Follow the Gray Concrete Road


Between the hours of five and six, Beijing becomes an absolute mad house.  People escaping from work frantically flood the streets.  Bikes invade the roads.  Buses nearly topple over with riders squished in every imaginable corner.  Folks line the streets for yards on end poised to maul the nearest taxi in sight.  We were caught in this hurricane of traffic with one mission in mind: Silk Street.  Our first plan of action was to join the throng of taxi-seekers, but wait at the very end so as to be the first to summon one and then book it to the vehicle.  After about 15 minutes of being ignored as a mass of waving, flailing congregants by at least ten cabs, we decided to revamp.  We walked for a mile at minimum, meeting more and more agitated taxi-seekers along the way. 

It was déjà vu.  On the night of the 60th anniversary parade, a few of us were nearly stranded as streams of yellow taxis slowed and then flew past us, forfeiting rows of yuan.  The conspiracy theorist in me imagined some ridiculous mandate from the government directing the drivers.  It was contrary to the very fabric of capitalism: In a dog eat dog world, every cab driver would stop when a potential customer beckons.  However, the motivation for their odd behavior could have been the darker realm of capitalism: to drive the customers—with arms wide open–to the higher rates and greater risk of a sketchy, unmetered black taxi.  By the end of the night, we succumbed to the nearly double rate charged by the anonymous driver (his I.D. was removed from sight and he absolutely refused the request for a receipt). 

But this was another animal altogether.  It was early evening, for goodness sake.  It made no sense for there not to be enough available taxis.  After about 30 minutes of pacing, we gave up.  We both headed back to the bus stop, hoping to catch a taxi at a stop further along the route.  As we neared the stop, I continued to fling my arm toward the road, still holding on to the slight hope that an empty taxi would magically surface.  In the middle of the street, a row of buses to my immediate left revving up tauntingly, I was desperate.  One taxi, two taxis. No luck.   A third meets my glance:  Empty cab! 

The driver signals to head away from the buses toward an opening near the restless throng of cab-starved people.  Eyes widened, I sprint toward the vehicle with all my might, leaving a cloud of dust at my feet.  I see a man before me glance toward the cab hungrily.  Memories of cab-stealing where people unashamedly take off in a cab called by another fill my mind. Hastening my pace, I elbow the gentleman out of the way.  Shocked, he emits a strained scream.  We fling open the doors and jump inside.  Success!  Overcome by laughter, we chuckle loudly with the cab-driver, who in imitation clenches her fists and pantomimes frantic running.  Toppled over in giggles, we plummet into the crawling miles of gridlock.  Sigh.  One step closer to our final destination. 



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