One night, while in St. Petersburg, we needed a taxi to get back to our hotel after dinner. Seems simple. And getting the taxi was, just asked the waiter to arrange for one after we finished our meal, and the driver was waiting in the lobby when we came downstairs from the restaurant.
The real fun started after we got in the taxi. Total distance to our hotel, probably a mile, maybe two as the crow flies. On St. Petersburg streets, maybe three or four miles total, what with all the canals and such. We did the trip in five minutes, tops. I think it was five minutes, but it’s really hard to say, because as any physics student knows, time slows down as you approach the speed of light, and also when you’re terrified out of your wits.
I tried to buckle my seat belt, unsuccessfully. The driver noticed my efforts, looked in the mirror and said, “It doesn’t matter”. Ah, great, thinks I, a cabdriver that speaks some English, and a wit besides.
“Ha, ha,” I chuckled, weakly. Jeebus, he’s going pretty fast. At this point I’m thinking the driver is just engaging in a little banter utilizing the well known Russian propensity for bone-dry humor. So I continue to punch Tab A into Slot B, to no avail. Hearing the increasingly frenzied ‘click, click, click’, as I kept trying to get the belt to latch, the driver, who I’m now beginning to suspect doesn’t have a sense of humor, at all, turns almost 180 degrees in his seat to look me right in the eye, and says, sternly, “I said, it doesn’t matter!”
I’m thinking, what? WHAT DOESN’T MATTER?!? My life? Mortality? The seat belt? Are Russian seat belts defective in some way? And why is he looking at me and not the road, because he’s going like sixty miles an hour on city streets, and that means it’s close to 100 kilometers an hour, which sounds even faster, doesn’t it? Have we gotten into a cab with a suicidal cabdriver? Did we ask for a suicidal cab driver, by accident? Dammit, I knew I should have learned some basic Russian. Like ‘We do not wish to have a cab driver with a death wish, thank you very much’. Or possibly even worse, is our driver just fatalistic, and spends too much time reading Russian novels, which always end up with everyone who doesn’t die in some unpleasant and undignified manner, going insane!
Anyway, these thoughts, and a bunch of others, many related to last wishes and closed caskets, bounced around inside my noggin for as long as the rest of the ride lasted. I gave up on fastening the seat belt, in the not totally unjustified fear that the driver might just slam into a bridge abutment, just to prove to me that the seat belt really didn’t matter. When he pulled up to the wrong hotel, I thanked him profusely for not killing us, gave him a lot of rubles, and got out. We walked the rest of the way to our own hotel.