Friday, April 15, 2011

The Kawasaki Taxi from Hell

This happened in Japan last summer.

I arrived at Hiyoshi train station after hanging out with a some friends in the city (Read: awkwardly wandering around Shibuya eating ramen and singing terrible Karaoke). At this point, everyone else had gone home, so I decided to take a cab back to Grandpa’s.

I didn’t realize it until we reached my drop-off: The driver mumbles the price is ¥540. I pull out my wallet and, being a gaijin, only have a crisp ¥10,000 bill.

Something I didn’t know about Japanese culture: You always carry small change on you. At all times. Breaking large bills in taxi cabs is apparently a big no-no in Japan. Like streaking in public here in the States, (and Japan, I guess).

As I pull the bill out and hand it to him, he looks at me as if I’m a mentally challenged kid. “No,” he says. “It is 540 yen, please.” I apologize and said that this is all I have. He stares into my eyes (deep into my soul) and gets really angry, saying, “Do you not understand!? It is 560 yen. Why the hell are you handing me 10,000 yen? Why the hell don’t you have change? Idiot!

I’m shocked. This was my first time riding alone and boom, mini-disaster strikes. All I can think to do is bow rigidly and repeatedly say “すみません。もしわけありません。” over and over as if I were some Japanese salaryman who spilt beer on a yakuza den’s boss. I was in such panic that I couldn’t even articulate that I was an American; the words were just a jumbled up, retarded mess.

Eventually, the driver grabs my bill, rummages around for seriously less than a second, then chucks a rubber-banded roll of ¥1000 bills at me, followed by four ¥100 coins (ouch, ouch, ow, ouch) and four ¥10 coins (ouch, ow, ow, ouch). Then he growls as he kicks me out of his cab and drives off, leaving me stunned from my first rude encounter in the history of some 16 consecutive trips to Japan.

I unwind the parcel of ¥1000’s and there are exactly nine bills. Even piss-angry, this guy means serious business.

A couple of days later, my grandpa and I go out to lunch. He’s a high-profile figure in his neighborhood and since he no longer drives, he takes taxis every day.

Because he talks so much and likes to pay well, he developed a respectable and endearing reputation with the cab company who refer to him as their “most valuable customer” and “the chairman.” Today, he calls them and they send Watanabe-san to drive us to lunch. In some sick twist of karma, it turns out Watanabe-san was the cab driver from before!

Man, was that an awkward ride. The entire time, Grandpa goes on and on about me, his “intelligent, ambitious, first-born grandson from America, who studies at a prestigious university and already has a job at the age of nineteen.”

Throughout grandpa’s speech, Watanabe-san glances at me through the rear-view mirror. A moment ago, this guy seriously thought I was mentally handicapped. Maybe he still does. I stifle a laugh.