"Okay" is anyone who doesn't cause trouble and pays the fare.
"Not okay" is everyone else.
Like a factory worker on an assembly line who deal with the same item day after day, a taxi driver can usually spot the slightly defective widget almost instantly. However, sometime, someone do slip under my radar, then, man, this guy must be good! And from observing this person, I may be able to learn something.
All of which leads me into telling you about a passenger last Friday night.
I picked up this person at Clarke Quay a bit after midnight. He was a twenty-something local Chinese male with neatly combed dark hair, normal height and weight, and rather conservative looking, like he might be a young banker or PAP youth member. He wanted me to take him way out to Jurong Estate. He told me to exit at Jurong Town Hall Road and then he would direct me from that point on. That was fine with me and we set off.
He wasn't a conversationalist.In fact, his demeanor was kind of blank. He was neither hostile nor friendly. So I turned the radio up a bit to keep myself entertained as we got on to the expressway.
The trouble began as we approached the Jurong Town Hall exit.
"I exit here, ok?" I called back to him, wanting to be totally sure we'd had no misunderstanding.
He didn't respond immediately, so I repeated the question. Looking at him in the rear view mirror, he wasn't asleep. He was looking forward with that blankness I had noted when he got in the cab.
Finally he responded with one word: "Yeah."
He wasn't responding normally and I began to get the feeling that there may be trouble ahead. If I got beat it would be a loss of $20 or more, and that, combined with the dead time coming back to city, would really hurt.
We proceeded along a service road that ended at a red light at the intersection of Boon Lay Way and Jurong Town Hall Road. He should have told me well before we arrived there in which direction to turn, but he said nothing.
"Left or right?" I asked.
There was a pause. Then, "Straight" came an answer.
I went straight ahead for about half a mile, waiting for further directions, but none came. I checked him in the mirror, again wondering if he'd fallen asleep, but, no, he was fully conscious.
"Just keep going straight?" I asked again, feeling a need to be reassured that he knew where he was going.
I went straight for half-a-kilo until we came to a red light. And that's when hell broke loose.
We sat at the light for twenty seconds in total silence and then he said this:
"Where have you taken me?"
Oh, shit. I was alone in the middle of relatively nowhere with a nut. Or at least he might be a nut.
"Where have I taken you? What do you mean? I've taken you where you told me to take you."
"Where are we?"
"We're at Jurong and Bukit Batok intersection, where you told me to go!"
"You made a wrong turn."
I turned around and looked him straight in the eye. "Look, buddy," I said with barely contained anger, "how could I have taken a wrong turn when I went where you told me to go? I was following your directions!"
He just sat there staring at me without saying a word but the unspoken words were I was trying to cheat him.
The light turned green, but I didn't move the cab an inch. We just sat there in the middle of the road - no other cars around - in a bizarre, stony silence. The meter clicked an additional 40 cents due to the waiting time.
"The meter's running. Why aren't you moving?"
"I'm not moving because we don't know where we're going!"
I was becoming furious and it was showing in my voice which, although restrained, had been raised a couple of decibels.
"Why are you raising your voice to me?" he replied in a calm, even tone.
Oh my god, the guy was a bona fide psycho. He was turning the whole situation into mind game. I tried to calm myself down, realizing that, psycho or not, I must not overreact.
I tried to negotiate. "Okay," I said calmly, "what are we going to do here? Where are you trying to go? To somebody's house?"
"I don't see why I should have to keep paying because you're lost."
I looked at the guy in the rear view mirror. "Look," I replied, using all my restraint to keep from screaming at the son of a bitch, "just tell me what you expect to pay for this ride"
I was of course outraged that I needed to placate somebody who was so clearly out of line.
What this guy said was - nothing. Instead he got on his cell phone and called someone. The conversation took about a minute. During his chat I heard him say the words "train station".
I turned around and spoke to him. "Do you want to go to the Jurong train station (MRT)?"
It was the only piece of information I needed.
"Then we should have turned right at the earlier traffic intersection. The train station is there ."
"I told you to go right at the light."
"No, You told me to go straight at the light."
Those turned out to be the last words we spoke to each other until we arrived at the station five minutes later. I was worried that he would jump out of the cab at the station without paying me? Or he would insist that he'd been ripped off and pay me a fraction of what was on the meter? Or would he come up with some other completely unexpected insanity? I was stressing out.
This guy was driving me crazy!
When we got to the train station the meter was $25. He handed me three ten dollar bills and left the cab without another word. A $5 tip, excessively high. I was glad the ordeal was over and that I'd been overpaid. I drove off quickly.
In retrospect, I found that I couldn't stop thinking about this ride.
You noticed that I referred to this guy as a "psycho". We often think of a psycho as a wild-eyed maniac with a gun in his hand. Or someone screaming nonsensical babble as he walks down the street. Those are the easy ones to spot. The difficult to spot "psycho" are those who behave normally like any ordinary person but are bent on making life miserable for others.
I looked back at my own thirty minutes with this passenger. Instead of having a pleasant experience, he put me through the hoops of anger, frustration, anxiety, and resentment. He made me miserable and I felt like punching him.
Then I imagined what my life would be like if this guy was my boss. What would it be like if he was my brother? What kind of existence would a woman have who ismarried to this guy? Or, worst of all, what if he was your father when you were still a little kid?
Your life would be hell.
If you have such a person in your life, take some advice from a taxi driver.
Get this person out of your life.