Who are the people in your neighborhood Part 3
I also get a daily dose of informality and often friendship on the way to and from the University I teach at. Cabs here are a lot like locust, they swarm around the city, covering its highways and roads in a dark cloud of exhaust. There is little regulation of this industry, therefore it is everybody’s favorite second career. All you need is a car and a homemade Taxi sign.
The Mayor of Lima defended this seemingly unmonitored problem the other day by saying that they are just people trying to make a living during tough economic times.
Using taxi´s as a way to get up to speed on the basic information of a new place is an oldschool journalism trick and by now a bit of a cliché.
For me it is also a chance to work on my Spanish twice a day, learn local vernacular, and I also use the cab drivers as low paid therapists on my way home from teaching.
My daily forty minutes of cab time has also allowed me to begin an informal study of the media here. I engage cabbies in their radio listening preferences. Oxigen which plays rock hits from the 70’s and 80’s is a cab favorite. One cabbie and Oxigen fan, who went by Johnny, had a Jersey mullet and in between explaining the ins and outs of eating Cuy(guinea pig), talked about Bon Jovi and Barry White.
For information people listen to RPP, Radio Programas Peruanos. The news is read at the speed of someone calling the Kentucky Derby. Here's a sample: http://media.odeo.com/2/3/8/rpp.mp3
They tag team the news headlines and I am convinced every hour somebody is crowned a winner. In between the news races there are a variety of talk programs. Most reporting is done live from cell phones. Production, aside from the board engineer, is relatively non existent.
Cabbies like the program, Los Chistosos, which is an hour and a half of slapstick humor. Lots of laugh tracks, funny accents, and the occasional donkey soundbite.
I cannot say I understand every joke on this show, but I do get why people love it. The beauty of a joke is that one can communicate and speculate things that might not be appropriate in a more formal setting. Some of the more poignant political and social analysis, especially in a country with a history of press repression, can come from a program like Los Chistosos because the hosts are freed of the responsibility to report the facts, or in some cases, free to talk and speculate about sensitive facts. This format is perfect for a cab driver who spends his day piecing together the social and political fabric of Lima through his cadre of interactions.
I also ask cabbies about what papers they read or what tv station they watch for news. Straw poll says #1 ranking goes to….drum roll….Discovery Channel.
Do not get me wrong, I enjoy talking about the finer details of Shark attacks and Mummies, but as a journalist again I find myself a little dismayed. Of course you are probably thinking to yourself at this very moment, ¨What do you expect to hear? You are surveying taxi drivers after all.¨ In my opinion this is exactly where the interests and habits of cab drivers are especially relevant. If the goal of the media is to create an informed public, then the public, that means everybody including cab drivers (especially cab drivers), must be engaged.
I had a cab driver give a personal testimonial of why he mistrusted the press. He described a night where a group of kidnappers commandeered his car, robbed a bank, and then, upon being caught, he was accused by the police of aiding them.
He said the TV news cameras arrived at the scene and after hearing his account of the events proceeded to broadcast that while he said the following, cab drivers are known to not tell the whole truth.
My favorite comment came from a cabbie who remarked, “you know what I like about you gringos, you are fearless.” I wasn’t sure if he meant fearless in a gung ho Hollywood induced image kind of way, or something else. It takes some chipping away to explain how gringos really are as opposed to what people learn about us through tv and movies. But if he meant fearless in that I got in his cab, despite the handmade sign, well, perhaps I am naïve, but if that is what it takes to get to know this place, sign me up.