Expat Extra: Tales from the fast lane

Taking about the early days in Buenos Aires, songwriter Richard Shindell says he made use of taxi drivers on whom to practise his Spanish and rediscovered a quirky obsession with cabs.

“I found talking to taxi drivers helpful as you could get into a cab, make a fool of yourself, then never see the person again!

“When I first got here, I was fascinated that all the taxis were numbered. And I thought ‘wow, wouldn’t it be great to get into taxi number one day?’ So I was always looking out of the corner of my eye for it. One day I saw 212, then next time, a number 13.

“One day, I saw number one so I flagged him down and got in. I didn’t have anywhere to go, so when he asked me, I said: ‘I don’t know. I wanted to get in because you’re taxi number one!’ He thought it was so strange, but he didn’t even know the story as it wasn’t his car. I never saw taxi number one ever again.

“I have a fascination with taxis in general and have a fantasy of driving a cab in Buenos Aires. I’ve often thought it would be a good source of songs, the shock and amazement when the passengers get in and realize a yanqui is driving them around. That in itself would be worth it for a couple of days!”

Shindell wouldn’t be the first North American to take to the mean streets of the capital. He says: “There’s a guy from New York who runs a taxi service, and he has the only Lincoln in the Southern Cone.”

Despite the quirky obsession, Shindell says he is genuinely tired of driving in Buenos Aires and bought a folding bike a month ago. Given that he is relatively new to the cycling circuit, I ask whether he has participated in the monthly Critical Mass bike ride. Incredulous that it has been going on under his nose without his knowing, he says: “But this sounds fascinating! I’ve got to find out what these people think and why they think it!” Now he is mobile in a different fashion, the songwriter is on a new voyage of discovery.

“I’ve always continued my nocturnal power walks — it’s one of my ‘things’ — but walking, you can only go so far and I got fed up going to the same places. So if I do the same thing on a bicycle, I can go way further and see way more.

“The day after I got my bicycle I went from Belgrano to La Boca. I went completely crazy! But it only has one gear and these small wheels so you pedal, pedal, pedal. It’s not designed to travel the 14km I went that day — in fact I almost destroyed it!”

Which quirky porteños make the final cut into future songs remain to be seen but with so many streets to cycle down, Shindell won’t be short of a new balloon man or street juggler.

For Richard Shindell’s Expat interview, click here.

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