COLUMN: April 19, 2012

I AM not a naturally trusting person. I always have to check the date from two sources before I write a cheque. I still write cheques because I don’t trust online payment methods. And if somebody tells me not to touch something because it’s hot, I have to make sure they’re not just having fun with the Man Who Paid With The Cheque Last Time.

So the idea of trusting a taxi driver in a city which I barely know does not thrill me. However, during a recent stay on the outskirts of Birmingham I was left with little alternative.

I was invited to dinner by friends. In a way, it was all their fault. Their flat was on the other side of Birmingham. The only part of Birmingham I know well is Kings Oak, where the Crossroads Motel was, and that doesn’t even exist. I called for a taxi.

My taxi arrived at my hotel. I knew it was my taxi because of the distinctive livery on the side with the name of the firm I had rung. I bounded out of the lobby, past a group of smoking men. I was feeling pretty smug, too, as the car was a Mercedes. I don’t know much about cars, but I can tell posh when I see it.

I opened the door. “Bainbridge,” I said, as I climbed in the back. The driver turned around to me. “Simpson,” he said. I had nearly stolen another man’s taxi, the worst thing one man can do to another. But nobody needed to know about this.

I climbed out again, as one of the smoking men walked calmly to the car and said the name Simpson. The other men watched me as I slunk back inside the hotel.

Five minutes later, my actual taxi arrived. I checked. Twice. The driver motioned that I should get in the front seat. This is literally the most exotic thing I have done for 20 years. It felt wrong, even in a private hire cab.

“Where to, my friend?” asked the driver. Friend? I thought. I know I’m sitting in the front seat but I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Still, they say a stranger is a friend you haven’t met and disappointed yet, and, strictly speaking, we were no longer strangers.

I told him where I wanted to go.

“And where’s that?” asked the driver.

“I’m not sure. I am from Liverpool.”

The driver humphed. I had gone from stranger to friend to disappointing Scouser in record time. He lugged a satnav out of his glove compartment. “What’s the postcode?” he asked. I told him. He tapped it in.

“There’s no such postcode,” he said.

I expected that. I had no information leading me to expect that, but I could see how things were going. Luckily, as I don’t trust anything, I had asked my friend if there were any local landmarks. He told me the name of the road off which his own road was.

I told the driver, “It’s off Namewithheld Road.” The driver looked at me again. It turns out Namewithheld Road is one of the longest roads in Birmingham. I had essentially narrowed down the location of the flat to “Birmingham.”

And so, for the next three quarters of an hour, I was driven through Birmingham, depending mostly on luck and partly on the Google map on my phone. I saw many of the sights, several times. I suspect he drove in a spiral pattern knowing eventually we would arrive at our destination.

I left Birmingham a couple of days later. I called the same taxi firm again. A car arrived at Fort Dunlop, where I was working, with a different firm’s livery on it. That sometimes happens, I thought. I stepped forward, as there were no smoking men around.

“Bainbridge?” I faltered.

“New Street Station?” said the driver. “Yes!” I said and jumped in.

I felt confident on the journey. This was clearly a man who knew his way. All was well.

And then my phone rang. It was the taxi firm. “Whereabouts in Fort Dunlop are you, mate?”

I had stolen another man’s taxi. I am not worthy of my own trust.

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