Taking me for a (taxi) ride

A true story

My confusing taxi ride to wherever… I should have followed my own best travel tips, of course…

“Abu Dhabi airport, sir?” The hotel clerk asks as he hails a meter taxi parked nearby. “What time is your flight?”

I let him take my suitcase. “Yeah, Abu Dhabi International, 10 o’clock,” I reply, handing him a tip.

Sam Basch's Best Travel Tips
The flight route as seen on the seat-back screen.
Image by: Sam J Basch

“You’ll be there early, sir!” He heaves the suitcase into the boot of my taxi. “Not yet 7am, sir; lot’s of time. Safe journey!”

A taxi ride here is a pleasure; most taxis are in a very good state. The silver Toyota sedan picking me up is spotless, the driver wearing a hoodie to ward off the light morning chill. He closes my door as I settle into the back, behind the front passenger seat. We head off just as the sun is rising.

Once on the motorway, the taxi is gaining speed.

Strange, I think. The airport is supposed to lie towards the east, where the sun is rising. From my hotel room every day I’ve noticed planes taking off with the morning sun behind – yet now the sun is on our right.

Occasionally exceeding the speed limit of 120km/h, the driver gets a warning on the iPad-sized electronic screen where the fare is also displayed.

Just then a loud ping emits from the dashboard: low-fuel warning.

“Damn!” I swear inaudibly. “Is he not supposed to keep his taxi filled up?”

Sun still on my right, I calculate. This is wrong. We never passed a military base on the way coming in, or this sand-coloured mosque. Are we…?

A motorway leading out of Abu Dhabi

A large overhead directional sign on the motorway confirms my suspicions: Dubai. Two  hours away, possibly longer.

“Why are we going to Dubai? I’m leaving from Abu Dhabi International. We should have been there about now.”

“You go from Abu Dhabi?” he asks, incredulously.

“Yes, yes!” I almost shout in exasperation. “Turn around, immediately!” By now the taxi meter has clocked almost double the usual fare for the airport run.

He turns off at the next junction, rounding a circle to get back on the motorway – then pulls over, keeping the engine running.

“I gotta disconnect,” he whispers and proceeds to attack an aircraft-type electric cable, called a harness, at the back of the electronic screen. Two thin bolts secure the cable, which he now tries to unscrew, to no avail.

Many minutes tick by.

He looks around for tools he clearly knows he does not have. In the glove box he finds nail clippers, with which he cuts a cable-tie that holds the bundle neatly together – for no reason.

I check my watch. “Why don’t you sit in the passenger seat? From there you’ll see better.”

I must be at the airport at 8am.

Returning to his seat, he fiddles more – getting nowhere.

“Are we making progress?” I point to my wrist watch. “I don’t want to miss my flight.”

Flying home.
Image by: Sam J Basch

“Sir, please… you turn your leg sideways, sir!” he begs lamely. “For the sensor, sir.” He points to the door.

Only then do I spot a button-sized thingy embedded in the side panel. I swing my legs, but the display on his screen apparently still indicates a passenger on board. He pulls the hoodie down, not sure what to do.

“No, better you sit up front here,” he decides and levers the back of the passenger seat to the horizontal position.

I hesitate. “Is this some elaborate trick to get me out of the car? Surely this will give him the opportunity to speed away with my luggage still in the boot,” I calculate, a serious case of South African paranoia kicking in.

“Put your feet up here, sir.” He points to the dashboard. “Please, sir. Lie straight!”

Now I realise he is instead trying to “trick” the sensor in the door panel on the front passenger side.

At last, the electronic display shows “For Hire” – meaning he is seemingly no longer transporting a passenger.

With me stretched out on the “lie-flat” front seat, striped socks on the dash and my bum bobbing in midair, out of the sensor’s view, we barrel down the motorway.

Beeps and pings from the speed and low-fuel warnings keep up the stress levels until we stop at Terminal 3 – just after 8am.

As he lifts my luggage out, I ask: “Where are you from?”

“I’m so sorry, sir!” he bleats, distressed. “Very sorry, sir. I come from Uganda. So very sorry!”

“No worries, man.” I pat his arm as I count out the fare, adding a tip. “We’re brothers – from Africa!”

Shaking his hand, I say: “You get some petrol now – and drive safely!” 

Making it to the airport in time
Image by: Sam J Basch

This article was published under a different title in the Sunday Times Travel section’s ‘Accidental Tourist’ column on 10 March 2019, with an illustration by Piet Grobler.

To see more of Sam’s travel stories here.

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6 Responses

  1. Brilliant Sam!
    Reminds me of a dash across Abu Dhabi to find my laundry before a flight😂
    Do you remember?

  2. So funny! I was on the edge of my seat for a while, wondering if you’d make it to the airport on time. And now I have a mental image, that I can’t make go away, of you lying prone on the front seat.

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