Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Free Ride

On winter nights, the main road is dark. You can barely make out the white trunks of the eucalyptus trees and you only know the lemon trees are there because of the fragrance. I had to squint to read the sign on the dolmuş, but one going my direction soon rattled along and I held out my hand. Getting a dolmuş to stop is usually easy. Sometimes it's almost too easy: even when you don't want one, the driver honks and waves as you walk along the road, minding your own business. If you happen to catch his eye -- it is always a man -- the dolmuş will instantly stop with a squeal of brakes and a spray of roadside gravel. Sometimes they even do this even when you're going in the opposite direction. This is because there are more dolmuş than there are people who want to ride in them, and they tend to be eager for passengers.

This one stopped so fast it made me jump. The driver was obviously eager for passengers.

I reached for the door handle, but oddly the door was already open. Which was weird, because you usually have to heave like nobody's business to wrestle the sliding doors open. I got on, bending and twisting myself into the classic getting-on-a dolmuş crouch. Then, because I am the sort of person who cannot resist shutting doors or turning off lights behind me, I tried to shut it. Too late, I realized it was an automatic door; it was shutting on its own. And too late I saw it: the dolmuş I had gotten into was a fancy, luxurious one.

The driver was wearing what looked like a clean shirt and pressed trousers instead of the grubby sweatshirt and greasy cap the usual drivers wear. Dangling from the rear view mirror was a single tasteful strand of beads, not the gaudy jumble of dice, prayer beads, and tinsel that dominate 20% of the average dolmuş windscreen. It was also eerily quiet. Most dolmuş drivers wouldn't think of cruising along without arabica blaring from their CD players. And there were hardly any other passengers. No cackling grannies with their bulging bags of vegetables and bundles of old cloth, no headkerchief-wearing housewives gossiping, no giggling schoolgirls or intense young men with noisy mobile phones. The seats were different too; only the dark had prevented me from noticing it right away: there were no tears in the clean, new-looking fabric. I patted the cushion surreptitiously and no cloud of dust puffed up. Most worrying of all, there was no price list.

Uh oh!

No doubt about it: this was going to cost me three times the normal rate. I got on one of these fancy dolmuş last year and I vowed I'd never do it again. My lucky night.

Five minutes later, half a dozen people got on. By the time we were near my stop, a respectable number of passengers had joined us. A man in the front seat tapped the back of the driver's seat. "Oi," he said waving a note over the driver's shoulder, "Let me off here."

The driver stopped, took the man's note, and gave him a handful of change. The man got off, but before the driver could pull away, the newly departed passenger rapped the driver's window and called something out in Turkish. The driver muttered something back. Reaching into a pouch, he handed the passenger a bill. Fancy as the dolmuş was, it was still too dark for the driver to see he'd given the wrong change.

Two girls got off next. One of them handed the driver a five-lira note and got back a handful of change. Hooray! It looked I wouldn't to have to fork out triple after all! I took four lira out of my wallet and let out a sigh of relief: I'd really lucked out.

When we reached my stop, I handed the driver my four lira and waited for my half lira change. He looked at my money, frowned at me at and muttered something in Turkish. I smiled and shook my head and he fumbled in his pouch for my change, then dropped the coins into my hand. It felt like a lot of change considering, but it was too dark to see.

When I got home, I looked at the coins in my hand. Five lira.

Instead of paying triple the fare, I'd had myself a free ride. In fact, it was better than that: the driver had actually paid me one and a half lira for the privilege of riding in his fancy dolmuş. I practically skipped the rest of the way home: it really was my lucky day.

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20 comments:

Chocolatesa said...

Haha!!! That'll teach him to have his dolmus lit up better!!

Bish Denham said...

Luxury that pays! I bet someone was mad at him when he got home....

Vijaya said...

I wonder ... what if he did this on purpose? Makes my heart warm to think it.

MG Higgins said...

At this rate, that poor drive won't have a business much longer. Very funny.

Mary Witzl said...

Chocolatesa -- When he went home and totted up his earnings, I'll bet he regretted his lighting. And bad eyesight...

Bish -- I wonder if he even knew? If I'd noticed it right away, I'd have given the money back. I think he was worried that he might have shortchanged ME as well as the other passenger.

Vijaya -- No way did he do that on purpose -- especially since it was one of the really posh dolmuş with an automatic door. It was that door that really scared me: doors you don't have to wrestle open are serious luxury.

MGH -- That's what I thought! I tried to rationalize it, though: ("I've been ripped off enough here myself...") But I still feel bad. And the awful thing is, it was too dark for me to recognize him or (I sort of hope) vice versa.

Robin said...

I think what he muttered in Turkish was, "I'm dumb and I can't do math."

Postman said...

Lucky indeed! Man, that about makes up for last time, I reckon.

I gotta get over to Turkey. Those dolmus sound like a real sweet ride.

Well, not really. But they sound like a cultural experience, anyway.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I always figure I lose money when I travel. One time on the TGV rolling through Provence on our way to Orly, I asked (in French) from the dining car attendant, how much my orange juice cost. She told me in French.. which I, of course, didn't understand. After an awkward moment of mutual staring, my jaw dropped as she reached right in to my wallet and pulled the money directly out herself. Oh well, I would soon be on the plane back home and have no use for Francs after that anyway!!

I still sometimes wonder just how much that orange juice actually cost me.

Kim Ayres said...

:)

Chocolatesa said...

Robert: Wow! Haha! that was a great story :D

Falak said...

Wish the autorickshaw drivers here were as kind......... :) It was a great read!

Patrick said...

What a lucky day for you. =)

Charles Gramlich said...

Sometimes a fancy Dolmus is a lottery machine.

Miss Footloose said...

It's always fun to get lucky like this, but I hope the mistake was due to the lack of light and not the driver's actual eyesight! How good / safe are the dolmus drivers? In Armenia they were notoriously bad, but then most drivers there were ;) For one thing, they didn't believe traffic lights were meant for them.

Mary Witzl said...

Robin -- No, that would have been MY line! I'm betting we were both thinking about a nice drink and a good long sit-down.

Postman -- I've been ripped off a lot here; foreigners are seen as a good source of revenue to be freely tapped. I felt a weird combination of delight at having ended up better off for once and sympathy for the driver.

Robert -- That's happened to me too. During my first week here, I just held out a hand full of coins myself and hoped for the best. I've figured out Turkish numbers now, but I'll bet I lost a fair amount of change myself. Still, it's a small price to pay for the fun of being able to tell the story, don't you think?

Kim -- I needed something to smile about...

Falak -- Thank you!

I think it wasn't so much kindness as it was confusion -- and bad visibility. But getting back a lira instead of forking out a big bunch of change was a real treat.

Patrick -- Yes, and I seldom have this kind of luck. It will never happen again, but I'm thrilled all the same.

Charles -- Yep. And this is as close as I'll get to a lucky strike on a slot machine.

Miss Footloose -- Just after the driver gave the shortchanged man the extra bill, he started off without checking his rear-view mirror and almost creamed somebody who was trying to pass him. The driving standards here are not high. Dolmuş drivers are technically skilled, but they take ridiculous risks. I think my over-changing driver had reasonable long sight, but less-than-perfect short sight. And he could use another bulb in his inside light too!

Charlie said...

Since your ESL students are not very good at ESL, perhaps you should experiment with their counting skills. You might find out that they can't count any better than their American counterparts.

gypsyscarlett said...

I wonder how long it will take him to fix his lights.

laura said...

This sounds a bit like something from The Twilight Zone. Why do I have a feeling that those 5 lira are really cursed and that no good will come from spending them! On the other hand it's nice to know that dim lighting does more for us than just make us look better!
Now listen up! I have another purse contest going on and I'm in desperate need of embarrassing stories! Surely you have one, and you have until Wednesday December 9 to get one to me!!! Help!

debra said...

And who said there is nothing like a free ride!

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