Maybe it’s just that I’m getting old, but I’m starting to think about my after-life. No one really knows for sure what happens to you after you die, but I’m kinda drawn to the idea of reincarnation. The faithful of those faiths that hang their hat on that ideal believe that if you are a good man in this life in your next one you’ll come back further along the road to enlightenment. If not you get demoted down a few rungs on the enlightenment/evolutionary scale. So you could come back as a cockroach. Or if you really broke the karma bank, like some fans of Sunee Plaza, in your next life you’ll be an even lower life form. Like Dick Cheney.
But that’s all guess work. What really happens, and how that comes about is a mystery. But I think I should hedge my bets. For all I know when you die you only have a second to call dibs on who or what you’ll be the next time around. And if you are not prepared with a quick answer, then your fate rests on the spin of the wheel. And who wants to take the chance that you’ll end up spending the next eighty years or so as a straight man? Or worse, a lesbian? So I’ve been mulling over my options. And I think I’d like to try my hand next time around as a taxi driver in Bangkok.
I’d guess most of those prepared enough with an answer would go with being a multi-millionaire. Or billionaire. But your answer could also be a test. Just to see how greedy you are. And even if it isn’t, despite the riches, I wouldn’t want to spend even one lifetime as one of the Koch brothers. But being a taxi driver in Bangkok would suit me well. ‘Cuz spending your life fucking with the minds of touri would be lots of fun. I thought of being a tuk tuk driver too, just as an option. But I don’t know that even reincarnated my system could handle taking that many naps daily. So driving a taxi is gonna be my choice.
I used to wage a private battle with Bangkok taxi drivers. Especially those at the airport. Except my first. A total novice to how things operate in Thailand at the time, I have no idea if I got ripped off on the fare or not. I’m assuming I did. But along with no doubt a quoted fixed fare I was offered a girl almost as soon as my ass hit the backseat of the cab. And when I showed no interest, that offer quickly got changed to a boy. It was years and several trips later before I started enjoying the commercial sex offerings of the Kingdom, but as an introduction to the country, knowing I could have the guy of my dreams even before checking into my hotel told me that Thailand and I would have a long and enjoyable future together. But from that ride forward, it was all down hill. Well, except for that commercial sex thingy.
No longer a newbie and wise to the ways of taxi drivers in the Big Mango, when a driver tried to scam me with a quoted fix fare from there on in I took it as a personal insult. And devised ways of scamming them right back. That doesn’t make for a warm fuzzy welcome back, but does help you get into the right mindset for the rest of your visit as soon as you go feet wet. But I’ve mellowed. Now when one tries the fixed fare scam on me I just laugh at him. Or if he’s an old guy and obviously not fresh off the farm I give him a taste of nostalgia and say, “Taxi. Meter.”
Back in the day there were taxis and taxi meters plying the roads of Bangkok. The former were for haggling your fare, the later for using a meter. And touri were always warned to make sure they hailed a taxi meter instead of taking their chances on an unmetered taxi. The drivers eventually caught on and everyone switched to using a meter. Or having one in their cab. ‘Cuz haggling over the fare was and is still a fun option. At least for the driver. The latest version of the meter/no meter ploy is to use one but have it set so that runs up quicker than it is supposed to. I’ve only had that experience once. And let the driver know he was slime. Nicely, of course. But slime none the less. ‘Cuz most taxi drivers believe in reincarnation. And even Bangkok taxi driver don’t want to take the chance of coming back as member of the Tea Party.
But scam or no scam, these days I try to keep things in perspective. Bangkok is not New York. At worse, the driver is gonna try to get an extra 200 baht out of you. And that’s like six bucks. On the Big Mac index it’s even less. It’s hardly an amount to get upset over. And don’t try to tell me it’s about the principle and not the money. Because for anyone who uses that old chestnut, it’s always about the money. The value of baht is easy to lose sight of when you are dealing in that currency daily. So you end up haggling your ass off over fifty baht for the purchase of something you didn’t really need in the first place. And forget that fifty baht will feed that vendors family for the day.
If a buck fifty is really that important to you, you should have stayed home. Instead you are in Bangkok, staying at a hotel that would cost you twice as much back home and offing hot handsome men who’d be getting four times as much back home. Per hour. And even if you pay the scam fare to get into town from the airport, the same amount wouldn’t get you two blocks in a major metropolitan city in the U.S.
When I become a Bangkok taxi driver in my next life I’m gonna have that printed up on little cards to hand out to my passengers. Not all of them. Just the cheap bastards who look like they’re about to start whining. So obviously, they’ll be printed in English. And then I’m gonna pull over and drop them off in some local’s part of town where their only option for getting to their hotel is a tuk tuk. Who knows? I might come back as a taxi driver in my life after that one too.
That’s part of why I’ve been concentrating on keeping the value of baht in perspective too. Fifty baht means nothing to me now. But as a taxi driver, after paying gas, tea money, the taxi mafia, and vehicle rental I’m sure that will seem like a princely sum. I’ve already got a plan for altering the incline of the back seat in my taxi to encourage loose change to slip from passengers’ pockets. Because the small baht coins I throw on the ground to be found by one of the snake men beggars these days will one day mean the difference between having a ball of cold rice for lunch or a bowl of chicken rice.
But things for my next life are looking up these days. Thanks to the Good General wanting to turn his version of the country into a happy place (not to mention having to try to sway the taxi mafia to his side) a modest increase in Bangkok’s taxi fares is going into effect just in time for the holidays. I’d tell you what the new rate is, but taxis are so cheap in Bangkok it really doesn’t matter. What does is that taxis are not allowed to use the new rates until they have been certified by the Department of Land Transport. If they pass the inspection, they get a blue certificate decal to display on their cab. And then get to charge the new, higher rate. When I read that news I figured that meant there would be a lot of taxis with ramped up meters that wouldn’t be getting their cherished blue decal. Then I remembered, this is Thailand.
The inspections being carried out are about air-conditioning, tires, seat belts, headlights, and turn signal indicators. Not that anyone in Bangkok uses turn signals. No one is looking at the meters. ‘Cuz the new fares are only about 8% higher. And that would mean a loss for those who’ve been using a meter that’s been set to run up the fare quicker than it should. Nonetheless, something tells me – and that something is having been visiting Bangkok for far too many years – that there will soon be a large underground business in fake blue inspection labels. I tried to find a picture of the new decals on line so I could print a few out myself. I thought they’d make a great gift for the taxi drivers I use on my next visit. Those guys may become my brethren one day if everything goes as planned. And making friends with my future cohorts now just makes a lot of sense.