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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!
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Taxicab Confusions

Like most people, I find taking cabs in Boston a white-knuckled, horrific experience.

My reason for this, however, is probably not as common. Let’s talk it out.

A lot of people are scared by the driving, what with the cabbies careening across lanes and cutting off oil tankers and honking at people in front riding the mall escalator too slowly.

I don’t mind these things. I figure when it’s your time to go, it’s your time. If you’re desperate enough to step willingly into a Boston taxi, then you’ve effectively signed your life into the driver’s twitching, hairy-knuckled hands. You’re not paying cab fare, so much as contributing to a personal Russian roulette fund. It’s zen. Or something. Whatever.

Other people hate cabs because of the language barrier. They complain that the cabbie can’t understand them, or they can’t understand the cabbie, and their trip to Logan Airport for vacation left them in the middle of Boston Harbor, scraping barnacles off their travel bag.

“If it takes a little doodling on a napkin and a game of charades to get where I’m going — hey, it’s still better than airplane food and getting fondled by some fat guy in Customs.”

Also, their suitcase. You know what I’m saying.

The “lost in translation” thing doesn’t bother me either. I like traveling abroad, and don’t have the time or money to go as often as I’d like. But a cab ride crosstown is like a twenty-minute jaunt to… well, wherever. The cabbies come from all sorts of strange and exotic places. Haiti. Albania. West Jersey. All over. If it takes a little doodling on a napkin and a game of charades to get where I’m going — hey, it’s still better than airplane food and getting fondled by some fat guy in Customs.

So. What makes my cab rides so harrowing?

It’s grammar. Or sentence conjugation. Syntax? Something like that.

Here’s the thing. I got into a cab yesterday, and I wanted to go to this restaurant downtown. So I told the guy I’m going to this restaurant downtown. And because I have a shred of human decency — okay, so half a shred, fine — I also said “please”. Here’s exactly what I said:

I’m going to this restaurant downtown, please.

(Well, not exactly what I said, of course. The name of the restaurant was removed, to protect the innocent. Nobody wants my name next to theirs on Yelp. That’s not selling any cream pies.)

Now, look at that sentence; the thing is a nightmare. It’s not a question, but it’s got “please” at the end. It’s half-declarative, half pleading and all wrong. It’s stating a fact, but I’m entering a Boston cab. Meaning, it’s highly fricking unlikely that I’m actually going to this restaurant at all. So it’s basically a lie.

That’s where I want to go, sure. But I tell the driver, and he nods non-committally, and that’s the end of my control over the matter. He might pick a fight with a Winnebago driver who runs us off an overpass. He could dump me in a park south of town. Maybe we wind up in Cuba.

But I’ve got no confidence my stop is going to be the restaurant, and I don’t feel right saying it. So I’ve decided to say something else instead. The question is… what? All my ideas are more grammatically correct — but they all suck. See?:

Can you drive me to this restaurant downtown, please?

No good. It makes me feel like I’m twelve years old, bumming a ride from Dad. Or more accurately, “Daaaaaaa-aaaad“, because “I’m late for soooooo-oooccer practice, gosh!” No.

Shall we go to this restaurant downtown?

Way off. First, now I’m Mary Poppins. Second, it’s not entirely clear that I’m not propositioning the driver. And I’m not. Either of those things. I don’t even own an umbrella.

I would like to travel to this restaurant downtown, if you please.

Also, I would like the royal valet to fetch my satin codpiece, for I shall be spending the eve in merriment amongst the peasants. Next.

My intended destination is this restaurant downtown. Warp speed, please!

Basically an invitation to be dropped off in an abandoned warehouse outside town. Also, a challenge for certain drivers who think their twenty-year-old Ford LTD might actually achieve “warp speed”. Or at least Mach 3.

So taking cabs is an even bigger pain in the ass than before. The last guy got me to some restaurant — the right one? I don’t know. After half an hour of downtown traffic and screaming down sidewalks, I forgot where I’d told him in the first place. He dropped me off in the drive-through of a Taco Bell the health inspectors closed six months ago. Maybe that’s what I asked for. I’m not that bright. You can’t rule it out.

Screw it. From now on, I’m handing the cabbie a Google Map and a note saying I lost my vocal cords in a childhood electronic toothbrush accident. Anything’s easier than this.

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