The taxi driver was frantic as he humped and bumped and cussed and fussed his way through rush-hour traffic. But since I was his passenger and in a hurry, it was okay with me.
"Can we make it by 5?" I asked. The driver, who hails from Africa, responded by maneuvering his rusty black car for hire through a series of gaps that soon had us at the head of the pack. And while the bypassed motorists could be heard yelling, "Stupid b . . . " and other obscenities, we were on our merry way.
"Look at that dummy," said the cabbie, beaming in on a man waiting to make a right turn on red. The cabbie broke out across the double yellow lines and headed down the wrong side of the street. With his cab bouncing and swaying like a ride at Kings Dominion, he hooked the right turn, cutting in front of the driver at the red light.
"We gonna make this with time to spare," he said.
Now this was my kind of cabdriver. No all-news radio chitchat. No Bible verses. No little homilies from wise men chauffeured from Capitol Hill. Just pedal to the metal.
There are about 11,000 licensed cab drivers in Washington, more than there are in any other city in the country. It seems like there are too many for some people. So a law has been proposed that would cut the number by 500 and require hackers to pass a 50-question multiple-choice examination that would test their knowledge of taxicab regulations, the area and English.
But one ride with my determined cabbie shows that the test ought to be administered across the board -- especially to commuters.
Like the woman from Virginia who slowed us down when she stopped in the middle of the street to read a map. Or the man from Maryland who pulled out into the middle of the intersection knowing that the light was about to turn red and that he would be blocking oncoming traffic. Or the motorcyclist who drove between two lanes of cars, sneaking his way to the head of the line -- then creeping along.
The law should also be aimed at delivery trucks that block precious lane space during rush hour. Out of the blue they stop, turn on those flashing lights and sit. And, finally, there should be one for tourists who must think they have bumpers on their behinds because they walk out into oncoming traffic.
But instead, they pick on the cabbies -- and struggling foreigners at that.
In the past few years, from 12 to 14 cab companies have been started by foreign-born business persons who employ foreigners. This rise has been cited as the reason for an increase in the number of cab drivers refusing to transport black people. But you just don't come to Washington from, say, Nigeria believing that you don't take blacks to Southeast Washington or that black men don't tip as much as white men do. You learn that stuff right here.
My driver had not become that "sophisticated" yet. And he picked me up without even a suspicious eye. His cabbie code was simple: He'd get you where you wanted to go on time, anytime -- a little frazzled but in one piece, and tips would be thanked with a smile. Although his conveyance had plenty of fender nicks and his doors wore several coats of paint, there was no blood on the interior.
Caught up in the excitement of our mission, I began to rant and rave. When a car brazenly pulled out in front of us, I yelled, "Son of a . . . . " The cabbie finished my thought and, not to be outdone, sped around the car and pulled back in front of him -- then slowed down, for irritation effects.
The driver of the car behind us hucked and bucked like he was going to ram the taxi. But the cabbie knew better, and just laughed at the driver, who I could see fuming through a rear-view mirror.
Surely, this was the kind of cabbie that city officials are trying to restrict with the proposed law to limit cabbies. The idea is that there are too many foreign-born cabbies who don't understand the rules of the road.
But from what I could tell, they know the rules as well as anybody else. Rule one is that driving in Washington is a dirty job. And for a couple of bucks you can get somebody else to do the dirty work.