Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff

I GO SOMEWHERE, I TAKE A CAB

BACK IN 1995 I researched a story contrasting taxi cabs of London, Stuttgart and Tokyo. I saw this as a companion to “Three Subterranean Transportation Systems,” R&T, April 1994, to wit, the London Underground, Paris Metro and Tokyo Subway. For the Underground, see this website’s http://wp.me/p2ETap-FV. See http://wp.me/p2ETap-Sa for the Metro.

I gleaned excellent tidbits about taxis in Stuttgart (all Mercedes-Benz diesels), Tokyo (I still have a pair of white gloves given to me during the research) and London (The Knowledge was highly revered).

My R&T taxi piece was never written. However, a recent article in T, The Magazine of the New York Times brings matters up to date as they relate to the London taxi. “The Knowledge, London’s Legendary Taxi-Drive Test, Puts Up a Fight in the Age of GPS,” by Jody Rosen, is extensive and, at more than 9000 words (http://goo.gl/ei4F63), rather more than might have ever been crammed into R&T.

My own knowledge of The Knowledge mingles in memory with a movie about taxis that I saw at about the same time.

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The ubiquitous London black cab no longer need be black, but there is tradition, you know.

Briefly, The Knowledge is used to qualify those wishing to earn a “green badge,” to become a London black-cab driver. These days, London cabs, formally Hackney carriages, aren’t all this color. Also, there are less rigorously controlled minicabs (that can’t be hailed on the street) and, the latest option, Uber, smart-phone-based ride-sharing.)

According to its instruction manual, the London Taxi and Private Hire requires “a thorough knowledge, primarily, of the area within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross.”

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A six-mile radius of Charing Cross, London, takes in scads of streets, locations and landmarks.

A series of tests includes around 25,000 streets and also “anywhere a taxi passenger might ask to be taken.” The LTPH Blue Guide contains a list of 360 trips from location A to location B, “runs” that a test taker must know cold. Names of museums, shops, pubs and other landmarks, “points” in the vernacular, are also fair game.

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A Google-Eye view of Charing Cross, the intersection of the Strand, Whitehall and Cockspur Street, London.

Those acquiring The Knowledge work at it full-time, typically for three years or more. They can be seen riding around London on motor scooters, at all hours of the day or night, in any weather, as they practice runs and learn points with notes and maps.

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Acquiring The Knowledge. Image from http://goo.gl/jlxnZE.

The stakes are high. A London taxi driver earns around £65,000 ($100,000) a year. He and, increasingly these days, she are independent businesspeople setting their own hours (and hoping to regain income lost while studying The Knowledge).

The movie, something of a cult flick, is Night on Earth. This 1991 indie collects five vignettes of taxis in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki.

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Night on Earth (The Criterion Collection) written and directed by Jim Jarmusch (http://goo.gl/PVsQX).

The movie is a humour noir illuminating human nature in ways that are touching, depressing and, at times, screamingly funny. My favorite is the wacky Roman cabbie whose overly explicit confessions drive his priest fare to rather more than distraction. Each episode is in its local language, English, French, Italian and Finnish.

I saw this flick, with subtitles throughout, in Paris and thought it was a French film. Only later did I learn about Jim Jarmusch, (a fellow native of the Cleveland area) who wrote and directed it. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014

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