Though I personally think they’re all enacting their own private versions of Deathproof, taxis have become a part of my life in Korea. The amount of time I spend in them, as well as the amount of money I give them, is far greater than I ever could have imagined before moving here. That their unions have pushed the subways into closing at a Victorianishly genteel midnight in Seoul, and 12:30 in Incheon, makes them kind of a necessity. But beyond that, I still find myself clambering into the backs of cabs simply for convenience, an activity I never thought possible.
Because cabs, at home, are the transport of the desperate, the wealthy, or those travelling in large enough groups. In Toronto, cabs are absurdly pricey, and I will only ever jump into one if I am travelling with 27 other people: 18 in the back, two in the driver’s lap, and at least five or six dangling out the trunk and windows. Travelling a great distance in Toronto in a cab is desperately unfeasible, and to get home from downtown to my neighbourhood would have regularly run me around 50 dollars. No, instead, I took the righteous route: even in the depths of the worst beer hazes, I kept a hawkish eye on the time, and would flee to catch the last subway, followed by the last bus to get me home. Anything to evade falling into the embrace of a cabbie’s ravenous, craven, money-stained talons.
The formula for getting a taxi back home was simple. If Michael’s desperation > Michael’s enjoyment of Michael’s money, then I will take a cab. Given that this scenario almost never comes up, I will surely find my way to the holy and righteous Toronto institution, the Blue Light Bus (affectionately known as the Vomit Comet). There just aren’t many scenarios where I won’t vie for the three dollar option, even if it is soaked in urine and emesis.
In Korea, this isn’t so much the case. The absurdly low price, the number of people who will ride in a cab with me, combined with the breakneck speed and ubiquity of cabs (I don’t think I have ever waited more than five minutes for one), means that their convenience is far higher than at home. The damage to my wallet is almost negligible: can I afford around five Canadian dollars to get me wherever? Why, certainly I can.
The problem is that, my formula has now switched dramatically. If Michael’s laziness > Michael’s attachment to three dollars, I will get into a cab. And that weighting almost always tilts to one side. Sure, I could walk or wait for this bus, but there’s a cab right there. Sure, I could find my way to the subway, or sleep here, or wait until the morning until the subways re-open, but is that rain I feel? I could use my legs, but then again, I don’t have to. I take cabs at all times of day, to all sorts of places. If I’m running late, I should probably just hop in one. If I’m meeting a friend really soon, or worse still if I’m travelling with one, I will lunge in without a second thought. In the morning or at night, no matter the weather, and if I’m carrying a load greater than 12 ounces, my burdens become so great that I just hop in a cab and let my troubles drift away from me at approximately 145 km/h.
It’s a luxury I’ve grown rapidly accustomed to, and I don’t know what will happen when it is wrenched from my fingers. While briefly visiting back home, I went downtown with a friend. We were going to several places, and she was desperately looking up subways and buses and streetcars and horse-drawn chariots to get us from one point to another, while minimizing how many bus fares we’d shell out (Toronto’s bus fare is now more than the average 5-10 minute cab ride in Korea).
“Well,” I said, practically swishing imaginary brandy around in an imaginary tumbler, “we could always take a cab.”
My friend looked at me with obscene horror. What was wrong with me? Had I gone insane? Taxis, unless we figured out a way to summon the Cash Cab, were never an option. “You’ve changed, Michael,” she said grievously. She shook her head accusitorily. What kind of lunatic would take a cab at any time of day?