My daily audience with the Pope

Posted on October 10, 2008


Each day to get back and forth from my hotel to Clausen, I take Radio Taxi 141. This is the largest taxi company in Uruguay with many taxis on the street day and night. The taxis are a variety of models of battered, dirty cars that leak exhaust and usually have non-functioning seat belts. A thick, smudged plexiglass separates you from the driver and likely is the place your head hits first in an accident. Long ropes of rosarys, uruguay kitsch, and assorted junk hang from the rearview mirrors. The drivers never can speak english and can barely hear through the glass.

I usually get in a slowly recite the address. They stare at me and they briefly consider letting me out so they don’t have to suffer through my pigeon Spanish. Then they remember that Americanos are good for fat tips because they do not know any better – the mood changes. Suddenly I am a friend and a valued customer. I do not fail to disappoint as a big tip is about $0.50 USD, and I can not bring myself to tip any lower.
The drivers careen through the traffic like bats out of hell. They swerve all over the road, ignoring lanes, trucks in the way, other cars, and pedestrians. I am thrown all over the place as the driver jockeys for lane position and slams on the breaks. We cover vast distances very quickly.

About half the time the drivers know where Laboratorios Clausen is and I get there without needing to butcher any more Spanish. We silently driver through the traffic ignoring the pollution and noise. Other days are a little harder as the driver strains to see house numbers and I do not yet know enough Spanish to tell him “Still five miles ahead”. Then we get to Clausen and the driver usually zooms right past. The people I work with helped me out and I now know to yell “Pade!!!” which mean stop.
A fun part of my commute to and from work is that we always pass by a life size statue of Pope John Paul II. Uruguayans are very proud that Pope John Paul visited twice and each time spoke in this large open area. As Uruguay is a very Catholic country, this is very meaningful to them. I like having my audience with the Pope each morning and night, it is as though my sins are washed away and replaced with horns honking, heavy diesel exhaust, and the ever present poor on the sidewalks scrabbling to eat.
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