It’s ten o’clock in the morning and I am in rough shape. I left the club some time after 3am, somewhere around the time I remembered I was 36 years old and most of those people gyrating on the dance floor still had a few years to go before they would hear their knees crackle every time they stoop down to pick up their false teeth.
But now I’m in the back of a cab under bright Bahamian sunshine. I’ve got my wrap-arounds wrapped around bloodshot eyes and I’m trying not to fully express how polluted I really am. The cabbie is having none of it.
“Ah mon!” he said. I want to tell him I know I am in the Bahamas–not in Jamaica–and that he can cool it with all the “Mon” stuff, but my head hurts and I still have more than half an hour before we’re at the airport. So he continues. “Ah, mon! Couple of Kaliks will fix you right up.”
Kalik is the local beer of the Bahamas. It’s name is onomatopoeia for the sound the cowbells make in the annual Junkanoo parade held on the island. It’s good, and comes in several varieties, including Lite, Premium, and Extra Strength. “That’s malt liquor,” Matt had said of the 7.5% Extra Strength variety the night before. When I laughed, he said, “No, it is malt liquor.” Regardless, it’s hard–and may be impossible–to find Kalik anywhere but the Bahamas, so I drink it a lot while I’m there. It’s not the best beer in the world, but once you develop a taste for it, you crave it.
“Fix you right up, mon!” the cabbie says. Again with the “mon.” He is skinny, graying, and looks older than he probably is.
“I’ve had enough Kalik for the year,” I say, and lean over in the backseat far enough that whatever pressure is sitting on my eyeballs can flow to one side of my head. This pain will pass by the time I get on the plane, but for the moment, I’m remembering that hangovers are cumulative and I may be in for a couple days of detox.
“Ah, mon!” The cabbbie won’t quit it, and it occurs to me that maybe he actually is Jamaican and just working in the Bahamas. Nobody else in the Bahamas has tried to pull the “mon” thing on me. I’m just about to settle on that resolution when the cabbie says, “Then maybe you need a couple of lines to fix you up.”
“Eh?” I say from the backseat. The windows are open, the air is rushing, the radio is on, and I still have the thump-thump-all-the-single-ladies stuck in my head from a few hours before.
“Couple of lines, mon!”
The cabbie is offering to sell me blow. At ten o’clock. In the morning. On the way to the airport.
* * *
Cab drivers the world ’round know how to get you what you want. It’s universal. If you want something off-menu, they are the first to offer it up. I’ve had cabbies explain everything to me from where to get the best steak (in a place that also caters in naked women) to which massage parlors give the best kickbacks to the cab drivers. All of this to a guy who eats red meat, but not in strip clubs, and digs a massage, but not one with a happy ending.
It’s led me to believe over my years of travel that being a taxi driver is not a means to an end so much as it is a means to a means to an end. In Las Vegas, the cab drivers don’t survive on the fares they take from the airport to the MGM. They get their money from the $30-$50 a head kickbacks they get to take guys to strip clubs and up to $150 they pull in for dropping guys off at the massage parlors. That may sound seedy, but that’s how it works. Try being a guy in a cab in Vegas. The hard sell starts from the moment you get in the back seat. It usually takes half a mile to let the cabbie know he’s picked up a deadbeat who actually just wants to go to the Venetian.
But that’s just Las Vegas. In other parts of the world, the kickbacks and means to means to an end take all forms. While I was in the Bahamas, we hired a guy named Tony to take us across the bridge. When we told him the restaurant we were going to, he started a hard sell on a competitor. “The food’s much better there,” he told us. And so we bought in, he took us to his joint, escorted us in, got us a better table, and literally waited at the bar (with a beer…) for two hours for us to finish up. There was no doubt in my mind Tony was getting a kickback, and that was okay with me. My food was great and I didn’t get killed. Get in another cab, though, and you don’t know where you’re going.
A couple of years ago, I was on my way to my hotel when my cab driver pulled over and picked up a girl on the side of the road. I couldn’t hear their conversation, but I eventually naively decided the guy was picking up his friend to take her to work and she just happened to work at my hotel! And then he dropped me off and kept the girl. New read: hooker.
A friend of mine told me a story this year of getting in a Bahamas cab one night and finding his driver snorting coke in mid-trip. After that, the guy went on a major detour that took my buddies through the back streets of Nassau. Why? To score more cocaine. The driver’s business card read: “It’s always party time with Anton!”
* * *
And now here I am in the back of a cab screaming through the back streets of Nassau with a white-knuckling cabbie who no doubt has a pocketful of blow. My head is pounding, my liver hurts, and I haven’t slept much in the last few days. I have the long Nassau airport security line to get through, and there’s a part of me that wishes the cab driver would just drive straight into the ocean and leave me to float back to the beach.
“A couple of lines, mon! Will fix you right up.” He laughs like the guy in “The Serpent and the Rainbow.” He pushes too close to the center line. It’s then I decline. I don’t use coke and I’m not going to change my mind in the back of a cab on the way to the airport.
The cab driver seems disappointed, and when I tip him 20% at the end of the ride, he asks for more. Today, his means to his means didn’t reach its end.