Monday, June 16, 2014
Bear on the Doorstep
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One sound guideline, especially if you're an eastern European country in this era.... don't trust Russia. Watch that big bad bear closely. More importantly, be wary of shady cab drivers. There's a whole army of them inside your country's borders as I type, and they're sneaky bastards, making a bad name for all the honest, hard working and helpful drivers out there.
My fiancée and I had just cleared customs, and traveling lightly with only carry-ons, went straight to the taxi rank. "Are you looking for a taxi?" asked a smartly dressed gentleman waiting just outside the sliding glass doors of the arrivals hall, smoking, thick Russian accent. "What hotel?". "Yes", I reply, and I tell him the name of our hotel. "Okay, I can take you there. Come with me." Before I've even left the curb, my fiancée has already crossed the road, close on his heels, right past the twenty or so other travelers queuing for what appear to be normal taxis . "Come on honey! Let's get to the hotel."
It was one of those moments that just didn't feel right, but did I say anything? Of course not. I catch up, crossing the road, past the taxi rank and the other travelers, to this driver's sleek, black, shiny Mercedes. Still not able to place my finger on the problem, we get in the car, and we're off into the night, onto the roads of this completely unfamiliar city. "It's only five, maybe ten minutes" the driver tells us. Definitely Russian, maybe Bulgarian? Romanian? Hell, I don't know. Maybe I should give up trying to guess accents, and quit buying into stereotypes. Maybe I should ask, but I'm just not feeling at ease. I try to relax and look out the window, hoping to spot some interesting landmark to photograph later.
I turn to my fiancée with a somewhat forced smile, only she's not smiling at all. She's staring wide-eyed toward the dashboard. "Honey, do you see that?"... "What?"... "That!"... and she points to the meter. I look, and sure enough, the red number on the meter display was quickly getting larger as Euro upon Euro piled onto the rigged meter.