Tales from a Grecian Taxicab

The airport in Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece resembles a large aquarium with automatic doors.  It consists of a couple gates, a luggage delivery belt, and a few scattered kiosks for food and car rental.  There wasn’t an “information” booth to be found, however. 

Arriving from Athens at 0730, we claimed our luggage and assessed the best way to get to the long-distance bus station.  Our plan – if you could really call it that – was to hop the mid-day bus from Mytilene to Skala Eressos.  About 3 hours, according to our friends at The Lonely Planet.
Standing outside the airport, we found a bus stop.  No schedule.  Just a sign.  Fellow travelers from our flight had already headed out, and there weren’t many people around – so i asked a police officer about the bus to Skala Eressos.  She said “That is the only bus”, pointing at the sign.
We decided it might be wise to take a taxi to the bus station in town, so we dragged our luggage to the taxi stand.  En route, our driver asked about our destination.  He also asked what the bus fare would be.  We were so prepared that not one of us knew the answer, but we guessed about 18-20 Euro each.  Yeah.  Something like that….
Our driver offered to take us there for 100 Euro – explaining that the bus didn’t leave til afternoon, and he could get us there in an hour and a half, for only a little more per person.  Sold!  We were on our way, and it wasn’t even 0800!
Our driver, Manolis, asked about where we were from – Australia, South Africa and The States.  He mentioned that he’d lived in Boston for a long time, working near the docks.  “My favorite seafood place is on the docks in Boston!”, i said.  Turns out, he worked there – with some connection to the family who owns the restaurant! 
Manolis did a nice job of explaining the history of the island, describing the terrain, and discussing some of the local points of interest – without being an over-zealous pain in the ass.  He also did a damn fine job navigating some village street passages that were so tight i wanted to smoke a cigarette and change the sheets when we successfully emerged on the other side! 
Delivering us to our destination, he gave me his card – and said he’d be happy to pick us up for the return trip.  Our hosts assured us that 100 Euro was a good price for the journey, compared to what many other drivers quoted, so i saved his card. 
A week later, we had abandoned the plan to rent a car and do some sightseeing on the island on our way back to Mytilene.  That was too much like work.  We decided to give Manolis a call on Sunday and arrange for him to pick us up Monday at noon.  When i called, he said he couldn’t make it, but would send a driver for us.
Arranging the car for noon gave us plenty of time to regroup and devise an alternate plan should the driver not show up.  We were quite surprised when the taxi arrived at 1100 – while we were still packing!  Dolce was the best prepared, and hauled her luggage outside.  The driver told her that he wasn’t sure exactly where he’d been headed, so he left extra time.  She reported this back to us, and said that he had a pretty strong U.S. accent.
Nursemyra and i finished packing, and brought our bags out for loading.  The young driver, sporting a fine bit of designer facial hair and “faux-hawk”, did indeed speak with a thick accent – BOSTON!  He said he’d lived there until he was 10 years old.  George was the son of Manolis.
Far less talkative than his father, George entertained us with a ridiculous 1980’s techno-dance mix CD – providing moments of “holy shit, I haven’t heard that for years” interspersed with group sing-alongs as we made our way along the rugged road back to Mytilene.  Never mind that he had the driving skills of a Formula One racer!  He was quite helpful in getting us to our hotel, and offered to pick us up the following morning at 0620 to get us to the airport for our return flight to Athens on Tuesday.
It was during the ride to the airport on Tuesday that George asked me “So, how are things in The States?  I’m planning to move back there with my wife and son.”  In just fifteen minutes in the taxi that morning, he relayed a family tale as old as time.  His father wants him to stay and work with him in the family business, but the son wants to make his own fortune in the new world…   
He also shared that his parents were separated, his mother still extremely pissed off about it, and that he was constantly stuck in the middle of the arguments between them.  He’d had enough of it, so he was planning to bring Mom with him on his “fresh start”.  The plan?  Pack up his family – his wife and son had never left Greece – stay with cousins in Boston, find work until he could get his own business going.
i was touched by his optimism and bravery.  Also noted that despite all the crap that happens in the ol’ U.S. of A., that it still holds the promise of opportunity for a young man.  

But mostly?  i was touched by the tale he wove of family.  Defying cultures and continents.  Eternal tension.  Father and Son. 

How can I try to explain?  When I do he turns away again!  It’s always been the same, same old story. From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen, now there’s a way and I know I have to go away.

Note:  The video is dated, and pretty cheesy.  But that’s part of the point…  Recorded in 1970, the song holds the original power.  i was also reminded what an incredibly beautiful man Yusuf Islam is…  More recent version of “Father and Son”, recorded for the BBC One series, found here

24 thoughts on “Tales from a Grecian Taxicab

      • HMH – the drivers mother was so pissed off at the father that she refused to give back his passport, so he can’t leave the country. you’d think he could get a duplicate, but who knows… the eyerolling? George was amused at one of my offhand comments about FAILURE to EXCHANGE BODY FLUIDS. the gals were giving me grief about it…

  1. What a great trip.

    And . . . you had sex in a narrow alley? Heh heh.

    Cat Stevens dominated the mind talk in my head back in the early 70’s. And his words are still so relevant. Interesting that the same father/son dynamic remains at work today.

  2. Read Father And Son by Larry Brown if you haven’t, then read Fay by LB, good shit. Strange things afoot, my dad and i had what i’d call the closest we’ve come to an argument in years, of course it concerned family, a rift between mom and sis… and would you believe i was defending my mother?

  3. Ah, the old ‘father and son’ track! i was very tempted by that in my look into lyrics the other day, its a (cheesy) winner….
    I enjoyed this travel tale, and the insight you brought to it about family, and about people simply seeking better things, and in my view, being entitled to that (we are in the midst of an awful political debate here in Oz over asylum seekers….)

  4. ooo, I love those chatty taxi drivers that actually have personalities and families and are not at all stabby. George is a brave man to want to come to the states at time like this, I wish him the most sincere heartfelt good luck.
    I’m sure that’s just what my great-grand-dad said as my grand-dad headed toward New York from Sweden, lo’ all those years ago.

  5. I’m with Nursie…where are the more….*ahem*….salient details, Madame 😉

    And I want to get my hands on that mix. It was definitely an 80s / 90s mix and took me straight back to my youff! Hilarious.

  6. I hate you lot ….. all these *wink wink* comments …. *we know things you don’t know* stuff …… I can just see you dancing around your handbags whispering to each other ……. sheeeessssssh.

    Come on Daisy ….. let’s get down to the nitty gritty stuff!

  7. unbearable bansihment – can you imagine packing up the family, and a parent, and crashing in on a cousin who lives in a foreign country for a few months until you can start your own business? i think that’s the definition of gutsy!

    nursemyra – i was already WELL over my usual target of 500-600 words max. i only did one edit, and it could have used another two or three. the passport might have made the cut, but the eyeroll? probably not…

    manuel – ok. but i’ll warn you – there are a metric shitload of Lesbians there. technically, everyone on the isle of Lesbos is a Lesbian…

    savannah – it’s just gutsy. his wife speaks no english. he has dual citizenship, so he can get there, but it’s amazing to me that he’s just going to leave…

    fragrant liar – i had to do a gut check, because 1970 was 40 years ago. i listened to “tea for the tillerman” until i wore out the album (you remember, those big black vinyl CD-looking things?). it’s held up well…

    kono – i’ll add those to the reading list. i’m sure you’ll get things sorted with your father. but that tension is amazing, isn’t it?

    ruby – because he was born in the US, he’s got dual citizenship, i think. Certainly a US passport. given the economic situation in Greece, i suspect the US is looking better. it’s a pretty messy debate here, too…

    rassles – thanks. perhaps yet another reason why being in a tour bus sucks ass?

    carlae – both father and son were pretty damn helpful! reliable, too. the son (and father) helped us get a revised plan together when the airport was closed. george drove us to the ferry office, then back to our hotel. he was terrific as a taxi driver, too!

    dolce – it is on the cutting room floor, dear! does my discussion of an exchange of body fluids THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN advance the story? the CD was pretty cool. Wonder about disc 2…

    DP – i didn’t start it! it wasn’t much, really. just an offhand comment i made in the taxi to defend myself. “Hey, we didn’t exchange any of the more interesting body fluids!” got George to do a spit-take and an eyeroll. no biggie.

  8. Great post—love the unexpected immigrant angle!

    There were tears in my eyes while watching the Cat Stevens video and I found I couldn’t bear to watch the whole thing. Brought back too many memories of 1970, being 23 with a four year-old child and a first marriage soon to hit the rocks. Yes, his music had and continues to have great power…

  9. i’ve never had much opportunity to take taxi rides, but try to chat up the driver whenever i do. at least half the time, i’ll get a good story… the law student making money… the retired grandfather bored out of his mind… the wanna-be singer… glad you got a good one

  10. That is a lot for someone to tell people they don’t know. Human nature is still pretty good and trusting, I guess.

    It is a great story and I’ve re-read it a few times.
    Glad you had a great time and meet even more good people while you were there.

  11. texastrailerparktrash – that song in particular holds a lot. when i was young? clearly identified with the son. now? dad is making a whole lot of sense… funny how that works!

    gnukid – one of my favorites? russian woman in las vegas. a group of conferencers had planned to ask our taxi driver where the best adult entertainment venue was, but when it was a chick? they bailed out. not me. ended up having a fine time…

    renalfailure – how about synthesizers shaped like boots, worn by girls?

    hisqueen – one of the best parts of the trip was staying in one place for a week, and making better connections to the locals. it was very cool…

    kyknoord – how are you going to get that story into a 3 panel comic? i’d like to see that…

  12. Your experience only bears out a truth that my dear husband has communicated to me, which is quite often the best way to get from point a to point b is to hire a local taxi driver for a set price. And then make friends with him so you can utilize his services another few times. He did that in Costa Rica when I wished to go to the airport at 5 a.m. A good smile, a willingness to chat and excellent tipping habits can work wonders!

    It probably didn’t hurt that you were three beautiful women too.

  13. HMH – finding a good driver, tipping well, and getting him (or her) to stick with you for a few days is often a good idea. the fact that things are a little slow with greek tourism at the moment probably made us rather attractive, too…

  14. “He had the driving skills of a Formula One racer!”

    I suppose you can take the boy out of Boston, but you can’t take Boston out of the boy. When he moves back here, he’ll do just fine.

  15. alonewithcats – i had suggested that he’d do well as a boston cab driver, but he said he didn’t want to work for someone else. unless he could have his own taxi, he wouldn’t do it! but he was fast… and aggressive.

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