An incident that happened many years ago upon my trip to Houston, is still freshly etched on the memory, only to bewilder me every time there’s a replay. That was my first visit to the States, to take the CPA exam where I lived with my friend’s family who were kind enough to host my stay at their home.
Houston, a large, beautiful city in the State of Texas, with it’s pre-eminent inter-twined bridges and flyovers in the world, (which I was lucky enough to get many opportunities to cross-over, while commuting to and fro), had no dearth of road transportation facilities besides a mammoth of cabs plying to the pro-metric test centre. Furthermore, the partially cloudy-rainy weather, interrupted by the occasional spells of a February sunshine, had a fascinating ‘different world charm’ that held a lovely appeal of it’s own, in the lush-green, tranquil surroundings, filled with fresh air (with no to low pollution) peculiar only to the States, wherever one goes. It was indeed a ‘different world’ that aroused a feeling of unique thrill and delight, each time I went out.
Hiring a cab is something that I find trouble-free and convenient, especially when I am unsure of the routes / transportation modes of a new place and this was one of those times. Now, US Cabs those days were probably quite the advanced ones that probably outshined those in the other parts of the world, in the fact they were extremely sleek, neat, well-maintained and also had an interactive GPRS, something that was then yet a far-fetched idea in India. I regularly used the pre-booked yellow cab to commute from my friend’s house to the exam centre and as for the return journey, I had located a taxi stand in the vicinity of the centre.
During my commute, I found the Houston taxi drivers to be a warm and friendly lot, always ready to confabulate, going on to ask a lot of questions and this was especially so whenever they spotted a new immigrant. The questions usually ranged to where are you from?, why have you come to the States?, what do you do for a living? Do you like this place? etc. Strangely, one of them even praised me for being intelligent enough to be an Accountant. But most of all, I found them to be the enlightening informants, always willing to supply helpful information of every kind including the ground realities of the place, to which they usually have first hand access to, which, for a newcomer is always a welcome guide. Though, by myself, I would never initiate any conversation with these guys, I would never back out from the exchange of a few words either, especially if the other party appeared keen.
Those days I was anyway never good at remembering route maps, especially until familiarity sets in and therefore, where I had to invariably depend on the cab drivers, these small chats would help me in discerning the guy better, for any visible weirdness or spot any red flag or a potential alarm. Of course with all the helpline numbers expeditiously saved on my cell phone, I used to comfortably take the chance of trusting these ‘usually good’ fellows.
On that particular day, I was returning home in a taxi driven by this guy who appeared notably stiff, as compared to his friendly counterparts. Decidedly, I left him to his own comfort and resigned myself to looking at the scenery outside. He did make some small conversation, besides confirming if I knew the way to which I replied I roughly knew it, though not fully confident. We passed through the now-familiar, famous flyovers of Houston and reached the outskirts of the residential locality where my friend lived. Somehow, I was not sure of how to proceed thereafter and his next question made me realise that neither was he. He asked me if he should take a certain left to which I said ‘probably, as now I am also not too sure’. And finally, the cab seemed to be simply driving on and on to a dead end, lost on directions, while the cabbie kept on shooting more and more questions, leaving me feeling all the more empty-headed. Besides that, our language accent seemed to be a huge communication barrier, only fuelling up the complication furthermore.
In sometime, the cabbie who had got flustered and disconcerted by now, decided that he’s had enough and brought the cab to a halt. To my dismay, a lot of irate questions followed from him, as though I was deliberately trying to mislead him. Completely perplexed, I couldn’t place any rhyme, reason or logic to his assumption, since why would anyone want to lose their own way or mislead a cabbie, it seemed to be beyond any realm of comprehension. What was he even thinking about? I gently set out to remind him that I had pre-informed him about only roughly knowing the way and as a taxi-driver of the locality, I could reasonably expect him to know the directions of that place (and more so when he had the GPRS) rather than him being dependent on me (or accusing me) for something that is supposed to be his job. He could see my discountenance rise and at that moment, he seemed to loosen up a bit. He had probably forgotten he had an interactive GPRS (Heaven help him!!!), at the mention of which, it struck him that he could figure it out himself. He then took note of the address in writing (to avoid any accent confusion), and began calling up the helpline number and taking directions from them and in sometime, drove me to my destination.
Phew!!! I had never been so relieved in life to be getting out of that cab, but not without feeling that this was probably the natural outcome or setback, of my incapacity to remember routes or maps. The incident had flabbergasted me enough, that I continued to remain wary of taxi-drivers during the rest of my stay at Houston