Living in Fresno didn’t afford me the opportunity to take taxis very often. In fact, I wouldn’t even know how to find one. And even though Yerevan is a walking friendly city, I do take them on the occasion if it’s bad weather, late at night, or I’m hauling something.
When I first moved to Yerevan, the “taking of taxis” just added to the adventure-ness of living here. Taxis were unregulated, unlicensed, un-everything. Just sit by the side of the road in a car, and POOF you were a taxi. It was like the wild west, the driving was crazy, prices were crazy, drivers were crazy. Fast forward to today, and taxis are company owned for the most part, somewhat regulated, most have meters, and they’re all terrified of the traffic cameras. Hence some semblance of obeying traffic laws.
One thing that hasn’t changed though is that most drivers are chatty. “Where are you from, do you like Yerevan, why are you here, what is your village (Western Armenia reference, Kharpert by the way) “, they quizzed me about everything. Want to take a taxi in Yerevan? Have your CV handy. My first time in Brussels I took a cab to a shopping mall. Halfway there I realized the driver was silent. He spoke English, we established that when I got in the cab. But this silence? What the hell was that all about?! Jerk. Then it dawned on me, THIS is how the rest of the world experienced taxi rides.
But back to Yerevan. The other night I was transporting a cake to share with friends at dinner. Since I wasn’t going far, I grabbed a cab off the street instead of calling for one. Red, clean, lots of stickers and phone numbers on the side. This tells you it’s a “real” cab. I hopped in, said the name of the restaurant, and since there are two in town, told him it’s the one near the opera.
Aaaand we started. For edification, the driver was late late late 60’s. Ish. And this was all in Armenian.
Driver: Are you from Syria?
Me: No, the US
Driver: Visiting or you live here?
Me: I live here and work here. 14 years.
Driver: 14 YEARS?! Why is your Armenian so bad?
Me: (Insert spate of cursing that was going on in my head) I don’t study and Armenian is difficult.
Driver: Do your parents speak at home.
Me: No. My Mom doesn’t speak Armenian
Driver: Is she Armenian?
Me: Yes. She’s Armenian. But her Mother was born in the US, and the family wanted to learn English.
Driver: Ah, ok, I understand. But your Dad speaks Armenian? Why didn’t he teach you?
Me: Yes, my Dad speaks Armenian, I don’t know why he didn’t teach me.
Now at this point, I notice he’s not in the lane to turn to the restaurant.
Me: Excuse me, where are you going?
Driver: You said Artashi Mod
Me: Yes, but the one by Opera
Driver: Ay kezi ban (sorry, this doesn’t really translate well, basically he said Oh my)
Me: That’s ok, go up to the next street and make a u-turn
Driver: How many Artashi Mod’s are there? (trying to make a joke) You didn’t say by the Opera
Me: Yes, I said, and they have 2
Back to the inquisition
Driver: Are you married?
Driver: You should be married
Me: I don’t want to
Driver: What?! Why not?!?!
Me: All men are difficult and idiots
Driver: (extra insulted) All men are not difficult and idiots. You’re young, you should be married, why don’t you want to get married, who do you cook and clean for?
Me: (After taking a brief pause to consider the cook and clean comment) Yes they are, no I’m not, and I cook and clean for myself!
Driver: You’re not young?
Driver: (I could actually see the light bulb go off) I’m not married, I’m divorced, marry me!
Driver: I’m single, you’re single, why are you laughing? It’s a good idea!
Driver: I don’t understand, why don’t you want to get married? You work, you won’t have to work.
I should explain, when he asked me to marry him, he turned around and smiled. And there it was, right there to see. A shiny gold front tooth. Now, lots of people have gold teeth. And I’ve never really paid much attention to them. Except last December, two of my friends came up with a plan to see what would happen if they took a gold tooth to the gold market, and tried to sell it. Just to see the reactions of the gold sellers, who generally aren’t a jovial bunch. Also, it belonged to one of them, it came out of her own head, I don’t want anyone thinking I have friends running around picking up stray teeth to sell. So when he flashed the big one at me, all I could think about was selling it at the market.
Me: I don’t want to get married. But thank you for asking. Finally.
Further explanation. I have other friends who have had marriage proposals from taxi drivers. And in 14 years, I have had all kinds of things offered by taxi drivers: a coffee date, Armenian language lessons, cognac (yes, the bottle was right there in the car), BBQ service for me and my friends, and fresh-cut fruit at the end of a knife by a driver who was clearly quite high. I’ve been sung to, yelled at, had poetry recited, lectured, and one wanted to take me and my friend to his Mother’s house so we could continue celebrating a futbol win. We declined. But never a marriage proposal. I was kind of insulted, it was about time.
Driver: But you’re single, I’m single, why not?
Me: Because I don’t want to
Driver: Ay kezi ban
Luckily, we had arrived at the restaurant. I reached my hand over the front seat to hand him the money, and he grabbed it, took the cash and put it back in my hand.
Driver: But no, I can’t take your money, we’re going to get married (showing the gold tooth again)
Me: (Throwing money into the front seat) No, we’re not, hahahahahaha
Obviously I wasn’t going to wait for change and ran into the restaurant, still laughing. As I approach my 15 year anniversary of being in Armenia, I thought that was a fitting start to the celebrations. My first gold toothed marriage proposal. Taxi driver or not.