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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Taxi-mum Overdrive

(Soak up some science! This week’s ridiculous barely-explanation of scientifical somethings over at Secondhand SCIENCE is all about ubiquitin.

It’s the almost-everywhere molecule you probably never knew you were pumping out all the time. Give it a gander.)

Back to the recent trip my wife and I took to Greece: we had two extremely harrowing experiences in the back of the same taxi cab. One psychological, the other social. And neither involved weaving through heavy traffic at insane rates of speed.

“If we’d been going to the Souvlaki Hotel in Tzatzikitown, we might have been able to understand each other properly.”

(Which is odd. Because all of our other harrowing experiences in Greek cabs involved that. A lot.)

This was not that, though. This was a case on our last full day of vacation where we needed a place to sleep before the long flight home the next day. We were flying into the Athens airport that night after a short side trip, and flying out from the same airport in the morning. We had no more time for sightseeing, so we’d booked a room in a hotel advertised as being close to the airport. Easy in, easy out, with a few hours’ shuteye in the middle. Perfect.

We collected our bags after the flight in and hopped a taxi outside. Our cabbie spoke very little English, and we spoke even less Greek. If we’d been going to the Souvlaki Hotel in Tzatzikitown, we might have been able to understand each other properly. But we weren’t. And we didn’t.

Instead, we called out our destination, the cabbie nodded, and we took off into the night.

A few minutes later, we approached a nice big hotel in the middle of nowhere, obviously built to support people coming and going to the airport.

We passed that hotel. We didn’t even slow down.

Over the next fifteen minutes, we wound into and out of several neighborhoods. Many of these featured hotels, motels, hideaways, stopovers, lodges, sleeping huts or hostels.

We passed them all. And we began to worry. The hotel was supposed to be just a mile or two from the airport, and the cabbie showed no signs of slowing down any time soon. So we struck up a friendly conversation:

“Um… we’re going to the Metro Hotel, right?”

“Yah, yah. Metro. Is little while.”

That seemed wrong. We should have been there already; this was supposed to be a quick jaunt to the closest suitable room. Now it seemed like this guy was whisking us all over the Pelopennese. I decided to say something to this effect to my wife:

“It seems like this guy is whisking us all over the Pelopennese.”

“Actually, I think it’s a woman.”

I spent another ten minutes trying to figure out whether she was right. To this day, I honestly don’t know. Apparently, we were riding with the “Pat” of the Athenian taxicab crew.

Meanwhile, we’d cruised another ten miles from the airport, and all sorts of thoughts ran through our minds — and got fiercely whispered back and forth across the back seat of the cab. Were we being run around the block for money? Was there a different Metro Hotel in Bulgaria we were speeding toward? Was this man/woman kidnapping us, for nefarious madman/madwoman purposes?

We tried again to exchange information with the driver, with limited success. He (or she) insisted we were heading for the Metro Hotel. We were firm that it should be only a couple of miles from the airport, while the cabbie estimated it at around six kilometers.

Wait. Six kilometers? We’re way further than that already.

No. Sixty kilometers. Another fifteen minutes, maybe. Sit tight, tourists.

As ignorant Americans, my wife and I conferred for a bit and decided that no, sixty kilometers was not the same distance as one or two miles, probably. Neither of us are metricologists. But it seemed unlikely.

So we were pretty worried. At best, we were in for another half hour ride — and who knows how many Euros — to get back to the airport neighborhood and a warm bed. At worst… well, I don’t know what they put in moussaka, exactly. But I was starting to wonder whether it could conceivably be us.

For another tense couple of minutes, we quibbled back and forth with the cabbie, who insisted we were heading where we’d said we wanted to go. Meanwhile, we worried that “Metro Hotel” was some local code word for gullible tourists, or maybe the nickname for some foreign slave trader’s holding pen. Truly, we were fully harrowed.

Finally, we found a number and my wife called the hotel. She explained we were in a cab, and — so far as we knew — careening fast toward the border with Albania, destined for who knew what grisly fate. So we checked our facts. You’re near the Athens airport, right?

Yes, indeed. Very close.

Great. So how far should the cab ride be from the terminal?

Oh, around sixty kilometers.

Ah.

So the real issue here was the loose — meaning loooooose — interpretation of “close to the airport” provided by a hotel probably desperately looking for customers three weeks after high season. And the issue was not, in fact, the perfectly honest, helpful and reasonable cabbie who we’d basically accused of us-napping for the last fifteen minutes.

Also harrowing. The final ten minutes of that trip were spent in embarrassed silence in the back seat — while the driver probably tried to come up with ways to crash just the back half of the cab, and leave us bleeding in the street. Awkward.

I don’t remember what we tipped for that cab ride, exactly. But it was huge. I was just happy the guy/lady didn’t punch me in the groin when we got out, soon after, outside the lobby of the very nice, but very much not “close to the airport” Metro Hotel.

So yeah. I can be an idiot in pretty much any country on the planet. I’m pretty sure I knew that already.

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