After our collectively crappy day at school, we decided that we needed to get out and go somewhere nice for dinner. Lately, most of our non-granola bar meals have been buttered rice. Boring. Colleen picked a spot from the guidebook, and we set out for dinner in one of the ubiquitous yellow taxis.
Traffic here is something else. The roads aren’t divided into specific lanes (because nobody would keep in the lines), so the vehicles go every which way. The traffic is a mix of yellow cabs (old, old British-looking cars), nicer personal cars, motorcycles, bicycles, scooters, rickshaws, blue city buses, and trams (kind of like subway cars) that run on tracks in the pavement. Horns are not a reprimand here. Rather, a beep is more of a warning to pedestrians, who definitely do NOT have the right of way. Horns also serve as turn signals and “I’m coming up behind you!” notifications because most vehicles don’t have side-view mirrors. I find myself tensing up, gasping, and uttering brief prayers and profanities while sitting in the back of these taxis.
The good thing about cabs is that they provide a safe and enclosed venue for taking pictures of the streets. I see so much that I want to photograph, but I can’t very well whip out my camera as I walk down the street. Sometimes while the cabs are stopped in traffic (a common occurrence), the drivers will turn the cars off and park for a few minutes. During this time, people slide off the city buses because they only stop in traffic–other times they just slow down and people jump on and off through the open doors. Vendors also wander through the sea of parked cars. Sometimes they’ll sell packets of shampoo, other times we’ve seen fruit for sale. The worst is when street kids come up to the cab windows and beg in traffic. “Aunty aunty! Blah blah blah Bengali.” That’s awful.
Anyhow, we made it to dinner–finally. The taxi driver had to ask a police officer, a guard, and a random teenager where the restaurant we wanted was located. The restaurant was in the nicest neighborhood we’ve seen so far. It was quiet, and there were lots of nicer cars parked on the streets and in parking structures. The buildings had guards and A/C units, and the teens we saw hanging out at the corner shop were dressed in Western clothes.
We walked up to the restaurant, which was on the 2nd floor of the building, and we knew we had picked a good spot when we saw a big picture of Marilyn Monroe on the wall. We arrived shortly after 7 pm–just after the restaurant opened–so we were the first customers and had the place to ourselves. We picked a nice table by the window, unfolded our cloth napkins, and were immediately comforted by the sweet sounds of Aerosmith piping through the stereo system.
Dinner was good. I had a chicken dish that was vaguely reminiscent of something from P.F. Chang’s, and we shared appetizers and enjoyed some fancy cocktails. When the check came, it worked out that this very nice dinner for 4, including appetizers, entrees, cocktails, and bottled water, came to a total of not quite $60. It was a fun splurge by Indian standards.
As we paid the bill, we asked if they accepted Visa. The waiter responded, “Visa? Oh yes. Raspberry or lemon?” Something got lost in translation there, but they did take credit cards. That’s just a small example of the odd little experiences we have been having here. Another thing–nearly all the cabs have little dashboard shrines to Hindu gods. That’s not super abnormal–there are little roadside shrines all over the place. The funny part about the cab shrines is that they all have color-changing, flashing LED lights that come on at night. Stopped in traffic, the Hindu god figurines make the cabs feel like raves, except the thumping techno beats are replaced with jerky, stop-and-go traffic and the sound of car horns.