The meter keeps ticking

“I was never into cleaning or baking”, my taxi driver reasons keeping her beautifully made up eyes closely on the road ahead. It’s way too early on a Sunday morning in Helsinki. I’m her first customer of the day. It’s one of those irritating March sideways snow storms, where the snow always manages to find your bare skin. More than half a metre of snow during last night! The inner city roads need ploughing, so she has headed to a hotel taxi stand at the start of her shift in hopes of catching a customer to the airport. She’s in luck.

This powder snow may be great for skiing, but it’s quite the opposite for visibility in traffic. It doesn’t seem to bother her. She maneuvers her car confidently through the persistent snowfall. She’s 63. Driving a taxi is her weekend hobby. During the week, she works as a secretary. One morning on her way to work, there had been a show about a taxi driving school on the radio. She had applied the same day. “I love driving nice cars and meeting new people, so why not?”.

She’s been driving the day shift on weekends for 13 years now. “Financially it’s not a gold mine, but I like the difference it makes on my pension statement”, she says in that lovely Northern Finnish dialect and smiles at me in the rear-view mirror. I’m enjoying every atypical minute of the half an hour trip to the airport through the snow flurry. Finns don’t usually chat voluntarily.

I’m surprised to hear that she’s not concerned about her safety as a female taxi driver. There must be lots of drunks. She tells me that her most difficult customers are actually alcoholic older women. “You can do nothing right for them”. The complaints often start the very moment they enter the taxi. She’s been accused of making wrong route choices and being only after their money. Most hurtful, however, have been the direct personal insults against her and her appearance. I can only imagine. She’s a handsome woman. In these situations, she now simply leaves the person at the nearest taxi stand and politely wishes them a good day. No charge.

We’ve made it safely to the airport. It’s been very entertaining. I’m off to London. My taxi driving friend has her next customers lined up before I step out of the taxi. I’m impressed. They’ve waived at her approaching the terminal. “You’re not really allowed to pick up new customers in the Departures area, but in this horrible weather, isn’t it just good customer service?”. I certainly appreciated meeting this unique lady and feel a bit envious of the stories her second customers of the day will get to hear.

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