It’s a well-worn cliche that taxi drivers are the source and repository of all knowledge on a country. But, like all good cliches, there’s a grain of truth in it.
Accordingly, I offer some of the wisdom I have accumulated — at the rate of 59 stotinki per kilometer, more or less — after a month and a half of living in the Balkans.
1. Avoid the driver who offers too much. (For example, the one who says he would be happy to provide translation services for a newly-arrived journalist, and then suggests how he’d like to run an undercover hidden camera op into certain criminal enterprises that really aren’t appropriate for a family blog. We’ll just get out at that next corner, thanks.)
2. Avoid the driver who speaks too enthusiastically of his affinity for alcohol. Such as the elderly gent named, let’s call him Boris, and his “three Scottish friends”: Sean Connery, Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United, and — big pause for dramatic finish and slight swerve into oncoming traffic — Johnny Walker.
3. Avoid responding to the angry driver who says you were waiting for him on the wrong side of IKEA and security made him pay 50 leva and what is your full name, mister, because my chief-on-the-radio wants to know.
4. Avoid the driver of the taxi that was made before automobiles had brand names, still bearing its original tires and upholstery, who likes to put on his reading glasses and study a magazine article in the passenger seat while driving through traffic in the rain.
5. Seek drivers wearing silver earrings who crave the Whitesnake and Bon Jovi and other most excellent heavy metal bands from the 1980s, for they are happy to drive you anywhere and rock on.
6. Seek the driver who enjoys a good conversation about politics and education and the state of the world, and asks for nothing in return but a shake of the hand and his full fare, for he is a man who can bring together all nations and make them one.