When we moved to Dublin we made the conscious decision not to have a car. Lack of personal transportation coupled with the fact that we’re still learning our way around has meant that we’ve leaned on Dublin’s network of cabs to the tune of about two round trips a week since we arrived in mid-July. In general, Dublin cabs are always clean, punctual, and the drivers friendly, courteous (if talkative) and efficient. That’s about the extent of my interest in their work. My wife, however, has made a hobby of good-naturedly baiting these mobile keepers of the Irish zeitgeist.
As we slide into the worn leather seats and the cab pulls into traffic I sense my wife rolodexing through her opening gambits. I stiffen and wait for it.
“So, what do you think about that election?”
For Kalpana this is thin soup. Weak tea. A non-starter.
With Dublin’s cabbies, politicians are hardly worth the trouble. It’s taken for granted that they can’t be trusted, and any one is as bad as the next. Ireland has been mistreated by foreign politicians for so long, and has had its own system of government for a bit less than a century. The result seems to be a political climate in which it’s simply assumed that “anything is possible”, and you’ll face disappointment far less often if you assume the worst. But in today’s Ireland, there is one modern villain who outdistances politicians, and has been raised to fairytale status.
If you stop three locals on any Dublin street and ask what occupation they hate the most, at least one will say bankers. Ask any three Dublin cabbies, and all three will say bankers. The Irish economy is in the tank just as it is in America, and much of the rest of the world. The difference here is that nobody in Dublin whines, waffles, or equivocates about placing blame. It rests squarely on the damn bankers. And the most brutally honest of all citizens seem to be the cabbies, who spend their days serving people from all walks of life. They are our cultural sparring partners who, day after day, sense our dissatisfaction, feel our pain, and absorb the body blows of our rage. Yet through it all, rain or shine, behind the wheel of their Skodas, it rarely drags them down.
The cabby attitude seems to be, “Yes the economy is down, but it’ll come back”. The bankers, however, are scum for life. They betrayed a sacred trust of sorts, and for that, in the eyes of these hardworking men and women, there is no redemption.
But it’s not just bankers and money that wander into the Dublin cabby’s field of fire. Pose the most innocent of questions, and the cabby, bolstered by your willingness to talk, holds forth on all topics. Last year’s snow, and the prospects for this year, elicits a wail and a rolling of the eyes as they tell you how many days of work they missed last year when the roads were impassable. “Ah, but there’s no point in the city storing grit (salt & sand) for the roads. We’ve hardly needed it the past ten years.”
Then, at some point, timidly, almost apologetically, they’ll ask, “You’re a yank, are ya?”
“How long are ya here for?”
“You mean you moved here? Now?“
Mercifully, they don’t actually say the words, “Are you daft”. It’s in their eyes, and their tone.
When we explain our situation, they soften immediately.
“Aye. You go where the jobs are.”
Inevitably this leads to a discussion of Irish youth who, in recent years, have emigrated in droves to Canada, Australia, and the U.S. Because of this, most drivers are pleased to hear that someone still looks to Ireland and thinks, “I’d like to live there, even if life isn’t perfect.”
For new immigrants Dublin cabbies may seem a curiosity, but they are the city’s coconut telegraph, a jungle drum beating a tattoo of city life. If you are new in town, for a couple of Euros you can chat up a cabbie, and, by the time you reach your destination you’ll know exactly what’s on the mind of the locals.
Dublin cabbies see all types over time, and, as a class/socio/cultural entity all their own, they see people (and their obsessions) come and go. They weather our storms, and generally don’t blow with every change in the wind. They are made of sterner stuff.
Fortunately none of them has filed charges against my wife for yelling “banker” in a crowded cab.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
The Phantom Pains of Friends and Family Left Behind