11/11/11 : A Dublin Taxi Adventure

Many people will remember where they were at 11:11 on 11/11/11, and I’m one of them—though I’d be willing to bet I’m the only one who was running down Dublin’s O’Connell Street at the time, chasing a taxi because I’d left my iPad in it.

My iPad and one-of-a-kind notebook

My husband had business in Dublin, and I went along, planning to play tourist while he worked.  But a cancelled event meant we could go to the Dublin Writers Museum together that morning—by taxi, given the wind and the sudden downpours that day.  Being a gentleman, he loaned me his umbrella, which left me dry but guilty.  At least he had a sort of fedora, but he got pretty wet. (Note to self: next time, take your own umbrella.  And ask the hotel to get a taxi for you if it’s raining.)

The night before, I’d counted nine taxis coming through just one cycle of a traffic light as we waited to cross the street, but it took forever to find one that morning, and when we did, I got in thinking “Don’t forget the umbrella.  Don’t forget the umbrella.”  My track record with umbrellas isn’t good, and since my husband had gotten soaked because I was using his, I was determined not to lose it.  When the taxi dropped us, though, the problem wasn’t remembering the umbrella, but fighting a wind that kept turning it inside out, and finding the right money for the fare—a lot of the euro coins look pretty much alike.

Euro coins, showing how some look confusingly similar (especially when they're as old as the copper one-cent coin on the left, so dark that it's difficult to read).

In the kerfuffle I left behind one of those small nylon backpacks that’s not much more than a carrier bag with a couple of strings to go over your shoulders.  But that little bag held my iPad, my notebook (paper, not a notebook computer)—with one-of-a-kind appliquéd cover, a present from my sister—and several months’ worth of irreplaceable notes.  (Note to self: get a fresh notebook for every trip so you don’t lose important stuff.)

Just inside the museum I realized. “I left my iPad in the taxi!”  My husband, ever the optimist, said “You’re not serious!” but really, he knows me better than that.  He dashed back out to try to catch the driver, and the receptionist told me to go check the taxi rank “right there, at the top of O’Connell Street”; the driver might have joined the rank.  She pointed the direction and I ran out, too.

Euro coins again. In this view, you can see how the edges of different denominations have different notches so you can tell which is which even if you can't see them. Would have been handy to know that before I went to Dublin...

And here we have a little difference in American and UK English (the museum receptionist was English, not Irish).  People say “the top of the street”, but you have to know which end of the street the locals consider the top.  I thought that would mean uphill, but she’d pointed downhill, so down I went, top speed, the wind repeatedly turning the umbrella inside-out and me turning it outside-out again, and I didn’t see any taxi rank.  How far away was “right there”?  Surely the “top of the street” couldn’t mean downhill.  I was going the wrong way! And every second wasted lowered my chances.

So I ran uphill again, with an adrenaline boost that pushed me way ahead of my husband.  I stopped in at the museum to confirm I had it right.  I didn’t.  “No, the top of O’Connell Street”, said the lady, with a note of exasperation—and she did mean the lower end, by the river.  Another employee assured me that I could find the driver from the number on my receipt—but I hadn’t gotten one.  Who needs a taxi receipt if the ride isn’t a business expense?  (Answer: people who stupidly leave valuables in taxis.

The Dublin Writers Museum on Parnell Square. (It's the brick building; the fancy tower belongs to someone else.)

Downhill again, fighting the wind for control of the umbrella, this time I found the taxi rank—but not ‘my’ taxi.  I walked up and down, looking at the driver of any cab you might call tan or gold or champagne.  The rain let up and some drivers got out of their cars to be helpful or maybe just for the craic*.  About five of them walked up to me, making a little group, each one asking the same thing as he arrived— “do you have your receipt?”—and all saying I should go to the Carriage Office (which licenses taxis)  except for one who thought I ought to go to the Garda.

The Garda means the police. Ireland can seem familiar—the faces, the names, and even the countryside can look a lot like what I grew up with in Kentucky—but of the zillions of differences, the Irish language is the most surprising.  Most Irish people use English pretty much all the time, but some Irish words, such as Garda, are common in everyday life.

A Dublin street sign showing how lost a non-Irish-speaking tourist would be without the English version. I'm grateful to Pól Ó Duibhir at http://photopol.com for Dublin street sign photos.

I can’t read Irish (Gaeilge)—no surprise there—but I can’t even sound out the words, because I’ve never learned how the unfamiliar combinations of letters and accent marks map to the sounds. You run into a fair few people here in England with Irish names, so I’ve learned a bit—Siobhan is pronounced Shih-vawn, Róisín is Row-sheen, and Ruairí is the name Americans spell Rory—but puzzling out Flemish when I lived in Belgium was easier than Irish.  Thank goodness Dublin street signs show names in English, too; I couldn’t have found O’Connell Street if the signs only said Sráid Uí Chonaill, and that’s without adding Íocht for Lower or Uachtarach for Upper.

Another Dublin street sign by courtesy of Pól Ó Duibhir. To be fair, I should say that he's posted these as bad examples, though the errors he finds are generally in the Irish spellings or translations, and so are lost on me.

There was a Garda station right there on Sráid Uí Chonaill Uachtarach so that’s where I started.  They gave me a number to call in the evening, since day-shift drivers drop off lost property on their way home.  Back at the taxi rank, I asked cabbies who had radios to put out the word for their fellow drivers, and some did, but after that there was nothing to do but wait.  All day.

What to do?  Museums no longer appealed; I could only think about how much of my life was in that bag and how abysmally stupid I’d been, worrying about the umbrella (£10) and not the iPad ($700+) or the notebook (irreplaceable).

And how did this happen?  Having left a hat in a Kiev taxi and a phone in a taxi in Lisbon, my husband always checks the back seat before he even pays a driver, and he hadn’t seen my bag.  It was a mystery.

St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

He went to work, and I went to St Patrick’s cathedral to sit in a quiet corner and recover, but construction noise drove me out.  I bought a couple of books at Hodges Figgis, Ireland’s biggest bookshop;  I’d had a huge library on the iPad, and had been halfway through Bleak House.  I bought a new notebook and sat scribbling in a café, trying to remember everything that was in the old one.  Hopeless.

Back at the hotel, the receptionist entered my sad tale by hand into the lost-property ledger (yes, a big book, not a database), after first asking whether I had a taxi receipt.  I considered phoning cab companies until I saw how many there were; per person Dublin has 10 times as many taxis as London.  The switchboard at the Carriage Office asked me if I had a receipt and then told me they no longer handle lost property (US: lost-and-found), helpfully adding that I didn’t have to worry about the driver keeping the bag—I hadn’t been—but about whether another passenger would find it—which had been my main worry all day. How kind of her to remind me.  I had to hope that even a passenger who rather fancied a new iPad would at least turn in (UK: hand in) the notebook.

The Records Tower at Dublin Castle is the only part of the structure surviving from the 13th century . Dublin Castle now houses government offices, including the Carriage Office.

I called the number the Garda had given me and the duty officer asked (altogether now) “Did you get a receipt?”, and told me that her office didn’t do lost property; I must go to my nearest Garda station in person.  Hotel staff gave me (wrong) directions to the Garda station, but I found it eventually.

I told my story there, ending with “And no, I didn’t get a receipt”, and then things began to look up, because the Gard on duty took on my case as if it were her mission in life, and I will be forever grateful.  I gather she was supposed to tell me to go check with the five Garda stations in Dublin that handle lost property, but instead she rang them all herself.  No luck.  She asked me all about the place, the time, the circumstances.  Would I recognize the car? Er, no.  Would I recognize the driver? Yes.  She arranged with the hotel to get the security camera footage from the front door; I was to come back in the morning to view it with the officer to try to identify the taxi.

O'Connell Street Bridge, at the end (not the top, then) of O'Connell Street, over the River Liffey. Other Dublin rivers are called the Poddle and the Dodder; I'm pretty sure these names sound better in Gaeilge.

Meanwhile, across town, somebody else left his phone in the taxi he took to the airport, and a radio call went out asking cabbies to look for it.  John, who’d just been to the airport, looked for the phone and found a little black bag under the drivers seat. He took it all the way out to the guy at the airport, where he found it wasn’t a phone at all.

So John opened the iPad and found a photo of my husband, taken when I bought the thing, just to try out its built-in camera. And he was flabbergasted, because he recognized my husband from way back that morning; he’d driven all kinds of people, all day, with the bag under his seat. It was black, like the carpet, and he might not have noticed it for months without a reason to look.

He found my name and phone number in what he called my “copybook”.  I hadn’t included anything to show what country to call, but John (blessings upon him) remembered we’d said we were from England, added the right country code, dialed our house, and got our answering machine.  But the outgoing message mentions my editing business, and he thought he’d reached “a print shop or something”, so he figured there was a mistake in the number, or it was old.  (He doesn’t use email, and my mobile/cell phone number never rang.)  (Note to self: change cell phone provider.  Have already changed outgoing message.)

Dublin Castle again -- wings added in later eras.

But John (may he live long) wasn’t through.  Having recognized us, he knew pretty much where we’d hailed him, so he rang hotels in that neighborhood until he found us, and left a message.  He didn’t find me by my name from the notebook; he found some old boarding passes tucked into the back which gave my husband’s surname (we each have our own), and found him. Unfortunately, the hotel didn’t give us the message, so while I was chewing my nails, John was wondering why nobody returned his call.  Had the hotel given us the message, I’d’ve gotten a lot more sleep, and I wouldn’t have jumped up in a panic at 5 a.m. to spend an hour on my husband’s laptop changing all my passwords.

My favorite part of Pól Ó Duibhir's web site is probably the gallery of photos of public sculpture. And while most of them are figurative, he's included this shot of Dublin's signature street lights, too. You can view a slide show at http://www.flickr.com/photos/photopol/sets/72157623195774807/show/

At 7:00 a.m. the phone rang and I heard “This is John, the taxi driver.  I have your iPad here.”  He was near the hotel and could be there in 5 minutes.  I was downstairs in 5 minutes to meet him

He said that if he hadn’t found us at a hotel, his next stop would have been the Dublin Institute of Technology because he remembered my husband talking about working there. (Note to self: Always get the taxi with the driver who’s got a memory like an elephant’s.)

So I gave him enough euros—paper ones are easier to count—to cover (handily) the cost of his fruitless trip to the airport, hugged him, got his address, and promised that Father Christmas would remember him this December.  I  stood down the Garda and took a bouquet of tulips to the friendly officer who thought of requesting the CCTV.  Somebody ought to put John and that Gard on a television commercial/telly advert for the wonderful people you’ll meet on a vacation/holiday in Ireland.

I’ve now fixed the iPad so that when you turn it on, it gives complete information for how to contact me, though I doubt that I’ll ever lose it again.  And I’m certain I’ll never forget where I was on 11/11/11 11:11.

*craic means entertainment, fun, a good time.

(Photos without credits are mine or are from Wikipedia and used under the Creative Commons license.)

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7 Comments

Filed under My Life & Stuff That Happened, Travel

7 responses to “11/11/11 : A Dublin Taxi Adventure

  1. That’s some story, Mary Ellen.

    I’m glad you got your stuff back and, as you say, full marks to those who helped. You were lucky in your taxi driver and your Garda. Despite your problem, I hope you’ll take away a good impression of your visit.

    Even for those of us using them every day, the euro coins are very confusing. Some of them are far too close to each other. You’d need a full set in your hand at any one time to be sure of what you are doing.

    Thanks for the credits and for the nice comments on my website. It’s always nice to know that somebody out there comes across it from time to time.

    Beir bua (sort of between “good luck” and “may you always win through”).

  2. Oh my, what an experience! I’m so glad it had a happy ending. I think we’ve all learned some valuable lessons – always get a receipt, even if you think you don’t need one; don’t use boring black bags that blend into carpets; and never underestimate the kindness of strangers.

    Did you end up getting to see the Dublin Writers Museum after all?

  3. Malcolm

    What a wonderful story! This is the level – the human-interest level – at which Ireland unfailingly delivers. We were wandering around a ruined Grace O’Malley castle in Connemara once when the farmer who owned it shouted fiercely at us across a small haygarth: “You’re trespassing!” followed by a brief pause, then, in an amiable tone: “Where are ye from?”

    Another angle: Someone who only knew our whereabouts from my publisher’s blurb: “He lives with his wife and two daughters in a large house in the middle of Ireland,” wrote to me with the sole address: “Large house in the middle of Ireland” and it was delivered, unopened, within the normal time. At the personal level, people will take infinite pains to deliver beyond expectations. Even the Gardai. A friend with an out-of-date passport was advised to consult the local sergeant for help. Sorrowfully the sergeant told him that, while most numerals could be altered satisfactorily, the figure-8 was impossible; but he arranged with a garda colleague in Dublin for our friend to report at the back door to the Foreign Ministry next day, on his way to the airport, where they’d give him a new, legal passport.

    You fell among friends, Mary Ellen.

  4. What a great story Mary Ellen. You had me on the edge of my seat. And I think that is the best advert for travel to Ireland that I ever heard.

    I think I may ask for taxi receipts from now on!

    Happy American Thanksgiving! Do the Brits have any harvest festival?

  5. Hope you don’t mind one big composite reply, because it’s Thanksgiving and while I don’t usually do a Thankgiving dinner (when not in Rome, etc.), this year I will have American guests and I’m trying to get a head start on the big festive dinner, which we’re delaying until tomorrow when they will be here. I’m up to my elbows in celery and onions already —

    That said, I do appreciate all comments, and especially welcome those from people who haven’t been here before; hope you like it here enough to come back again.

    Do Brits have a harvest festival? Sort of. THere are local traditions, some going back a long way, but the only one you could call national would be the Church of England’s Harvest Festival, which generally is a religious gratitude-for-the-harvest service, often having to do with charity for people in countries where there isn’t generally enough to eat.

    Did we make it to the Writers Museum? I did, but he had to work. It’s definitely worth the entry fee and I’d go again; learned about so many authors I wasn’t familiar with that I kind of felt overwhelmed. The place is small, be jammed with information; the two downstairs rooms left me reeling and I didn’t even get upstairs. Next time.

    Which answer Póló’s concern about taking away the good rather than the bad of my Dublin experiences — oh, definitely! I plan to come back.

    For one thing I was supposed to meet up with Malcolm, he of the amazing stories a few column-inches further up in the comments section, but we ended up missing connections. And I’m left boggling by the idea that a policeman would want to help somebody falsify passport information!

    Thanks, everybody. I’m off to peel the sweet potatoes now…

  6. Hi Mary Ellen

    I have just spoke with John who directed me to your blog. John works with me in VIP Taxis and we are so proud to have a Driver of his quality onboard. I would just like to say good on you John, and like all people I love a story with a happy ending.

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