Nuggets of Life: The Taxi Formula


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?

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11 thoughts on “Nuggets of Life: The Taxi Formula

  1. i live in a city , in a country where haggling down cab fares is part of our tradition..:D..we can afford the luxury of taking a cab from anywhere at any time,,,,truly blessed we are..:D…now if we can just ignore the suicide bombings, muggings,snipers and kidnapping..it would be heaven..:D
    PS…i recently subscribed to your blog and do enjoy your sense of humour…keep em coming..:)

  2. “Well,” I said, practically swishing imaginary brandy around in an imaginary tumbler, “we could always take a cab.”

    Best line ever!!!

    that actually happened to me when i was in Montreal, i said to my friend, ” oh lets just take a cab!” her response.. “so lazy”… its not lazy, its fast. faster than us trying to figure out first where we are let alone where we need to go.

  3. Maybe it’s an Asian thing with cabs. Where I live, Indianapolis Indiana, cabs are rare beasts — Blue Herons are seen more often, and they’re pretty rare themselves. It’d probably be more expensive to take cabs here than in Toronto. Here, it’s not even a ‘lazy’ option — it’s hardly an option at all. Buses are only slightly more common. Indy is a car city — everyone has one, no one really has a choice. Buses are not really even practical unless you live right downtown. Anyway, Shanghai China on the other hand — oh yeah, cheap taxis everywhere all the time. Sounds a lot like Seoul.

    • That was supposed to be a link to Wikipedia on ‘blue herons’… Is that an anti-spam thing that wordpress secretly replaced the link with the link to your post?

      • My wife, who is Chinese, tells me they’re likely to drive you around in circles if you look like a tourist, but I’m sure you’ve learned how to deal with that in Seoul…

        • Heh, I do, but it mainly involves me castigating them in Korean (I don’t know if I’d be able to achieve the same in Mandarin).

          The cab drivers in my city are actually mostly fine folk who rarely try to screw anyone over; Seoul cabs are, from most of my experiences, desperate every moment to try to screw you over. They hate when you’re on the wrong side of the road. They hate when you make them drive somewhere with “traffic.” They will absolutely screw you unless you have at least one Korean in the cab with you (and even then, they’ll still try).

  4. hello, foreigner… i like this post. it smacks of so much everyday wisdom. and hey, i can sympathize with your friend. i mean, she knows you and cares for you, ahaha. regards… :}

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