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.