Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"If you gotta warrant, I guess you're gonna come in"

Getting to work efficiently at about 9 am is never a sure deal from where I live. The nearest subway stop is about a mile away and taxi service is spotty at best. When I moved in about two years ago, there was a harmless, makeshift cab stand outside the apartment complex, but it was -- in classic inexplicable Chinese decision making style designed to make daily life just a little bit harder -- shut down about four months later.

I've since cut a deal with a group of three wheeler cab drivers, as in: "I pay you an ridiculous transportation fee to further the stereotype of foreigners as gullible rich suckers in exchange for one of you being out here between 9-9.30 am to take me to work in one of your rickety sputtering, wobbling death traps."

That works about 70 percent of the time. It didn't this morning and I'd already surrendered one taxi to a cranky granny and her grandchild. "Yeah, sure," I said when a slick black Honda pulled up and the passenger window rolled down to reveal another foreigner asking if I wanted to share his illegal ride to work.

The driver, a young chubby Chinese guy said 15 yuan (usual taxi rate is about 10-12) and I climbed in the back.

Similar to the old NYC gypsy cabs, unlicensed "black taxis" are rife in Beijing and were outside my Shenzhen apartment too. They generally charge a little more and I've used them many times with no problems, until today. Most of the car owners aren't from Beijing, but from small villages outside the capital who have bought the wheels with communal funds gathered by their relatives and friends to whom they remit most of what they make to pay off the loan and support their families.

About 15 seconds after I closed the door the driver began to turn to get towards the main route - bam!
A white sedan stopped in front of us, blocking further progress. No collision but the "bam" came from four plainclothes cops seeming leaping outta nowhere and hitting the black cab's hood and truck with their palms. Doors were opened without our assistance and we were rousted out. Me and the other passenger weren't in trouble, but the driver was.

He and I watched as the cops began flashing IDs and jabbered sternly at the melancholy driver, who I imagine was already saying goodbye to his livelihood and cool ride -- undoubtedly to be confiscated and turned into an "official" cop car or as a gift to the chief to give to his mistress or superior -- and wondering how he was going to pay whatever the hefty fine would be.

A cop came up to me, flipped open his ID wallet and barked: "I am police!"

"You are?" I asked, pretending to scrutinize the photo and Chinese characters. "I don't know. I cannot read Chinese."

"This is not taxi!" he said, his finger jabbbing at the Honda.

"I know," I replied, thinking on my caffeine-deprived feet. "He's our friend." I pointed to the driver who was surrounded by three other cops, looking resigned. "He takes us to work every morning. All of us work in the same area, right?" I looked at my foreign comrade and he nodded.

"Yes. Our friend, he's our friend," he said. "Our ride-to-work friend."

"FRIEND?" the cop replied. "What is 'friend's' name?"

I had to give him some points for that and began rummaging through my tattered mental Rolodex. "Uh..Li! Mr Li!" I replied giving him the most common Chinese surname. He went back to the driver, conferred for a second and damn if his name wasn't Li.

The subterfuge didn't last long, however. Further improvisation on my part failed to square with my old pal Mr Li's answers and my commuter impaired companion and I were left to find another way to the Central Business District.

"Damn," he said. "I just wanted to get to work."

"Maybe we should've just offered the cop 30 yuan to take us," I replied.

1 comment:

John said...

Wow - police work the same way in Beijing and New York City!