My primary transportation to and from work as well as anywhere in Amman are taxis. Every ride is different than the last, but some are definitely more adventurous than others. The staccato blasts of a horn communicates to an unsuspecting pedestrian a taxi is available. The honking is helpful except when it is annoying and startling. My favorite is the smoke free taxi with gentle prayer music in the background or the one where the driver speaks a little English and is curious to know where I am from and what I am doing here. However, often their stories are far more interesting than mine. I’ve met a retired Social Worker who worked with war victims his entire career as well as an aspiring chef who specializes in sweets who lived in Italy for two years and England for three. Many of the taxi drivers are well educated and this is their second job to pay the bills. Then there are are the smoke filled taxis with Habibi music so loud making it impossible to think and I am convinced I hear a phone ringing, which reminds me of my dad saying to me and my brother when we were teenagers, “I don’t hear the phone ringing when I listen to my music.” Is this another sign of age? I’m amused by the drivers who pull out a super size bottle of cologne and begin spraying themselves. It is all I can do to resist the urge to roll down the window and hang my head out like a dog. Sadly, some windows don’t roll down leaving me trapped with the smells of stale cigarettes and cologne. The adventure begins when the taxi driver is texting, smoking, and shifting while speeding through traffic and slamming on the brakes at the red light. These taxi rides are like a boarding an amusement ride except there are no tracks or safety harness as we barrel down a street with no lanes, horns blaring, flashing lights, jostling for undetermined position among the chaos of cars, getting thrown forward at a red light. A second before the light turns green a cacophony of horns begin and you are jerked backward as the race to move past all the other cars on the road starts up again. I dread getting behind the slow driver with the speed demon taxi driver as that means riding the bumper with constant slamming of brakes to avoid collision. Good thing the dental care is good here because at some point, no doubt, I will lose a filling. The many taxi experiences wouldn’t be complete without mention of the fare negotiation. It is important to make sure the meter gets reset at the start of your ride otherwise you end up in a no win negotiation at the end of your destination. Of course, then there is the alleged broken meter. The taxis driver with the “broken” meter will attempt to charge you 5 JD for a 2 JD or less ride for no other reason than you are not a local and they really don’t care if you get out of the taxi.
Then there is the experience I just had leaving the coffee shop. I get in the taxi and ask him to set the meter to which he responds as you like but makes no move to set the meter. I ask again. Nothing. I asked how much. His response was free for USA. I thought to myself yeah right, but gave up. At my destination I hand him 2 JD and he reacts in shock and says this taxi 4 JD, 4 JD. I get out and say, “well you should have said that at the beginning because all you are getting is 2 JD.” My heart was pounding and my hands shaking because I’ve never done that before, but enough is enough. Fortunately, he didn’t come after me.