It’s not that in Spain I think only about taxi drivers. It’s just that they’re so interesting.
I don’t know exactly how it works, but taxistas here reflect something essential, something organic, about Spanish society. Maybe this is true of cabbies everywhere in the world, but I have a hunch that Spain’s drivers reveal an unusual amount and kind of cultural information about the country.
So: late Saturday night I hailed a taxi to take me from my hotel in Valencia, the Astorias Palace, to the airport, for a flight back to Asturias. It was raining, and empty cabs were scarce. But even though I was not the only person waving an arm at the white vehicles as they splashed past, one particular taxi pulled up directly to where I was standing.
I got in, soggy and grateful, and told my driver—a short, bald, man in his sixties, dressed conservatively (though quite typically for someone of his generation)—where I needed to go. He shook his head affirmatively, and we sped off.
Interested in chatting, I began making trivial comments about the unusually rainy weather (Valencia hadn’t seen precipitation in quite a while). But my driver just nodded, wishing, it seemed, to drive in silence.
No problem: I retrieved my cell phone to make some overdue calls.
As soon as I began dialing, however, I realized that even if my driver didn’t want to make small talk with me, he wasn’t seeking quiet. He reached over, pulled a CD from a box in the passenger seat, inserted the disc into the car’s stereo, adjusted the volume, and sat back.
In the two or three seconds before any sound was actually emitted, some part of my mind considered the various types of Spanish music that I might expect to hear.
Imagine my surprise when—
“UNO! DOS! TRÉS! CATORCE!”
—U2’s upbeat “Vertigo,” from How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, filled the car.
The quality of the stereo was impressive, and the volume was high (my throbbing seat seemed to function as a subwoofer). But my driver never moved his head in rhythm, never mouthed any lyrics, never changed his body language or facial expression in at all. He just drove and listened.
And so did I.
By the time we arrived at the airport, we’d made our way through roughly half the album, and I’d enjoyed a most welcome, if unexpected, aural treat.
In some curious show of respect, we sat at the departures curb until the song we were listening to had ended. The driver then turned off the stereo, took my money, and gave me my change and a receipt.
I stepped out the door and was about to walk away, but I had a question I couldn’t resist. I put my head back into the cab and asked, “So you like U2?”
Without turning around, and with no apparent sense of irony, he said, “It’s my seventeen-year old son’s. He buys a lot of music, and when he’s tired of something, he throws it in the trash. I pull it out and put it in my box, here, and listen to it when I drive.”
More intrigued than ever, I sat back down in the seat. “So you must be familiar with a lot of contemporary music,” I queried.
“Not really,” he answered. “I just hear bits of this and that.”
“Hmmm,” I said. “Very interesting.”
Smiling, I gathered my things, stepped back out of the cab, and began to walk away.
As I did, I heard my driver call out.
“I like Boy better.”