Thursday, 5 February 2009

#82 – Never quote taxi drivers

Or avoiding the man in the cab with the gift of the gab.

Taxi drivers in travel articles
Taxi drivers must be the most quoted people in travel articles. If you were to believe everything you read, it would appear as though taxi drivers across the world are overflowing fonts of useful information.

Pithy lines
Strange, isn’t it? The taxi driver manages to come up with such a pithy line; one that almost sums the destination up in a neat little bundle of humour and insight. What a stroke of good fortune for the travel writer – to get such a sage quote so unexpectedly.

Where are these taxi drivers?
Unfortunately, I have never met a taxi driver like this. In fact, 90% of the ones I have come across aren’t from the city I’m in, appear to have little more than a rudimentary knowledge of its streets and speak only tiny fragments of English. What am I doing wrong?

Making up quotes
Actually, I do know what I’m doing wrong. I’m not making up quotes from fictitious characters in order to put a bit of pep into my article. That’ll be the problem.

What do editors think?
And if I can see that 95% of all taxi driver quotes are blatantly fabricated, then chances are that most editors will think the same way. Seeing a taxi driver quote, therefore, is likely to raise a red flag and set the alarm bells ringing. If the writer has made that up, what else has he or she made up?

Bad reputations
It doesn’t take a genius to work out where the train of thought goes from there – and it’s not good for any writer to get a reputation for passing off fiction as fact.


Mike Gerrard said...

I'll have you know that I have quoted several taxi drivers in my travel pieces over the years, and every one has been genuine. Maybe you've had bad luck with your drivers.

One of my favorite writers is Ted Conover, who's written books about hobos, being a prison guard at Sing-Sing and the people smugglers on the Mexico-USA border. He also wrote a terrific book called White-Out, about his experiences being a taxi driver in Aspen. Read that and you'll know why some taxi drivers tell good stories.

By the way, do you know for sure that people make up taxi-driver quotes, or are you just assuming, based on your own experiences?

David said...

I am assuming (and this post is somewhat tongue in cheek). I'd still never say that it was a taxi driver in the quote - even if it was a little piece of gold - for the reasons stated though.