Ted’s been giving me earache about taxis. Which surprises me. For someone who dislikes walking as intensely as Ted, I’d have thought he’d be in white limo heaven.
“I’ve just been down to that little cafe, the Sweet Nothing.” He leans against the corridor wall, chomping on a breakfast wrap, bacon, eggs and sausages disappearing into his mouth, and tomato sauce dripping onto his shirt. “Less than twenty yards around the side of the building, and three bloody drivers shouted out taxi!”
“And guess what happened on Tuesday.” Ted’s mouth is packed with food. “We were just getting out of one taxi, and this second driver came over and asked if we wanted another one! Bloody parasites.”
“Yes.” For the second occasion in just over a day, I have to agree with him. Every second vehicle in Apia is a taxi. Roughly one taxi for every ten people. Except every ten people don’t need a taxi. Most of them can’t afford it. They travel on each other’s laps on a bus, or standing upright with twenty other men in the back of a ute. Much of the time, taxi-drivers have nothing to do. They spend their day playing pool, or calling out ‘Taxi’ after every passing tourist.
After two months, I’ve grown used to their touting – and tooting as well. They know how to sound their horns; it’s a requirement of the job. And not really a toot, but a peep – short and sharp and to the point, like a policeman’s whistle. They peep at anything that moves: a car dithering, a wonky grating, a tourist unfolding a map; at days that start with ‘T’, ‘S’, ‘F’ or ‘W’, at shops that blast twenty-four-seven music, at anyone who looks like they might want to cross the road, and at everyone who doesn’t.
If Samoa had a dollar for every peep by a taxi-driver, it would be a very rich nation.
In Apia, taxis rule.
It’s not oversupply though. It’s more than that. It’s taxi-cide. They queue like lemmings, spilling over the curb.
“This guy came up to me the other day and asked how long we’d been here.” Ted gobbles down the last of his breakfast and smears a hand across his lips. “I told him a month and he looked at me like I’d punched him in the balls.”
“He didn’t expect that?”
“The cheeky beggar wanted to know where we were staying. I told him Aggie Gray’s, which ain’t no lie since we were there at the beginning.”
“And he offered you a ride?”
“Worse. Wanted to sell me a tour around the island, only three hundred Tala plus entrance fees. Guess what? I gave him the finger.”
That was Ted through and through. More than a match for any taxi-driver. If every tourist was as frank, maybe they’d get the message. Stop acting as opportunists, and club together to offer organised tours through the hotels. There’s a dearth of good tourist services in Samoa. The taxi-drivers could transform themselves into local heroes overnight.
“Anyway, I’ve had this T-shirt printed up. A little message for them.” Ted points at his breakfast stained torso, at white letters that read ‘Talofa’.
“Hello?” I translate.
“Sure. And this too.” He turns around to show me similar letters on his back. Not ‘no regerts’ like the tattoo on that TV advert.
But ‘Taxi Not Required’ in neon white.