the road. I silently began to calculate how much cash I had immediately available and how I could assist without taking advantage of him or allowing him take advantage of me. I had no doubt this was simply one of those “honest mistakes” that had to be swallowed, I just wasn’t yet sure by which of us. Besides we both stated we were honest people and I believed it to be true.

A bit more down the road we hit a roundabout and I saw a sign for Porto Covo that my driver had missed. Granted we were now on “country roads” and the signs were not posted as they would have been on the expressway. “Now what is happening?”, I began to think: did he miss the sign, was there a shorter route that he knew about, or was he just so distressed he wasn’t paying attention. We got past the roundabout and I looked back and again I saw the sign for Porto Covo pointing the other way. I spoke up and he looked back. Again he pulled off the road, turned around and looked at the sign and cursed Google and smacked the phone with the back of his knuckles.  He turned the car around and followed the signs to Porto Covo.  Thank the Portuguese gods, we only had a few more klicks to go. Once we were in the small town I told him to just stop anywhere.  He stopped. I took ahold of my back pack, opened the door and then handed him the 100 euros reminding him that this is what we had agreed on. Then I handed him 30 more euros letting him know that I watched the toll fees as they registered and that they weren’t even close to 30 but wanted to ease some of his distress for the honest mistake. Then, in the last moment I gave him ten more euros and he just shook his head and said “Oh, lady!” which sadly wasn’t in appreciation but in disappointment that I did not pay a euro each for the full 175 kilometers plus tolls.  I said I was sorry and got out of his car. I shut the door and felt very sad. I knew in many ways he lost more than I did. I began walking into town, and within a few minutes I saw him circle around. I didn’t heed him and he didn’t stop. Bless his heart.

Taxi # 4: Do you know where you’re going? (Yes, I am skipping to number 4 intentionally.)

I had the most wonderful five days hiking along the coast. It was everything I had been told, or had read that it was and now, back in Lisbon having savored a real touristy day and evening was back on the metro to return to my hotel which was about 3 klicks from the airport, as the crow flies, anyway. I made sure I noted where I had gotten on the metro and even took a picture of it on my phone for easy reference so I could get off at the same place. Once I got in the train, given the time of day, it was exceedingly busy and we were really crammed in. I mean crammed in. I thought about making a joke that I was glad I wasn’t going to be having sardines for dinner, but declined knowing that a lot of people don’t “get my jokes”. We jostled about and waited for the train to move. It didn’t. We shuffled and waited some more. Then the doors opened again and closed again. I knew this wasn’t the way the metro doors usually behaved. I asked some young men who had already interpreted for me and they said that there was some trouble. Obviously. Anyway, tight to the ribs we were. So tight in fact, that very jovial lady’s breast was solidly braced against my hand which held the floor pole. It struck me as interesting really. She didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t seem to care, or perhaps, who knows, maybe she was liking it. I am in Europe, after all. I couldn’t tell. She seemed happy enough, chatting and laughing with her friends. I figured she just wasn’t aware of it. But being a comparatively prudish American in a tram full of Europeans, I figured it was just me that was uncomfortable with this situation: a woman’s breast solidly pressed against my hand. Then of course, I began to wonder, as my eyes widened, what part of my anatomy was pressed up against someone? I tried not to laugh for fear it if were true I might jiggle that body part. I mused as to whether my fellow sardine travelers might wonder if I were aware of my body parts pressed up against them in some way. I laughed at myself again thinking, “Deb, this is Europe, not Wisconsin” and just did in Lisbon what Lisboetas evidently do in the sardined subway: I just smiled and hung on as if full body contact with a stranger was the most natural thing in the world.

As you can guess the tram did eventually move but the announcement was made that it would only go to a given juncture and not continue on its scheduled route. Okay, that meant that I would not be getting off where I got on which in turn meant I would not know where I was and how to retrace my passage back to the hotel (No, I didn’t think to use google any more than my previous taxi driver did). So, when the sardined tram finally came to a stop and the breasted lady got off in front me of, I left too privately noting if I could feel any release of human flesh from any given portion of my anatomy (I didn’t). I found a taxi just outside the metro station and leaned in to ask how far to my destination. He wasn’t immediately sure of the location until I told him it was about 3 Km from the airport as a matter of general reference and then he vigorously nodded his head and said with an unbending confidence “7 euros”. Great! I got in his taxi. Being in early evening traffic there were a lot of stops at lights during which times I noticed he kept fiddling with his phone. Then I realized he had circled around (I am not making these stories up!) He said he was sorry, he would find it. He would find it???? He is one of hundreds if not a thousand plus taxi drivers in Lisbon and he doesn’t know where the f… he is and where the f… he is going? He would find it? No less than three times, he said “Sorry, I will find it.” He then asked if I smoked? No. He asked if it was okay if he smoked and I responded with some kind of “please don’t.” He did his own rendition of sighs and hair gesturing.  Again, he was sorry and quickly stopped at a light, rolled down his window, and asked another taxi going the other way along the boulevard if he knew the Rue I was going to. That taxi driver shrugged and left when the light turned.  “Sorry” again he said to me. Then it was I who suggested he try Google maps. With this he finally pulled the cab over and stopped and punched my address into his phone. All I could do was roll my eyes. “Okay” he said, “I know where!” Great.  We got there eventually, but in a lot more than 7 kilometers. Even so, by golly, I was going to stick to his word. I paid him his 7 euros and walked away.

Taxi # 3: unexpected generosity 

Bear with me please, this is the best of them all.  Really.

So, I had just finished the last segment of my five days hiking along Fisherman’s Trail. It was wonderful. I knew that morning when I set out that I was only going to go part way since I was going to return to my previous night’s lodging in preparation for my BUS ride the next day to Lisbon. As I was hiking along the sea cliffs, savoring the last bit of the pounding surf I came to the trails end before I would go overland to the town of Rogil where I knew I would be able…to get a…taxi…back to Odeceixe. I assumed anyway, that I could and would.  Besides, if I couldn’t, I knew I would just back trek on the trail even if it would be a very long day doing so.

After what became a longer than I expected hike through farm land and off beat paths I reached Rogil. Staying on the inland road I reached a lovely coffee shop at the junction of the main highway. As I ordered a double espresso, I asked the owner if there would be any trouble getting a taxi back to Odeceixe. He shook his head and said “No trouble, easy.” Music to my ears, of course. I asked him that if after I finished my espresso would he call a cab for me. He smiled. Feeling confident and a bit hungry I ordered one of those nice little chicken pastries with my espresso.  I dropped my pack, took out my camera for a few last shots of the lovely gardens around the patio, and sipped my espresso and ate my little pie. I went back in and placed my cup and saucer on the counter and indicated I was ready for the taxi and he nodded affirmingly as if it was the surest thing in the world.

Within a minute he came out to the table and said that there was trouble with the taxi. I shuffled my feet as if to personally signal preparedness to keep on trekking… “Okay, trouble, of course, taxis!” I barely had time to think as he proceeded to tell me that both taxis were busy and were not available. But, without missing a beat he went on to say that he was going to drive me in his car.

He would drive me in his car? Oh, he is a taxi guy too. Okay, great. Really great. I grabbed my back pack and followed him down the back side of his espresso shop expecting a taxi cab to be sitting there. No, this was his personal car and as I stood there while this dear man began to clear out the passenger seat and floorboard of loose papers and empty coffee cups and all such things that tend to accumulate, I realized he wasn’t a taxi driver in addition to running an espresso café, but rather, this man was a good man who “promised me” a taxi would be available and was literally going to personally drive me to Odeceixe. And he did.  It was a delightful ride of about ten klicks in which in his limited English told me about his two children. One, his “woman child”, who was 21 (he wrote the number in the dust on his dash board given he wasn’t sure how to say the number), is away at college studying math. And his “man child” was 19, again, he wrote the number further down the dash dust board. The man child I learned is very good with computers and is at a tech school doing auto computer engineering. I indicated that he must be proud. He got the jest and nodded his head with a bit of embarrassed joy.

He took me into Odeceixe. As I got out he did too and retrieved my back pack from the boot of his car. We shook hands and then I gave him ten euros. Again, he embarrassingly smiled and took the ten-note. He turned his car around in the village square and as he banked the corner out of town he waved. Such a great taxi man, I thought. How wonderful humanity is.

Moral of the stories: win some loose some. But in the end, we win.  I believe this.

Granted there are rough and ugly people in life, like the first taxi driver who seemingly was determined to have a bad day for whatever his reason. Sometimes, we just have to call a spade a spade and let them go, hopefully without harm. God forbid he had been the driver down to Porto Covo!

Sometimes, there is simple ignorance and just plain honest mistakes.  They are going to happen. It doesn’t matter if it is me or the other guy who makes them. We have to let them come, think them through, do what we think is best and then, let them go.

Most importantly though, there are so many wonderfully good and kind people, all around the world. Certainly, I encountered numerous of them in Portugal both in the towns and on the trails: Germans, Scandinavians, South Africans, Australians, Swiss, Italians, Dutch, Canadians, and of course the Portuguese. Oh, and would you believe, only one other American did I encounter on the trails, all who were quick to smile, assumed for you a good day, happy to share a stranger’s meal, lend a hand up a ragged cliff or give you a promised ride when the other drivers were busy.

Everywhere, always, I believe there will be glorious moments of respite and the best of humanity will shine forth. I choose to focus on this.

Liberal’s Moral Dilemma

We liberals are not as moral as we might think. Worse yet, conservative America has just voiced their belief that the Republican Party has the corner on morality. Certainly, most liberal readers of this document will wonder how I could possibly suggest that conservatives are more moral than liberals. Well, it depends on the definition of morality, and to some degree ethics.

I recently read The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor who integrates psychology, morality, religion, and politics. Importantly, he has been a lifelong political liberal and served for a time on the Bill Clinton staff. I was put onto this book by the editor of The Week, a center left periodical that remains a mainstay of my weekly reading. Haidt admits that he found himself dragged kicking and screaming to a very important understanding of how morality is at the core of our current political divide. He comes to the painful conclusion that many Americans, not all of them conservatives, find the liberal moral platform lacking. His conclusion is based on a brilliant examination of the concept of morality, an examination that in a broad definition of morality liberals are found surprisingly wanting.

Haidt proposes that morality has five, or perhaps six pillars: (1) care, (2) fairness, (3) loyalty, (4) authority, and (5) sanctity, possibly adding (6) liberty. Simply put, liberals value care most and fairness next, while conservatives value authority, sanctity, and loyalty. Liberals give lip service to these last three values, but frankly not much, while conservatives give lip service to care and fairness, but not much. We liberals think we have the corner on the market of morality because of our care/fairness orientation. What could be more moral, we think, than taking care of the needy and giving everyone a fair chance at success and life satisfaction? What we have seen in the recent election should wake us up to see that we do not have such a corner, and more importantly, morality, and to some degree ethics, is much broader than care and fairness. This is, so I believe, how the Republicans have taken over so much of the country recently: they have cornered the market of morality, or perhaps more accurately, they have taken over at least three of these five corners leaving Democrats to cry in our wine about how immoral these Republicans are.

Let me look a bit closer at this concept of morality. Take, for instance, the concept of authority. We might think that Hillary spoke with authority, which she certainly did, but she did not speak as an authority, nor did she speak as someone who would use her authority as President. Donald Trump, for all his brashness and profound narcissism, spoke as an authority and spoke of using this authority as soon as he would gain office. Yes, there are significant dangers of being the authority and abusing authority, but we must admit that it is attractive to many Americans, not just conservatives, to have someone speak of setting things right with authority, however impossible it might be to do so. How silly it was for Trump, following Scott Walker and other Republican candidates to speak of doing something “the first day in office” but it was attractive to many people. These people felt a certain safety in the fact that finally someone would just do the right thing even if it offended many people.

Of course we, as liberals, might challenge what is right to do and whether a President even has the right to do the so-called right thing, but that doesn’t matter to people who daily hear of the danger of ISIS, the lack of healthcare for millions of Americans, and the exploding national debt. People just want the magic bullet that will cure these ills, and Trump provided it for them. We can complain that Trump was elected by “uneducated white males,” but this minority of Americans was not the only element in his victory. It is too easy for us to sit back and wine (sic) that people should have known better. We need to see what Republicans and other conservatives are saying about morality, particularly about the value of authority. My favorite President, Republican Theodore Roosevelt, “carried a big stick” in many ways, spoke and acted with authority but was more progressive in many ways before his time. His Democrat cousin FDR also spoke and acted with authority and not always within the rule of law. He just did the right thing with lend lease and other measures to subvert the liberal pacifism of the 1940’s. Kennedy acted with authority, often against a significant element in his own party fighting for racial equality on the one hand, and with the threat of war against Russia during the Cuban missile crisis. Liberals have forgotten the value of moral authority and focused on care and fairness.

The majority of Americans might give lip service to care and fairness, but the larger majority want the freedom to do what they think is right. The hallmarks of the Clinton campaign has been on these two laudable elements of morality. Unfortunately, most Americans care less about care than they do about the freedom to do what they want to do. I am fully behind a woman’s right to “care for her own body” (freedom to choose abortion) but most Americans don’t care much about this element of morality. Clinton also focused on the fairness element of morality speaking frequently and wisely about the great and increasing disparity between rich and poor in this country. So why would most under-waged Americans vote for Trump the billionaire? Because he said that everyone could be a billionaire if government would get out of the way and let them do what they want to do. Thus, the focus of the Clinton campaign was on this fairness element of morality while Trump trumped the other moral element: freedom. Which is more attractive to the person on the street, if we dare to admit it? We can complain that the freedom element can lead to narcissism so clearly displayed by Trump, but if it is a choice between what I have and someone else needs, we will always go with the first…and then hopefully the second.

Not only have Republicans garnered the corner on authority and freedom, they have added the sanctity element suggested by Jonathan Haidt. I find it truly remarkable that such a despicable person such as Donald Trump could secure the majority of evangelicals and many other peole with lesser strict religious convictions. The only vaguely religious element in his campaign was his exaggerated talk about “tearing babies out of the womb.” Otherwise, he was almost completely devoid of anything objectively religious. But we must consider that his statement about restricting Muslims coming to America, and perhaps even his threat of deporting 11 million Latinos seemingly spoke to a kind of sanctity, namely the sanctity of our allegedly Christian nation. As a recovering Christian fundamentalist, I recall the safety and sanctity of the absolutes that fundamentalism of any kind provides. Note the success, if we call it that, of ISIS based on similar absolutism. But aside from Trump, the Republicans have made great hay in espousing quazi-religious elements in their programs over the recent decades. I found it interesting that in her concession speech Clinton used a biblical reference, but never before in her campaign. Rather, she spoke of fairness and care, but little of the religious element. There is a strong element among liberals to belittle much that is religious, often for good reasons, but not with an understanding that sanctity is very important to Americans, including those who rarely darken the doors of church.

So I close with the suggestion that we liberals need to be more moral, or perhaps more broadly moral and understand the sanctity, authority, and freedom corners of morality finding value in these pillars. Authority is not authoritarian, freedom is not licentiousness, and sanctity is necessarily theistic.