Everyday, I take two different taxis to school, and two more back. This longer, and more labor-intensive route (lots of walking) costs me 400% less than ordering a private taxi to drive me from point A to point B. More importantly, the "public" route allows me to interact with everyday people, which provides me with lots of interesting learning experiences.
Today, for instance, I learned about creepy taxi drivers.
Usually, while waiting at my 2nd taxi stop, I look for official taxis that don the blazing orange stripe across the body; or the new cornbread colored ones (OK, now I crave cornbread) that the government subsidizes for owners with the oldest vehicles on the street--those Peykan that can only be described as tin cans on wheels.
When none of the official taxis are offering rides to my destination street, I have no choice but to turn to private taxi drivers. Normally, I'll only board one of these cars if others jump on, too; they must be heading in the same direction, of course.
But for some reason, I wasn't paying attention today, as I summoned the only taxi out of at least 30 that was willing to drive to Tajreesh. I guess it was enough for me to see that another girl and a grown man also joined me. Big mistake.
Below is a script of the creepy encounter, after the two other passengers were dropped off only a block up the road. Bear in mind, this trip takes at least another 30 minutes.Shiva chills out in the backseat as the 2nd passenger exits the vehicle. After about 5 minutes of driving in silence, Creepy Taxi Man (CTM) surveys his sole remaining victim through his rearview mirror.
[CONVERSATION UNFOLDS IN FARSI]
Creepy Taxi Man: So, are you fasting?
Shiva: (startled out of her usual morning daze) Huh? No.
CTM: Yea, at least you don't lie about it. That's good. I got so angry this morning; I went to a Sahar (the hearty meal before sunrise/start of daily fasting
), and the guy yelled at me and said I didn't fast. I said, at least I didn't lie about it... (continues to ramble on and on about his drama)
Shiva: (disinterested, tries to shorten conversation) That's not right, to lie.A few moments of silence pass. Shiva notices the taxi man purposely steering away from the proper exit.
CTM: I'm just gonna take the Seoul route, it's much better in terms of traffic.
Shiva: (muscles stiffen, becomes ultra-alert) Uh, I'm sorry, what time is it?
CTM: It's about 9:10. Why?
Shiva: (Lying) I think I'm late for class.
CTM: Where do you go to school?
Shiva: (careful not to name specifics) This place on Vali-e-Asr.Even though CTM pulled the "I know a shortcut" act, and got stuck in deeper, bumper-to-bumper traffic, far away from the closest route to Shiva's school, Shiva knew if she needed to, she can punch him in the face, and jump out of the car. Then, she'll make a scene, and a bunch of Iranians will give the guy trouble, right there in the freeway. No such thing as passive bystanders, here.
CTM: So you're a student?Shiva nods.
CTM: (not-so-subtle attempt to guess my age) How many years have you been in school?
Shiva: (lying) I'm an undergrad.
CTM: (hopeful) So you're almost done?
Shiva: (lying) No, just started.
CTM: You should've come sit up front.
Shiva: No, there's no difference. Backseat's fine.
CTM: (using formal words) Are you single or married?
Shiva: (unsure of exact meaning of formal words, but good guess. Pulls stupid foreigner act) I don't know what those words mean. I am not from here. I'm studying Farsi right now.
CTM: Where are you from?
CTM: What country abroad?
Shiva: They're all the same. CTM seems to be joyriding around town, as Shiva's patience wears thin.
CTM: (using informal words) Are you married? (asking a bold question, in a society where it's not appropriate for a strange man to rudely prod a female with inquiries when she clearly doesn't want to engage in chit-chat; hence the creepiness.)
Shiva: (fumbles, then saves with a lie) No...uh, I have a fiance. (should be cue to end convo)
CTM: You're engaged? Oh.
(few moments of silence)
CTM: Is he in Iran with you? (Shiva nods.) Oh. How long are you staying here?
Shiva: One year.
CTM: Oh. You really should come sit up front--
Shiva: Backseat's fine. I really need to get to class. Shiva notices CTM has returned to the same spot on the freeway, where he deliberately passed the best exit for Vali-e-Asr. He takes it this time, perhaps because I've burst his spontaneous bubble of marrying me (for no apparent reason...except that I was alone in the backseat).
CTM: (feigned naivete) Oh, here's Vali-e-Asr. I didn't realize it started here. (yea, right.)
Shiva: (relieved) Yea, just go straight, past Saffron Street (which is several blocks uphill).
CTM: (slowing down his speed, allowing chunks of space between him and other drivers) So, which is good, Iran or where you're from?
Shiva: (impatient) Both are good.
CTM: (trying to be coy) Noooo, only one can be good (fake laugh), which one?
Shiva: Neither. CTM drives about 20 feet into Vali-e-Asr Street, before smoothly, and almost hesitantly, steering his car two lanes to the right, and parking at the curb. Shiva's destination is about five blocks higher up.
CTM: (speaking in a slow, monotone voice, as he stared blankly at Shiva through rearview mirror; almost a whisper) ...Come up front.
Shiva: (hastily exits, while thrusting money in cab guy's face) Uh, I'll get off right here, thanks.
CTM: But Saffron is still a ways up--
Shiva: No, it's fine. (slides out, slams the door, then walks as fast as possible away from Creepy Taxi Man, while watching from the corner of her eye to make sure he isn't lurking behind her. As expected, Shiva arrived late to class.)
Yes, this description was long, and maybe not as traumatizing in hindsight. But this experience is nothing compared to those of my classmates, who've come face-to-face with even bigger taxi perverts. Or the stories of armed robberies committed by (unofficial) taxi drivers towards some of my family members and their close friends (all alone during the attack). More on that later. From now on, I'll remember to take my family's advice, and WRITE DOWN THE LICENSE PLATE NUMBER!!