Somchai The Taxi Driver
4:00. School is out and the rush is on to get a taxi home. Not only do you have to compete with kids and parents, but other teachers as well. Once you flag down a taxi, the mission is not yet complete. Sombat, Somchai, Somying or whatever his or her name is may not want to take you to where you want to go. หมดก๊ำซ. (No gas). ไม่ทัน. (Time to return the taxi.) รถติด. (Traffic. A favorite, even though Bangkok has traffic pretty much at all hours of the day.) ฟรั่ง. (Foreigner.) To be fair, I have never had a taxi driver tell me that he won’t take a foreigner. It just may be that he doesn’t want to deal with someone who can’t speak Thai and may end up getting him lost. Anyway, the excuses are vast and often make no sense, but that’s the way it is.
A few taxis cruise by with their windows open, never a good sign. They ask where you want to go. If they stop and you have to shout through the open window where you want to go, 99% of the time you will not be taking that taxi anywhere. Now I just let them roll on by when the window comes down.
Finally, after five refusals, my fellow teacher, a Norwegian I will call The Viking from now on, and I get in the pink taxi for the 8 km ride home. I notice the driver’s name is Somchai. A name I give every Thai male now. It seems every dude in any position of authority is a Somchai. Inversely, every Thai male who is a working stiff is also a Somchai. Somchai means “strong man” so I have been told. I tell Somchai where we want to go and he reluctantly agrees. Really, I should have gotten out right then and there, but the thought of trying to get another taxi was just too much. Oh, one tip, and there are millions. When a driver mutters the street name or address you want to go to over and over again, GET OUT THE TAXI!! Really, I cannot stress this enough. I’m not sure if it means they don’t know where they are going, or if it means they just don’t want to go there, or if they are thinking of a good somtam stall near there, I don’t know. Just get out of the [email protected]#$ing taxi. There will be pain. Somchai was muttering the address over and over again.
The Viking and I are sitting at the first set of lights and we both notice the muttering. The driver is twitching a bit as well. Too much Red Bull. Too much ยาบ้า (methamphetamines). Not enough sleep. It really could be anything. Whatever it is, Somchai will have either had an excess of something, or is completely lacking in something. These guys don’t take half-measures. The light finally turns green and we are off. There are three ways to get home from school. Two of them are bad, and one of them is tolerable. The tolerable route involves turning off the main road onto a smaller two-lane road. This seems counter-intuitive I know, but eventually the four-lane road turns into a three-lane road that is one of the worst in Bangkok. So the two-lane road turns out to be much faster in the long run. Somchai doesn’t care about the long run. He only sees semi-open road now and that makes him happy. We are approaching the lights where we have to turn left to take the two-lane road. We are in the far right lane speeding down the road. I ask Somchai to take a left and the next traffic light. My Thai is not great, but since I spend a lot of time commuting in taxis, my taxi Thai is [email protected]#$ing spot on. Somchai pretends not to hear. I ask him again, louder. No movement to the left. It has been a long day. The students, while lovely, can make a person a bit nuts. This time I tell him to turn left at the lights and kick the bottom of his seat. I have Somchai’s attention now. The Viking is telling me to calm down. Damn it, I am the customer here and I know where I am going and how I want to get there. Somchai is not moving left. This time I shout at him. Turn left at the light and for added emphasis, punch the back of his head rest. Now, there are a few things you should not do in Thailand. Losing one’s temper is never a good thing, but damn it man, I want to get left. The Viking is getting a bit worried now as we are tearing towards the left lane, and slowing down and now stopping. Somchai is shouting at me. I am shouting at Somchai. Now he doesn’t mind going left.
So we are stopped in the left lane and Somchai is digging for something under his seat. What could it be? A wrench? A flashlight? A machete? A gun? Nope, it’s lug wrench. Somchai turns around to start beating me with the damn thing. The Viking is out of the taxi like a flash. Thanks for the support, Thor. Somchai is trying to beat me with the lug wrench now. I put my foot up and he is hitting the bottom of my shoe. He can’t get any power in his swings since the roof of the taxi is in his way. So Somchai gets out of the taxi and comes to my door. Now this should be scary, but I am laughing. I don’t know why really. It is a bit surreal. Somchai opens my door and I am out the other side running down the sidewalk. The Viking is about 50 meters ahead of me, and even though he is a bit of a big boy, he is increasing his lead over me. Partly due to the fact that I can not stop laughing. It is just too crazy. I look to my right and see people watching this whole thing from their cars. What a sight that must of been. It must have been like something out of a violent Benny Hill show. Two stupid farang being chased down the sidewalk by a lug wrench wielding Somchai. We must have run about 100 meters or so and Somchai has given up on chasing us. I hear the lug wrench clang against a metal foot bridge. Somchai is now throwing things at us, well, me.
The Viking and I hit the intersection we originally wanted to turn left at and keep running. We duck into some Mom and Pop electrical supply store and start browsing for wire and fuse boxes. We know that Somchai is back in his cab now and most likely looking for us. The woman in the shop looks at us and just says, “Get out.” Pretty good English I must admit. I ask her where she keeps the flux capacitors. Under the circumstances I thought it was pretty funny. Either she didn’t get the reference or she didn’t think it was funny. I thought it was hilarious. Once again, a little louder, “Get Out!” Hard to believe she didn’t want two sweaty, out of breath farang in her shop. Oh well, her loss. The Viking and I peek out of the shop and look for a pink taxi. So far so good. We see a green taxi that is free and just jump in. We didn’t even wait to hear if he was willing to take us. We just wanted off the street. This taxi took us home without further incident.
What have I learned from this experience? Don’t take a pink taxi with a driver named Somchai. Oh, and if the driver doesn’t want to take the route you want, just let it go. ใจเย็น ๆ. Be calm. Relax. Take it easy.
Never had an experience like this but then I don't yell at people either.
Bangkok taxi drivers have a tough job and most are pretty good. I have noticed in recent times that there is a greater reluctance to turn on the meter.