Characters in this strange place on dark nights with little moonlight. With this job, with this existence, I don’t know, man. I feel like I wander into realities that were never really meant for me but through which I’ve been allowed temporary passage.
Taxi drivers in Brazil — cabbies — being what they are, would also make good bartenders. They know of all of the best places to eat for cheap, where the quality counts and the quantity is abundant. They are often rough but sometimes refined, and can lend a good ear in short bursts of 5 blocks. That’s a pretty tight skill to have.
“It’s all the same”, he said. “All the same. Don’t ever think you’re in the worse, because the guy you think is better off, isn’t. I know — I’ve been both.”
Wisdom, man, especially now, in these times. We spoke in vague terms, uncommitted and agreeable, but I left it all in the backseat. He said that’s how you win when you have all of this baggage and you don’t know where to start — you leave it in the car, in the back, and don’t take your worries home with you.
That sounded right. I’d sure like to believe him, but I just can’t imagine it’s that simple.
Or maybe I don’t want to.
We have, all of us, such disparate existences, such alternate realities. There are dark corners of this city where integrity is not defined by your character. It’s not defined at all, actually, because survival is too important to worry about integrity. There are other corners, other places where what matters is your power to obtain because it’s all you have left.
Or something like that.
What I know is that many times it happens in this country, that as I’m about to step out of the cab and am waiting for my receipt (since, you know, it’s a business expense), the cabbie asks me how much I want him to make it out for.
“What do you mean,” I ask naively. “What does the meter read?”
“45 Reais,” he replies.
“Then make it out for 45 Reais,” I say. He looks at me with a confused look most times, though occasionally you get the guy that understands that you’re not of those guys.
“Wow,” he’ll say, “usually they say to double or quadruple it. I don’t get many like you.”
“Shit,” I say, “that’s too bad. If they’re government people, it’s likely you’re paying for it.”
“What?” He asks.
But that’s a losing battle.
Once, it was late at night, one or two in the morning. I was headed back from dinner at my uncle’s house but the cabbie didn’t know that. He picked me up on a corner by a residential street and who knows what he thought I was doing there. Leaving home?
He must’ve thought I was a local of some kind. Business men who pay expensive late-night taxi fees in São Paulo are either government folk from Brasilia who don’t know the city or else foreigners who don’t speak Portuguese.
I was neither, of course, and I had done my homework, studying Google Maps until late hours of the night so that I would feel comfortable in this vast sprawl of concrete and narrow roads. It totally threw him off when I asked him to take me to a well-known and very expensive hotel on the ritzy part of town.
“Are you alone?” He asked me initially, which made me nervous. In a city like São Paulo, you never want people to know you’re alone.
I told him that no, I wasn’t alone. I was married.
“I know,” he said, “but are you alone?”
Oh. Hmm. Um.
How fascinating, I thought, and adjusted my butt on the leather bench seat of his taxi. This guy had absolutely no reservation about taking a married man to see a prostitute, even arranging it for him. And why should he? It wasn’t, I felt, just about how much money he could make from it. It was his role as a courier to provide a full-service escort from point A to point B. And since he knew his client’s typical tastes from experience, of course I had been bundled into the same line of thought. It wasn’t a values thing, it’s just how the night winds wail in some places.
This strange reality tends to fade when the sun comes up, but weirder things come up; things in conference rooms on the high floors of corporate high-rises; things I don’t like to repeat. There are many kinds of evil in our world but the worst kind is the one that doesn’t traverse other people’s values; the ones that you may not be willing to do, but someone is. That’s when things get dangerous if you wander through these realities. At one point or another, I will have to consider that as an option, I think.