Posts Tagged 'Taxis'

Las Vegas

The noise coming from the cheesy cab radio was odd. Not music. Not conversation. More like a garbled roaring sound, punctuated by the announcer’s voice speaking what could have been a foreign language.

The cab driver was disinterested in his passengers and only spoke when asked a question. Most of the time it was, “How long before we get there?”

His repeated stock response was, “Nine minutes.” I stopped asking the question when I realized he had no idea how long it would be, since he had not activated his GPS.

His official ID that hung from the visor assured me that he was an authorized driver. His name was Max.

Max looked like he was wearing last week’s unwashed clothes. A short-sleeved shirt, multicolored shorts, and plantar fasciitis provoking flip-flops. He was bald on top and sported long, uncombed curls on the sides. He was fixated on the radio and occasionally banged his fist on the steering wheel in response to the broadcaster’s periodic announcements. He muttered disappointedly when something disturbed him, which was often.

I listened more closely. The radio announcer was indeed speaking English. He seemed to be talking about cars. My curiosity got the better of me and I asked Max, “What are you listening to.”

Showing mild annoyance he said, “It’s the NASCAR race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I’ve got some money on it.”

My initial thought was, gee I didn’t know they had NASCAR races in Las Vegas. I was even more surprised that you could bet on them. And then I banished those naïve thoughts when I remembered we were in Vegas, where you can bet on anything until they take all your money, and probably even after that.

Unlike other cities, Vegas has more taxis than Ubers. It’s as though all the old, abandoned taxis from L.A., New York and Chicago have been sent here to die, just like the elephant graveyard. 

Our first taxi encounter is at the airport where we are greeted by a line of cabs that must have circled the earth twice. Despite the possibility of a riot fomented by people anxious to lose their life savings, the line was carefully organized and reined in by workers who, like other gaming mecca employees, are either current or former gambling addicts. Nice enough people, they seem to be just biding their time waiting for their shift to end and return to the tables and slots.

The airport cabs charge a flat fee of $28 for a ride to any of the hotels on the strip. I thought it was pretty cheap, until I discovered that it only took about five minutes to get to our hotel, the Palazzo.

The Palazzo is a newish tower adjacent to its older and somewhat faded sister hotel, the Venetian. True to their names, they have an architectural design that mimics the palatial mansion that Al Pacino lived in immediately prior to his assassination by the mob in the 1983 movie, Scarface.

Descendants of some of the characters in the movie can be found wandering the casinos, disguised as pit bosses. You can easily identify them since they are the only people wearing business suits, ties, and rings on their pinkies. Most everyone else is wearing shorts, tie-dyed shirts and, like Max the taxi driver, flip flops.

Our cab dropped us in front of the Palazzo where we were swept into what seemed like a moving sidewalk of moneyless guests departing, while arrivals like us still had what proved to be only temporary ownership of our finances.

Registration was easy as we were professionally handled by Ramon, a glib young man who might have come from a Wall Street investment banking firm before falling under the influence of the devil. He upgraded our room, itemized a bunch of perks, and took multiple images of my American Express card which might, in short order, be maxed out.

Although Max brazenly forsook his cab’s GPS for directions, we could have used one to get from the registration desk to our room. Instead, Ramon simply told us to hook a left and watch for the overhead signs. “You’ll be fine.”

Any Vegas hotel planner worth his salt will design it so that you can only reach your room (and a welcoming pee break) by marching through the casino. After an absence of 25 years, I had forgotten what the inside of a casino looked like. I was soon reminded.

Bright lights and noise are the principal components of the massive money eating enclosure. Devoid of any daylight, thereby assuring the victim that the time of day was irrelevant, the casino is a Walt Disney animated movie in garish technicolor. Noise comes at you from multiple sources including ten feet tall slots that advertise jackpots that probably paid off during the last ice age.

Periodic shrieks at the craps tables announce a lucky winner who, despite multiple selfie promises of, “Just one more time”, will assuredly re-deposit his winnings with the faceless croupier.

While I was intent on finding the yellow brick road to our room, Jackie fixated on the slots and slowed my march. Her eyes glazed over, and her breathing slowed. As though in a trance she said, “I see the machine I want.” It was the Wheel of Fortune. Her eyes brightened. Her pace quickened. Her hand was on her wallet. The machine pulled her in like it was a life-size electromagnet. It was love at first sight. I felt abandoned.

But that’s another story.

We missed the bus

Arriving at the San Diego airport after my seven-hour train ride, we discovered a vacant spot where fifteen minutes earlier the Rancho La Puerta chartered bus had once stood, ready to take us to the Mexican border crossing in Tecate. Our travel plans were now in disarray. We would need to find a way to get to the border on our own. Then cross it and somehow get to the Rancho, our intended spa for the next seven days.

Cellphone communications with the spa revealed that we were not alone in their missing persons file cabinet. Others, foolish enough to trust the veracity of plane and train schedules, had apparently run afoul of similar circumstances. The spa had a ready answer to how we might reach the Mexican border. “Take a taxi, it’ll cost about $100”, they said. “Call us when you get there, and we’ll send someone to collect you.” Perhaps not wholly reassuring, it was the best we could hope for given our foolhardiness in trusting Amtrak.

Jackie had reserved an airport valet parking spot at a cost almost equal to what I paid for my first car some fifty years ago. Inflation can be insidious. We pulled up to valet parking and found that the attendant, a lovely young woman, was skilled in speaking the English language. That is, she appeared skilled, until you noticed that her words did not always fit together in a meaningful way. At times, it seemed her responses were intended for someone else who was looking over my shoulder.

I’m not xenophobic. Nor do I begrudge anyone the right to make a fair living. But, when one is about to turn over a forty-thousand-dollar blemish free Mercedes for seven-day safekeeping at a uncaring airport, one might be forgiven for expecting a basic level of communication skills. I asked, “Are you the person who will park our car?”, The comely young lady responded “I’m Natasha. Can I help yourself?” Rephrasing my question, I said “Natasha, you can be of great help to us. We have a reservation for one of your parking spaces. Will you park the car for us?” Smiling, she responded “Do you have any reservations?” I wanted to say “Yes, Natasha…about you.” However, I remembered my Ukrainian-born parents, and restrained myself.

Other one syllable questions narrowed our differences. And Jackie’s penchant for retaining evidentiary materials that supported our claim to a reserved space sealed the deal. We asked where we might find a taxi. Natasha pointed her finger across the street and said “Taxi, there.” Natasha made it clear that the only way to get to the taxi stand was to go with bags in hand into the airport, take the escalator up one floor and use bridge over the street to find nirvana.

The spa had suggested we take an Orange taxi for the trip to the border. It took us a few moments to realize that Orange was the name of the taxi company, not the color of their cars. Afraid to cause mass hysteria among the drivers waiting their turn in line, we dutifully schlepped our bags past a dozen Orange taxis and arrived at the front of the lineup. A friendly face greeted us with, “I’m Boris, welcome to my taxi.” I restrained myself from asking the obvious question, “Are you all from Eastern Europe?”

Instead, I told Boris where we were headed. Forgetting the first rule about asking a cabbie how much, I said “The spa said that the ride would cost about $100.” With just the slightest hesitation he said “Yes, that’s right.” I could have kicked myself.

Boris had a lot to say. I felt true kinship as he rattled on about his two cabs whose medallions had each cost him just short of two hundred thousand dollars. And were now selling for bupkis in the age of Uber and Lyft. And his five children, each of whom had or were attending some rather expensive schools. I decided on a larger tip.

It took about forty-five minutes to reach Tecate on the Mexican border. The only evidence of an invasion by any sanctuary seeking Central Americans were two bored Mexican soldiers leaning against a wall.

We exited Boris’s taxi $100 lighter and were greeted by Raoul, the emissary from the spa. Speaking English better than I can, he said “I am here to escort you through Mexican customs and then give you a ride to Rancho La Puerta. Welcome to Mexico.” The skies brightened considerably and the weight that had been residing on my shoulders for the last ten hours suddenly began to lift.

The customs office is situated in the same complex that houses both a PayLess shoe store and a 7/11 mini-mart. Raoul led us through one of those one-way turnstiles that seems to promise to encase you for life should you stop it from spinning. We entered a small concrete block building and were introduced to Julio, the man of authority in these parts. Julio asked us to sit on plastic chairs behind a four-foot long table that bore nothing but two pencils.

We were asked to fill out some forms that would allow us to enter the country. Instructions were delivered by Julio in shotgun fashion that seemed intended to test us. I was reminded of an old World War II spy movie that might have starred Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland. The one where the Nazis question them in an effort to discover the names of the Resistance ring leaders. Like Danny Kaye starring in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I felt like leaping over the table, sucker-punching Julio, grabbing Jackie and, with guns blazing, find my way back to the good old USA.

To no one’s surprise, there was the obligatory discussion about the cost of the visas that would allow us to exit Julio’s clutches. “That will be twenty-eight American dollars each.”, said Julio. I handed him three twenties. I never saw the four dollars change.

The ride with Raoul to Rancho La Puerta was made in inky darkness.


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