Taxi Driver (In L.A)

Categorised as TRAVEL.

I was kind of kidnapped by a Crazy Korean Taxi Driver. Everyone has a stock story that they wheel out to wow new friends slash new girls slash new work colleagues and this is mine:

When I was 18 and had finished doing A-levels at a rubbish college in York and had no prospects whatsoever, I decided to fly out to Los Angeles to meet my friend Jacob, who was also 18 and also just finished at the same rubbish college in York but had loads of prospects due to working hard and getting opportunities, such as going to Los Angeles to intern with ultra-hipster production company ‘The Director’s Bureau’.

I flew out in October 2006, when everyone in Britain was still shitting themselves about possible terrorist plots to blow them out of the air. As I stood in a massive line of fat kids in combats and their parents, waiting to be searched the hell out of, I could already feel an ominous feeling growing inside me about the turn that this trip was about to take (obviously this is nothing but dramatic embellishment that two years of milking this story to breaking point has given me – I was almost certainly just faintly bored and listening to ‘The Chronic’ to get me in the mood). So now it’s my turn to go through and I’m taking off my belt and shoes and all that when suddenly I get pulled into a room for a random-routine-in-depth-search and through some amazingly effective airport-security-thorough-ness they found the two fake i.d.s that I had bought to help me and Jacob combat the draconian drinking laws of the land of the free. I’d like to say I was slammed up against a wall by an Aryan aviator-wearing officer (for some reason as I’m typing this I’m imagining him with a cigar and Texan accent as well but even I recognise that that’s too far fetched for this particular telling of the tale), but it just meant these two fat guys started tutting at me and asking me if I had any idea how much paper work not letting me on the plane was going to cause and so on and so on.

As time went on and my plane’s departure grew nearer they eventually decided that it was less hassle to throw away the little plastic threats to sobriety and let me fly than do their job – within 45 minutes I was in the air with X-men 3 on a tiny little screen in front of me and a massive obese kid in ¾ length combats on a tiny little seat next to me.

Oh I was flying high alright, but who knew the depths of public-transportation hell that I would sample before arriving in the haven of Jacob’s Hollywood Hills apartment…?

Upon arrival at LAX, I phoned Jacob (courtesy of the kind lady at the car rental counter, if you’re reading this – thankyou!), who informed me that I was to catch a ‘cab’ to the downtown metro station where I would meet him. I strolled out of the airport and into the first in a long line of yellow, chequer-board taxis: ‘Never mind which coast specifically I’m on, this truly is America!’ I thought, as I happily gave the driver my destination. Off we went and everything was fine for about three minutes.

About three minutes and one second into the journey, the driver, a seemingly pleasant little Korean guy with endearingly horn-rimmed glasses on, makes a phonecall, in which he says pretty much nothing but ‘where’s my money?’, ‘you got my money’, and ‘NO! Fifty dollar! Not thirty!’. He slams the phone down, tells me he’s really sorry but he’s gonna have to make a quick detour and is that alright and it won’t take more than two minutes max well five minutes max and before I know it he’s done a massive u-turn in the middle of the road and we’re off. I, being British, a pussy, and already a bit uncomfortable, respond with: ‘oh no, um, that’s alright, but, um, maybe you could just drop me back at the airport and I’ll get another taxi’. We fly past the airport and I sink a little further into my seat.
After about ten minutes of driving, both of us in silence, I ask him if we’re anywhere near the downtown metro station yet (we’re not, we’re going in completely the opposite direction), at which point a dialogue finally opened between the two of us:

‘So sorry sir, it’s just my friendSteve, I need to get the money from him and then we’ll be on our way.’
‘Honestly, if you just let me out, I can find another-‘
‘It’s just Steve – I’m sorry he’s my best friend but – Steve… he’s a fucking nigger!’
‘A fucking lazy nigger! And I’m not racist sir oh no … a fucking nigger he is. Here just take this.’
At which point he passes a black briefcase through the hatch, says to ‘just look after this for me’ and resumes his ranting. It’s at this point that I realise I really really don’t want to be in the back of this possibly drug dealing, definitely racist psycho’s car with his briefcase full of godknowswhat between my legs and no mobile phone in my pocket. I seriously consider attempting a (somewhat appropriately) Hollywood-style ‘leap and roll’ from the speeding vehicle but massively chicken out as soon as my hand brushes against the door lever.

After about another forty minutes of driving and long silences punctuated by bursts of English/Korean ranting and raving, we pull into the front bit (what’s that called?) of probably the swankiest hotel I’ve ever seen. I was soon to learn that we are in fact in an area of LA known as the ‘marina del ray’ and if I were to get chopped up and dumped anywhere around here it would take a long time for anyone looking along the route between LAX and the (seemingly mythical to me at this point) downtown metro station. The driver parks up, tells me he won’t be long, winds down his window, and starts shouting ‘Steve!’ at literally every black man who walks within 25 metres of the car. So much for Steve being his ‘best friend’.

‘I think I’m just gonna get out here,’ I say, ‘get another taxi.’
‘What? I drive you all the way to marina – you have to fucking pay me!’
Here I lose it and start yelling at him, screaming: ‘well where’s the fucking downtown metro station then? The downtown metro station!’
This outburst seems to stun him temporarily and I go to open the door, feeling, in my jet-lagged and kidnap-addled mind, that I’ve somehow scored a victory against all those American rappers who say British rappers will never be big because they’re just not hard enough (this clearly has nothing to do with anything). All my cockiness immediately deserts me when I realise he’s locked me in.

To cut a tedious and humiliating exchange short, I eventually pay him 50 dollars and he opens the door. I tumble out of the car and into the lobby of this hotel where I’m suddenly surrounded by fat bankers, who look like extras from a Bret Easton Ellis novel with their five-thousand dollar suits and slick hair, and even fatter ‘rap superstars’, who basically look like toddlers in their knee length tshirts and too comfortable ‘sweat pants’. Being, at the time, a scruffy little indie kid with jet lag and smelly armpits and a massive backpack, I was jumped on by all manner of bellboy and hostess and receptionist who demanded to know ‘if I needed any help?’

After telling them what happened (ah, the first ever telling of the story – even that was kind of enjoyable), they were kind enough to order me a reputable taxi that took me all the way to the Hollywood Hills, courtesy of whatever hotel it was, whereupon I met Jacob and went on to spend the best two months of my life.
Oh and yeah I know using the word ‘kidnapped’ is way too dramatic for what actually happened to me. Sorry Madeleine, Shannon etc.

words & photos James Darton


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