The enjoyment (and horror) of cab rides

If I lean sideways and slightly forward, from back here in the third row, I can see the speedometer over the cab driver’s shoulder. It reads 75 miles per hour (120 km/h).

The driver is weaving our van among the lanes and other vehicles. The pounding bass of a Rihanna song blasts from the speaker at my ear, adding to the trepidation.

We are not on a racetrack but on the tangle of highways between Newark, N.J., and New York City.

Husband is in the front passenger seat. Friends and travel buddies, Pam and Al McPhail, are in the middle row and I’m back here, squeezed beside the pile of luggage.

Landing at Newark Liberty Airport after a trans-Atlantic flight, we found out our United Airlines connection to Toronto had been cancelled. The ripple effect of a 24-hour delay on reaching home would be far-reaching in our work schedule.

Enter helpful United Airlines customer service agent. He rebooks us on an Air Canada flight, so we will still be able to make our connection in Toronto. Problem solved? Sort of.

The Air Canada flight departs from La Guardia Airport, about a 45-minute to one-hour drive (depending on traffic) away, across the Hudson River into New York City.

We have 40 minutes before our flight closes at La Guardia Airport.

Muhammed, our F1-hopeful driver, promised he would get us there in 40 minutes. I don’t think he learned to drive like this in his native Egypt. He’s fast, he’s smooth, lane changes are well thought-out, considering the speed. He’s cheerful and chatty.

Despite the anxiety of potentially missing our flight and the exhilarating high speed of the ride, score one for Cab Ride from Heaven.

Then there are the cab rides from hell, one of which will stick in my memory forever.

Tehran, Iran. 0300 hours. Another airport transfer, husband and I are being jostled about in the back seat of a nondescript taxi. It’s still black as pitch outside. Highway lighting in Iran leaves a bit to be desired.

My head covering hampers both my peripheral vision and my hearing but there is no mistaking the frantic blare of a horn at my left ear as we plunge onto a dark downhill on-ramp onto an even darker highway,

The cab driver is just as freaked out as we are by the dimly-lit hulking transport truck, barrelling down on us. We are forced to swerve onto the barely-there shoulder while the truck thunders past, spraying us with dirt and gravel.

One of the very few near misses in my life. No coffee required that morning.

Sometimes taxi rides are a combination of heaven and hell. On a research trip in Mexico, we had arranged for a driver to take us to a remote mountain village high about the clouds in the Sierra Juàrez mountain range in the

Mexican state of Oaxaca. More escorted drive than official taxi ride, the mode of conveyance was a beat-up regular-cab pickup truck.

The road was rutted, muddy and strewn with logs, branches and boulders. The 150-kilometre drive took six hours to complete. After the first hour, the driver invited us to stand in the back of the pickup truck and hang on to the railing on the roof of the cab.

“The view is much better from there,” he grinned. “You are closer to nature, closer to heaven.”

He was kind of right.

A taxi rickshaw in New Delhi, India, proved the opposite of fast but still one of the most stimulating rides of my life. Here, the rickshaws are not a tourist attraction but a means of transport. On the back of a rickshaw, you are one with the streets of New Delhi, staring poverty, chaos, beauty and life right in the face.

In my younger days, due to poor planning, I remember more than one New Year’s Eve countdown at midnight shared with a patient taxi driver and some boisterous friends.

In my home province of Nova Scotia, I’ve sat in the back seat and listened to a tirade against the government that lasted from my front door to the door of the airport. That’s 40 kilometres of dissatisfaction.

Dirty cabs, clean cabs, smooth drivers, drivers that take pride in their work, jarring drivers that are so rough, you wonder how they came to work in this field in the first place.

There are a few anonymous dark cab rides late at night in a strange city when you’ve been out on the town. You’re not quite sure where you are, you feel like you’re in a bad movie about to get worse.

Driving one’s own vehicle is what most people desire but there is certainly satisfaction and a feeling of luxury when one relinquishes control, sits in the back seat and lets the ride happen.

Thirty-six minutes after departing Newark airport, Muhammed pulls up curbside at the Air Canada departures door of La Guardia. He and my husband are laughing and joking. They have become fast friends.

The upcoming flight will seem slow and rather monotonous after that rousing trans-New York cab ride.

Follow Lisa on Twitter: @FrontLady

When you jump into a cab curbside, you never know if you’re going to get a cab ride from hell or one from heaven. That’s part of the charm.  ­— Lisa Calvi/For the Province

About Driving