Tag Archives: taxis

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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Drive Your Own London Taxi

More in a series of London Taxis that aren't black. Here's an ad for British Telecom, a sponsor of the 2012 London Olympics. I regret to say that the squiggle on the read door is the logo of the 2012 games, which is cropping up all over London now.

I wonder how many of the readers who say they like my posts on London taxis imagine themselves tootling around town in one–but behind the wheel, instead of sitting in the back?

The nice people at London Taxi Exports can help you with that; they’ve been refurbishing London Taxis and shipping them around the world for over 15 years.

American readers who want to import taxis will be happy to hear that the US doesn’t have any problem with you driving a vehicle with the steering wheel on the ‘wrong’ side of the car. On the other hand, they won’t allow you to bring in a car that doesn’t meet modern standards having to do with emissions or with reaction to impact. But if you import a classic car–over 25 years old–then your vehicle will be exempt. The cars London Taxi Exports handles are what you might call mature vehicles, but completely rejuvenated, and painted to the customers’ specifications.

Would you be comfortable getting your investment advice from somebody you picked because their name was on a taxi?

The last time I rode in a taxi the driver, who was remarkably spiffy in a camel jacket and a paisley cravat, said he didn’t like the garish paint jobs you see on taxis nowadays; for him, black was the only proper colour. I think I’d prefer a black one as well, if I were going to buy one, but I do like to look at the variety of ads on the taxis going by.

I’m not sure I’d give much credence to that particular driver’s opinion on anything other than taxis, though. When he asked where I lived before I moved to England, I answered “California” and he asked “What part of California? Miami?” Right. And when I said I’d lived near San Francisco, he said he wouldn’t want to live there because of the terribly cold snowy winters. He might have mastered the Knowledge but his experience of the world outside London was…limited.

This one's advertising beer...

And while black may be the only proper cab colour, London Taxi Exports sent a cabriolet version (open top in the back) in pink to a Boston hotel just the other day. Before that, they sent out a couple of taxis to a California vineyard. They’ve supplied cars for celebrities but would never divulge names, of course, and they ordinarily don’t meet the famous buyers in those cases, but only someone acting on a buyer’s behalf. In any case, if you see a London taxi in the US, it’s more than likely that it’ll have a London Taxi Exports plate on the back. (But I’m going to start calling them LTE to save typing.)

And it’ll be more than likely that wherever you do see a private driver tootling around in a London taxi, that the driver will be female. Almost all of LTE’s UK buyers and most of their overseas buyers are women. Their web site reminds prospective buyers that a taxi is “built like a tank and virtually indestructible”; the cars may not have airbags, but they’ve got “acres of solid metal” between oncoming vehicles and the kids in the back–up to 6 kids, too. Or up to six adults for that matter, plus any bulky sports equipment, or maybe one of those enormous jogging strollers (UK: pushchairs). And all London taxis have childproof locks as a matter of course, or perhaps the cabbies think of them as passenger-proof locks. In any case, you can’t open the doors of a London taxi as long as the thing is moving.

Bertolli's Olive Oil advert on a taxi going through Parliament square; the tents in the background belong to protestors.

Another reason women like them, according to LTE, is that it makes a mom look cool “on the school run”, that is, taking the kids to school, which is apparently a competitive sport among the mothers in this country. I’m guessing that this is an outgrowth of the paparazzi habit of snapping celebrities in unguarded moments, such as when taking the kids to school; the tabloids are forever showing this supermodel or that actress looking chic or–horrors!–looking frowsy in front of their kids’ school. A recent study found that 1 in 6 mothers gets a new hairdo–average cost £50 (over $80)–for the first day of school, just to look good in front of the other mothers. One in five buys a new outfit, with the average mom (UK: mum) spending about £60 (almost $100) on “new clothes, shoes or accessories” to look good “at the school gate”. Over half said they wouldn’t dare go on the school run without makeup, and fully three-quarters said they wouldn’t be seen dead dropping the kids off if they were wearing the same outfit as the day before–that’s the moms, not the kids. The kids wear uniforms. I think if I were one of those moms, I’d wish I could just wear a uniform and skip all the bother.

And if I dropped the kids off in a London taxi, it wouldn’t be to impress the other parents; I think the thing I’d like best about driving a London taxi is the turning radius (UK: turning circle): 25 feet. My Volvo’s turning radius is 33.5 ft. If you need more than 25 feet to turn in, then you can’t drop fares off at the Savoy; that’s why London taxis are designed with such a tight turning circle. I’d love to have that kind of maneuverability, and I don’t count on my car to impress other people–which is a good thing, because I drive a Volvo, and Volvos are terminally uncool over here.

Anyway, if you’ve always wanted your very own London taxi, now you know where to get one. And after you’ve made your purchase from the nice people at London Taxi Export, you can join the London Taxi Owner’s Club (website under refurbishment). And if anybody really does buy one, be sure to let me know!

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Jubilant taxis

Taxi painted to advertise Vodaphone; within the bands of colour they've printed names of London streets, probably hundreds of them

These days you can’t walk long in London without spotting one of the the famous not-necessarily-black cabs painted with the Union flag made of up street names, an advert (ad) for Vodafone, a mobile (cell) phone provider.  Usually these specially marked taxis whisk by too fast for me to get my camera out, but I saw one sitting in the taxi rank at Waterloo Station, snapped its picture, and asked the driver how many taxis were painted like his.  The answer? 1000.

They painted one out of every 22 taxis in London?  I’m a Vodafone customer, and I’ve long suspected I’m paying too much; if they go around painting 1000 taxis it looks like I’m probably right.

Our Golden Jubilee taxi, on the Euston Road

A while back I rode in a taxi with a much more exclusive livery: a Golden Jubilee taxi. For the queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977—that is, the 25th anniversary of her accession to the throne—a single taxi was painted silver. If you’d spotted that one cab among the 22,000 in London, it really would have been an event.  For her Golden Jubilee—the 50th anniversary—taxi-spotters got better odds; in 2002 London Taxis International built 50 gold-painted taxis, one for each year Elizabeth II had reigned at that time.

The Golden Jubilee taxis are numbered with the years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign; oddly, the number is woven into the floor carpeting, but anyway you can see that this taxi commemorates the year 2002.

I hailed a taxi a while back and found myself in Golden Jubilee taxi number 2002.  I sorry I didn’t get the driver’s name.  He told me that he’d just gotten (got) lucky, that drivers didn’t have to put in special orders or anything; the orders had been placed long before and if your name was at the top of the list when a Jubilee taxi rolled off the line, you could have it.  He didn’t even have to pay extra.  And he got number 2002, the last one they made.

The proud owner.

The next Jubilee (assuming Elizabeth II is, as expected, still queen next year) coincides nicely with the London Olympics: 2012 should be her Diamond Jubilee, her 60th anniversary.  I have no clue how they’ll manage to celebrate that in taxi colours.

Golden Jubilee logo on the underside of one of the flip-down extra seats (which face the regular seat in the back of the taxi). In other taxis you usually get advertising here.

Most of the Golden Jubilee taxis should still be on the road then, and probably most of the Vodafone taxis as well, as long as they don’t change their ad campaign.  So it strikes me that I’ve left out of my equation (the equation that runs something like VodafoneTaxiAdvertMoney  x  1000 = VodafoneIsRippingMeOff) the length of time the ads stay on the taxis.  Maybe you paint it once and it lasts a the useful life of the vehicle.  Maybe it’s a really good deal.

But there’s something else here that doesn’t add up.  News reports at the time of the Golden Jubilee said that London Taxi International would build 50 Golden Jubilee taxis, one for each year of the queen’s reign, 1952-2002.  See the problem?  It’s what we used to call a fencepost error when I was writing software  (because for a fence with 10 panels, you need 11 fenceposts).  If they started numbering at 1952 and ended with 2002, then they built 51 taxis.  The newspapers (or possible the taxi manufacturer) need to check the math (or as the British say, the maths).

I ought to check the math(s) on my Vodafone bill, but such bills aren’t itemized, not unless you pay extra (which is a major irritation and a subject for another post).  But every time I see one of those Vodafone cabs, I wonder what it’s costing me…

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