How to Talk to Your Taxi Driver (In Argentina)

“Hola, ¿como va?”

“Bien, ¿vos?”

“Bien. Ehh, bueno— Suipacha y Juncal, porfa.”

“Bueno.”

“Gracias.”

“No, a vos.”

Well, that’s how. Nothing tricky there. You could even go without the pleasantries; a simple, “Suipacha y Juncal” is all you really need to get yourself home.

Perhaps, then, a better question is not how, but rather, why should you talk to your taxi driver.

I’ll answer with an anecdote, not surprisingly, about a taxi ride.

It was late March, and I was leaving La Bomba, which is a drum circle directed by a conductor who uses a language of cues and gestures to create combinations of rhythms between the drummers, real time. Very cool. It was a correspondingly energetic crowd, featuring all of the festivities that such crowds often offer. Namely, I was drunk (legally; this is Buenos Aires, OK). But that night, I was feeling a little off, not really grooving with the vibe, maybe missing home a little. It had been a good night already, even before the concert, so I decided to call it quits and stumbled my way out of the crowd onto the street.

I hailed a taxi.

I had precisely the conversation transcribed above.

And then I slumped back in my seat feeling grateful for cushions and wheels and the fact that I didn’t have class till 14:00 the next day.

The driver, an older, mustachioed guy with a cross hanging from his rearview mirror, asked me how I was doing. Tired, I replied. Wasn’t really feeling it tonight, I said. He asked where I was from. I gave him the spiel. I’m from outside of Boston, MA, here studying sociology, Spanish, and art, living with a host family, and yes I like Argentina very much (they’re a prideful bunch, gotta stroke that nationalist ego).

We had a very pleasant conversation: about how corruption is present in both of our countries, but perhaps only more obvious in Argentina, about the role of religion in our countries, about the recent election of el Papa Argentino— and so on. Somehow, late-night drunk Spanish conversations always flow so smoothly, or perhaps that’s just how I (don’t) remember them.

He asked about my family and friends, and whether I missed them. I said yes, of course, though I especially miss my girlfriend, who is back in los Estados Unidos. That’s probably part of why I wasn’t feeling it tonight, I said. Concerts are better with girlfriends.

Then he asked me, “¿Y qué tal con los mujeres acá? ¿Te la están dando?”

“¿Cómo? No entiendo..”

“¡El sexo! El fuckey-fuckey, el baile sagrado. Y qué de la novia, ¡no la vas a ver por cinco meses!

I laughed, mostly in reaction to his sudden burst of colorful language, but also a little unsure what he was getting at.

“I mean, yeah, that’s true. I will not be having sex for several months. Quite the conundrum,” I replied, not seeing where this was going.

“What if I told you that I could take you right now to a place where you could choose from four rooms; from four photos. For 110 pesos (about $15) I can take you there and you can see the photos, and for $450 pesos (~$65), you can do anything you want to whichever one you choose.”

It probably appeared to him as though I were actually contemplating his offer, as it took me solidly thirty seconds to sort out what was actually happening.

“What? Like, what? Now?”

“Si, ahora. ¿Vamos?”

“Whoa, whoa. ¡No! No, hombre, ¡no tengo ningún interés! Tengo novia. Tengo… ¡dignidad!”

He said OK and kept driving, acting like nothing had happened. It got silent for a full minute.  Still five minutes from home. I finally asked him, “So you, like, do this? With like, prostitutes?” He said yes. I asked for how long. He said about twenty years. Whoa, okay. I paused, considered the situation. I felt almost as if I were watching someone else being taxied through Alto Palermo. I don’t talk to taxi-driving pimps every day, okay? Suddenly, I realized the opportunity at hand and became very intrigued by my situation, almost in an academic sense. There he was, “the oppressor,” driving along, nodding to the cumbia playing quietly in the background. Now that I see him, what do I say?

Well, I’m not sure how I feel about it now, but at that moment, I felt compelled to get on my horse and spout that righteous academia which I do generally prescribe to: I talked about cycles of poverty and abuse, and about how every person is just as logical within their bounded rationality as each other person; these women don’t want to be selling their bodies, but they do so, because they have ended up in situations where it has become the logical course of action— which is tragic, on an institutional and human level. I fairly ranted, knowing I had only another two or three minutes to make the impression that I needed to make— my shot to exert direct influence, however insignificant, upon this global patriarchy. After each of my sentences, he nodded his head in silent accordance, and when I finally had gotten my points across and we were pulling up in front of my apartment complex, he said only, “Si, si. Muy triste, muy triste.”

I paid, and said goodbye, and then went up to my room and asked myself whether I had just imagined the whole thing. It’s not that strange an event; we all know those people do exist in the world— but I will admit that at that point in time, it was a shock for me to meet one of them.

So then, to answer my question: Why should you talk to your taxi driver?

Because that’s where life gets interesting. The moment you step out of your daily bubble and touch upon that which is foreign and new, you open yourself up to seeing a world you have never seen before. Yeah, he could have been dangerous, and I could have unwittingly ended up at a whorehouse. But in retrospect (and even in the moment), I realized that this was something so removed from my customary sphere of interactions that I would never have come across it had I not then talked to my taxi driver. And obviously, there is much more to discover from the taxi drivers of the world than prostitution rigs; everyone, including yourself, is living hir own unique experience, and in my opinion, it can only benefit you to open yourself and learn from them.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Coming Soon: Mantis&Me, Travel Edition

Happy new years everyone. I hope you celebrated in style. Personally 2012 was a rough year, complicated and formative and sad. I think I’m quite ready to leave this one behind. As Pooh said to Rabbit, “thanks so much, I’ll be leaving now!”

I am about to encounter a lot of things new and foreign. I say ‘things’ because, well, I don’t yet know what I’ll learn, who I’ll meet, or how I’ll change from having done whatever I end up doing. I know little more than skeletal facts: In 1 week, I’m going to Israel on a birthright trip with friends from Wesleyan; and then in about 2 months, I’m leaving to study abroad for a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Birthright is much more predictable an experience- 10 days with a clear-cut itinerary in the company of a well known crew. We’ll see some ancient sites, visit a Kibbutz, experience an Israeli Shabbat and hopefully get an authentic, unfiltered-by-the-media feel for what it’s like to be in Israel and why there has been so much conflict over so many ‘things’ for so many years. I come from a non-religious background of reform Judaism, and while I do have some relatives who maintain a strong connection with Israel, I am relatively uninformed about many of the debates and thus look forward to learning. What I will see is fairly clear, but how will I feel? Who will I meet, and what will they say? How will my encounter with Israel affect my perspective on issues regarding the Middle East, my relationship with Judaism, my view of humanity?

On a different and recurring note, I will be in Israel during a difficult time, during my father’s first yahrzeit. I will be sad to be apart from my family during this time. I will be glad to have my close friends with me there. Perhaps I will feel something spiritual or profound being in Israel but really I anticipate just sadness and maybe some peace. At least this year will soon become part of the past.

After Israel, I am home in MA for an awkward month until I leave for Argentina in the last week of February. During this time I’ll be with my family and will probably visit Wesleyan for a time. I’ll also be relearning español hardcore and familiarizing myself with argentinan spanish, which is apparently different but pleasant. This time in itself is exciting: a whole month’s worth of time to get shit done. I’m working on a few things primarily these days… firstly selling some of my dad’s posessions that are worth $ and taking up space in closets because they dont-and-wont fit or suit anyone ever. Hard to let some of it go. Anyone want a really cool globe? (If you contact me after having read this post I’ll give it to you for $30 instead of $180 on ebay (cackles madly)). Secondly I’m working on a newsletter for my fraternity, which has been a learning experience though not unpleasant. Coordinating 30 guys into writing something is like diapering an octopus. Thirdly, I’ve got a whole bunch of things to read that I’ve encountered on the internet or received from a friend or kept from a class where I didn’t get to read everything because of just that— school keeps me working from assignment to assignment, leading me to list future readings furiously so that one day I might further round my education. This task is endless and not unpleasant.

Enter Argentina. I have many feelings about Argentina, as this next real phase of life looms hazy on the horizon. I am a predictable mix of excited, bewildered, eager for it to begin, and sad to be soon disconnected from my various networks of friends and family. It shimmers with promise of new excitement and learnings, and also new challenges and unfamiliar situations that will call upon new skills and competencies.

What can I do in preparation? Read travel advice online? Talk to people who have been, lived, or studied there? Learn about the country and its history and culture? I can do all of the preparatory work in the world but when it comes down to it, it’s really whether you can be quick on your feet, kid. Can you walk the world, kid? Can you, having learned everything you’ve learned in the environments you’ve learned them in, successfully transpose those skills into a different social key? Can you exude yourself with everyone you’ve never met, to win yourself allies and defend your place in the world, and can you do this with grace and with vigor?

The tests I’ve just described are the reasons why I have chosen to pursue a study abroad experience in college. I chose Argentina because 1) I want to gain fluency in spanish, having previously reached an academic competency that would be most effectively brought home, so to say, by an abroad experience, and 2) because of the city of Buenos Aires, which I hear is full of character, magnificent with a unique blend of Western European and Jewish immigrant influence which can be seen in architecture, food, and art, all, of course, while situated in South America. My freshman year in high school, I went on a white-guilt-volunteer trip to Peru, where I saw great culture and great poverty. I will certainly want to travel through other parts of South America if this is possible. I feel an Amazonian bike-trip fantasy slowly formulating…

Anyways, Argentina is probably the most developed of the South American countries, and Buenos Aires is apparently all about education, home to four(+) very large universities, and libraries on every corner, says my guide book. I love libraries, and books and good headphones. I want to sit in a library in Argentina and read and write and think and observe and create. I want to discover and learn about new problems. I want to learn about old problems in new ways. As per Einstein, I think that I’ll spend 95% of my time thinking about the problems, and thereby let solutions become self evident. And I want to think a lot, so as to maximize my chance of thinking of something that doesnt suck.

I’ll take four or five classes; two: one spanish language course and one Argentinean culture course from my international Abroad program, and two or three more from a subset of classes from any of the three or four beforementioned very large universities in the city. I will look for classes in economics, sociology, entrepreneurship, marketing, art/design, or anything regarding collisions of technology or science and society.

I will live in a home stay. I listed as my highest preference a middle-aged, middle-class couple with young kids. I thought it was interesting and logical that I should get to choose so closely, though they obviously don’t guarantee perfect placements. I look forward to meeting my host family– what an exciting opportunity to meet people who are likely to be similar enough to connect with me and different enough to provide a totally new experience.

At the very least, much is about to change. I feel very positively about most of it, and the rest I will learn from. Or I wont, and I’ll make the same mistakes over and over again. We don’t ever do that now do we?

* * *

I want to thank a lot of you. And I have, in person or online, with words of gratitude for all that I know that I have been given this year. Yes, it is true that, well, something took itself way from me this year. But I have been given outstanding quantities of kindheartedness and positive energies, most outstandingly by those very close to me, but also by so many others whose genuine concern for myself and my family has been completely heartwarming. My community rallied and hoisted us up, and my family can only murmur thanks in return.

Let this be a good new year, and I wish peace, health, and prosperity upon you all.