When the Argentines Stopped Talking
Kevin Carrel Footer
I’m mostly a bus kind of guy – I like the hoi polloi. But I was running late and grabbed a taxi across town. The driver seemed genuinely glad to see me. I soon learned that he was gladder still that I didn’t have a cell phone in my hand.
I’ve been studying the porteño, he said, for the past 50 years since 1969 when I started driving a taxi. What I’m doing with you doesn’t happen every day. Before, I used to converse with my passengers. But ever since those diabolical devices came around, those cell phones (he fairly spat the word my way) they ignore me completely. It’s like I’m not here.
I don’t use one myself but I know that they are full of information, newspapers, everything. You can find the latest gossip. Passengers will get in my cab and they don’t even see me. Sometimes we get to their destination and I have to shake them out of it, they are so buried in those damn things.
I feel bad about this. I am an older man. When I started in 1969, the days flew by because of the conversations I had. I learned a lot from my passengers. These days I learn only from tourists because they’re the only ones who want to talk to me. The Argentines, señor, though it’s hard to believe, don’t want to converse anymore. They lock themselves in their little world. I’m here 12 sometimes 14 hours a day and I’m trying to make the most of it. These days, I end up exhausted… by the silence! Sometimes I have to talk to myself. When the passenger gets out, I start talking alone just to move my lips a little.
Worse, sometimes I say something and I can see right away that it’s not welcome. I say, “What a beautiful day” or “It looks like rain” and sometimes they don’t even answer me. So I shut my mouth. The good thing is, they pay me more for that. I have colleagues who are desperate to get a conversation going so they insist and at the end of the ride they get punished for it. But I shut my mouth and often they leave me a little extra just because I didn’t make them talk.
In UBER – which is our competition – the rule is not to talk to the passengers. But we taxi drivers are natural windbags… why?… because we’re bored! Sometimes I’m roaming the streets for an hour looking for a passenger, so when someone gets in, it’s natural that I want to talk to them, move my jaw around a bit!
We’re natural psychologists. Kind of like shamans. We’ve heard it all. We used to help people. Over the years I’ve helped women, men, with their problems. But that’s all over now; it died with the cell phone. We still want to help but those things keep getting in the way. For us, the cell phone is the worst thing that ever happened.
When we reached my destination, he thanked me for listening to his woes. I’ve always loved a good chat with a taxista. I hope conversations with porteño taxi drivers don’t go the way of, say, transatlantic cruises. Sure, you can still take a ship across the Atlantic, but it will never be the same as those voyages of romance of the past.
Let’s pray that taxi drivers can hold out long enough for people to tire of their cell phones and get back to gabbing again.