My wife, Judy, and I were in New York City recently and as smart travelers, we parked our car at the hotel and took taxis everywhere. As usual, the cabbies were very talkative. "Where are you from?" "Where is Iowa?" "Why are you in New York?" "Can I recommend a good restaurant?" Between the traffic noise and cabbie chatter, we were unable to speak to each other.
None of this surprised me, being a veteran of taxi drivers in many American cities and from airports in Amsterdam, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Venice. They all speak some English and they are determined to talk to you even if you are reading a book or texting.
However, I am about to submit an entry to the Guinness Book of World Records for the most laconic taxi driver on the planet. On a recent trip to Tanzania, my colleagues and I were on our way to the city of Bukoba on the western side of Lake Victoria. Because there was no direct air service from Kilimanjaro International Airport, we flew to Mwanza, a large city on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria. After a five-hour layover, we would take the commuter flight to Bukoba.
With that much time to spare, we decided to take a cab to see the town and get some lunch. Mwanza is the second largest city in Tanzania (right after Dar Es Salaam, the historic capitol) and has substantial relationships with several international cities. We got into a cab and told the driver that we wanted to see the town, get dropped at a good place for lunch and a return to the airport.
As we were driving, my colleague, Jeff, asked the driver "What are some of the sights we should see in Mwanza?" The driver replied, "I don't know." Jeff asked, "Where is a good place for us to eat lunch?" "I don't know." Growing desperate for any conversation opener, Jeff tried "What tribe do you belong to?" No response.
Finally, my colleague Eli, who had been to Mwanza, said, "Isn't there a Malaika beach resort nearby?" Without saying anything, the driver made a quick left turn and took us down the road toward Lake Victoria. At the end was a shore front resort and he stopped in the circular drive. We took the hint, got out and took our bags.
He looked at Eli and said, "Call me half an hour before you want to return to the airport," and gave Eli his business card. I was thunderstruck. During this entire 15-minute drive, the cabbie had spoken exactly 19 words. The contrast with cabbies everywhere else was unsettling.
We had a great lunch, called him and he appeared 10 minutes later. We loaded our bags, told him the airport and when we arrived, Jeff paid him. "Thank you," he said. In doing so, he failed to break the less than 20 words spoken by a cabbie world record. But this surely qualifies him for an honorable mention in the Guinness Book.