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Taxicab Confessions

January 14, 2017

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Meryl Streep

But to return to my original question, if I do not believe in the intellectual and moral authority of persons such as Meryl Streep, in whose intellectual and moral authority do I believe? If not actors”€™ and rock musicians”€™, whose?

My answer is simple: that of taxi drivers. A lot of my information about humanity and the world comes from taxi drivers, and on the whole I have found them more reliable, accurate, intelligent, and realistic than, say, the commentators in the Financial Times. They are generally much more interesting, too, and express themselves more vividly, even if English is their seventh language.

I was once in Singapore trying to catch a taxi. You cannot just hail a taxi on the street in Singapore, you have to go to a taxi stand. This I did, but still no taxi would stop for me. The taxis swept past me as if I did not exist. Then someone came and hailed a taxi about two feet to my right. A taxi stopped immediately and took him. Was this some kind of discrimination, in the politically correct sense of the word? No: When I stood two feet to the right of where I had been standing, a taxi stopped for me immediately.

I told the driver of my experience and he, Chinese without a great deal of English, replied, “€œSingapore velly, velly law.”€

Have you read anything in the Financial Times, or any other serious newspaper, that so succinctly and accurately sums up a country or society?

Take another example, more recent. I was in an English university town where I took a taxi from the station to the university. We fell to talking, the driver and I, and to keep our conversation going I asked him whether the students were nice.

“€œNo,”€ he said, “€œthey”€™re evil bastards.”€

This judgment was so spontaneous, so deeply felt, and so obviously the fruit of what sociologists call lived experience, that it could only have been true.

When I was young, I was told that if you wanted to know the time, you should ask a policeman. If you want to know what the world is like, ask a taxi driver.

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