I had an uneventful flight from Birmingham to Cincinnati on July 10 in a 50-passenger Canada Air jet. Once on the ground, I thought I was home free. Wrong! After a very pleasant Delta employee helped me to ground transportation (I am a totally blind frequent flyer), I settled into the taxi to what was normally a 25-minute ride home.
I soon became aware of the driver talking on his cell phone in some language other than English. I leaned forward and gave the driver the somewhat involved directions for the route to my house, but I got no response. It dawned on me that maybe he didn't understand a word I said.
Recently, we have had a large influx of foreign taxi drivers from another nearby city, some of those drivers reputed to know little English and even less about Cincinnati streets. Oh boy, maybe he was one of those drivers. Again, I tried giving him directions, hoping I was mistaken in my assessment, but my fears were confirmed when he handed me his cell phone. I heard his dispatcher at the other end speaking in broken English. I gave him very detailed directions to my home, having to repeat myself from time to time. Meanwhile, we continued to zoom down the road to I knew not where.
After about 40 minutes on the normally 25-minute trip, I asked him in slow, deliberate tones, "Sir, where are we?" Again, he conversed with his dispatcher. In the meantime, he slowed not even a tad, continuing lickety- split down the road at a high rate of speed. We could end up in Dayton 50 miles north or Columbus, 100 miles northeast, before I could stop him. Maybe we could even end up back in Birmingham.
After several minutes more, in desperation and hoping he would understand, I told him, "Stop." He turned onto a side street and got out. I wondered what was going to happen now. When he started talking to someone on the street, I realized this was my chance to determine where we were. I jumped out and asked for information. Someone, not my driver, reassured me in broken English that he knew exactly where I wanted to go so I should get back in the car. I recognized the voice of the dispatcher who must have raced to overtake us.
We started back up in a procession of the dispatcher's leading in one car and my taxi following him. Soon, it seemed to me that we had turned on to a street just two minutes from my home. But we kept moving for another 15 or 20 minutes! Fearfully, I asked again where we were. The procession came to a sudden halt, and the dispatcher walked back to our car to confer. It was just as I had feared. We had gone miles too far, so we got back into our respective cars and resumed our little parade back the other way.
Finally, an hour and 20 minutes after starting from the airport, we pulled up in front of my house. As I heard my wife beckon to me from our porch, I knew I had truly arrived home. The ordeal was at an end. I could still hear the voices of the dispatcher and driver engaged in an earnest argument in a language of their own as I closed our front door.
Postscript: As I look back, the situation was pretty funny. After all, I did survive the ordeal. However, on the Monday morning following my little adventure, I called the authorities at the airport hoping I could help others avoid repeating my experience. A manager with somewhat limited authority over the taxi pool had the driver removed. That pool is known as the bullpen. That order lasted only three hours. However, his company manager overrode the order and put that driver back in, so it could happen all over again. I do believe that people should have the opportunity to earn a living, but, really, shouldn't a taxi driver know enough English to be able to communicate with customers?
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