It’s difficult to be assertive when you’ve grown accustomed to being dealt with like you’re a moron for fifteen days solid by every shopkeeper, waiter, bartender, and anyone-ever-all-the-time. So when I got to Prague’s mothership train station after two weeks of my virgin voyage to Europe, my sense of bravado to match wits with the Czech Cabbie Mafia was nominal. (and by nominal I mean nonexistent)
As an aside, I also have to mention that I am apparently in the running for being the most astoundingly terrible pack-artist of all time (see: 65lbs on my back because of girl-rationale like, “choosing between black pumps and nude is just not possible so I’ll bring both!”) Thus, when I finally got to the cabstand, a journey which included roughly 600 stairs, all I really wanted to do was sit the hell down.
I’d even come to Prague armed with the warning that if I were to insist on taking a cab, I would need to be prepared that it might be an unwanted lesson in haggling. I pictured Middle Eastern open-air markets where aggressive textile merchants screamed at you over a matter of pennies, or the high intensity pantomime of Wall Street where there’s lots of pointing and yelling. Sell sell sell! What I got however was way less extreme, but also not as entertaining. And yet equally as shitty. The seemingly simple task of getting from A to B should’ve been more about “money for goods,” and less about, “well, on the bright side, at least I’m building character which I can discuss with my therapist later.”
When I had arrived at my previous destinations (Barcelona, Paris, and Amsterdam), the cabstands at the airport/train stations boasted an orderly line of taxis with their drivers dutifully behind their wheels, and at times even marshaled by a pleasant gentleman who gallantly ushered new customers to the next available car which would efficiently take you to your destination in a cost-effective dance of common sense and general morality. When I finally navigated my way to the gaggle of cabs at Prague’s biggest train station, hlavní nádraží, all the drivers were milling about in a pack, smoking cigarettes and looking either bored or conspiratorial. I suddenly felt like the nerdy poodle-skirt-wearing student body president who turned a corner and came face to face with the T-Birds from “Grease.” Or like a gazelle in an open field with creepy reflective lion eyes dotting the horizon. My signature scent is usually “Very Irresistible” by Givenchy, but I’m pretty sure all they whiffed was fresh meat. A very empowering sensation in that not at all sort of way.
Luckily for me the first one to bite was the most dubious looking of the lot: shaved head, gold chain, under bite, and a slightly revealed bicep tattoo that hinted at something vulgar but not enough to be corroborated. Maybe it was a swastika, or maybe it was his twin daughters’ names, I chose to believe the latter.
Yeah, so I don’t speak Czech.
I’m the asshole American who has come to your country and will answer you in English feigning like I hope you’ll understand me, when I KNOW you’ll understand me because you actually took the time to learn another language. “….English?” Teeheehee? Sometimes running with the stereotype is just easier.
Enter: Becky. (who?) Oh right, did I mention I’d been traveling with a gorgeous model? I must say it came in handy when the bartender’s attention on a busy night was at stake. (“HaHA, you’re serving me too by default ‘cause I’m with her, asshole.”) Please, Jesus let this evil Jason Statham looking man be as easily charmed. “Here, please,” she says sweetly while handing him a folded piece of paper with our destination written on it. I mean, God forbid either of us attempt to pronounce the street address ourselves, at this point we know it’s a futile endeavor and pretty much a waste of time. (although perhaps potentially amusing to our eager would-be chauffeur and his merry band of hustlers)
This is the point in the story where I like to make believe that while I may have overpaid for cab fare, I actually got a good deal on the brilliantly theatrical show these guys put on for us. Truly delightful. Brava.
Evil Jason Statham examined the paper for a good while, giving pause as he tried to mentally place the location, looking almost convincingly distraught at how veryvery far away it was that we needed to go. (Googlemaps puts it at 4.4 miles) His look of consternation must have been the other players’ cue to enter stage left, because soon the entire troupe of cabbies had come to surround us and began to volley back and forth their separate opinions on which way to take us. Of course this was all in Czech, but their emphatic gestures indicated that if he just hooked up north, came back down along the river, and went around a traffic circle, then that was certainly the quickest route. But no, no, no, said the others, and then they all took turns throwing in their two cents about the course.
I’m pretty sure in actuality this all translated to: Look, man, take ‘em all the way to the city limits, but then go through the tunnel back to this side of the river, but use the bridge to go over again, maybe back and forth a few times, swing south, drive around the block a lot; I mean, they will have no idea! Look, they even think we are talking about the BEST way to get there, and I am pretty sure the chubby one is about to fall over; they’ll pay anything! You will be buying the drinks tonight.
To our credit we managed to negotiate the guy down from heinously outrageous to moderately insulting, and ended up paying what amounted to about $30 to go four miles. Nevermind, I retract the giving us credit part. So while we got a nice tour of the city, my first impression was a bit tainted considering my vision of stunning architecture was clouded by unbridled exasperation with myself. I knew this guy was taking us for a ride (metaphorically; and no pun intended, this scenario deserves no jaunty pun) but I still sat silently, letting myself get bitched. But once I had played the “teeheehee” card I didn’t have a self-assured leg to stand on, so I just had to let it play out.
My favorite part came when he pulled over to the side of the road and asked to see the paper with the address on it again. He was lost. IknewitIknewitIknewit! I hated myself but at least he looked slightly embarrassed. I hope he drank well that night. (no I don’t)
With his ego a bit bruised, we finally got to our housing and thankfully sans further drama. Hefting my Sherpa-sized backpack onto my weary self once more, I left the driver after giving him my habitual smile of gratitude. Thank you so very much, kindly sir, for ripping me off, wasting my time, and causing me to question my worth as a grown woman. Could I be more of a social sucker?
There was a brief moment of respite when the first face I saw as I entered the building belonged to a woman with a warm smile. But before I could indulge in the pleasant greeting, she switched gears: “Did you take a taxi here?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“That backpack sure looks heavy.”
“….it really is.” So fucking heavy.