Saturday 9 November 2013

The Istanbul Taksi

...probably a far more logical spelling than our Taxi... The Istanbul taksi is a resilient and fast-moving beast. You know how it is when you're on a 2-lane highway that's jammed with traffic and you wish you could just surge forward and carve out a third lane all for yourself? Well, the Istanbul taksi can do just that.

And you know that thing where you've had the seats down in the back to make the boot bigger and you stand them up again and the seat belts get lost behind them so the car appears to have no seat belts at all. Well, that, too. Being magical beasts, the Taksi needs no seat belts. Certainly no one wears them.

And you know The Knowledge that London taxi drivers do? Well, not that. Istanbul is HUGE with thousands of taksis and they say 'Yeah, no problem' when you give them an address or show them a map, but after they've driven a few miles very fast and carved out a few of their own traffic lanes, they wind down their windows and discuss destinations with other taksi drivers. They sometimes show each other the tourist map that you gave them in the first place, but that's for entertainment between them, because the tourist map is, as one colleague put it, 'spectacularly useless, more of an artist's impression than a map.'

As you can see, I fell into the trap of assuming the taksi to have magic properties - all that carving out of lanes where none exist, of flying from one end of this vast city to the other, always getting there, never landing in a heap to be shovelled up by the emergency services... so I felt supremely safe and confident even in the taksi where he stopped in the sinister (4-lane, busy) underpass and briefly opened the passenger door as though about to throw someone out. We assumed it would be M landing on the tarmac. M had been misdirecting the taksi round and round this underground maze asking to be thrown out really. Taksi drivers should be left to discuss directions amongst themselves.

But then we took a taksi back to the airport. We raced along the motorway. Three lanes all full of traffic. Saw a taksi ahead take a dive at the hard shoulder and then pull back into line with the other cars as though it were an ordinary vehicle and not a magic transport machine. Then we saw the magic breaker. Big van labelled Trafic Polis, understandable in any language. They had their grappling hooks into another taksi. And sure enough, the magic dissipated. We passed any number of cars - taksis and ordinary ones with their sides stoven in, just as one would imagine the sides of cars would routinely become concave if a swarm of yellow vehicles raced about at speed carving out their own traffic lanes.

Maybe magic doesn’t work on motorways. Maybe we were just lucky.

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