From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.
Five Similarities between a DC Taxi Ride and a DC First Date
I approach a taxi cab the same way I approach a first date: with optimistic trepidation.
It’s a rule of thumb I developed after having survived a healthy number of first dates in Washington and an unhealthier number of cab rides, given my genetic allergy to snooze buttons. The reason is simple. Both taxi rides and first dates follow the same, well-choreographed conversational arch and culminate in one of two ways: joy or anguish.
The run of show generally proceeds as follows:
1) The Apology Stage
The first word out of one’s mouth on a DC first date is most often, “Sorry! I’m late!” Traffic or Bikeshare dilemmas are usually blamed, followed by pronounced embarrassment at such ‘uncharacteristic’ tardiness. The first few moments in a taxi cab are no different – except the expression “Sorry! I’m late” is used not to extract sympathy, but rather to ensure that the driver knows that you, unlike any of his/her other customers, are actually in a hurry and have no time for stop lights.
2) The Small Talk Stage
After apologies subside, participants in a date or taxi settle into a perfunctory small talk routine to break the awkwardness of two strangers sharing oxygen for the first time. “Wow – long day.” The received response serves as a bellwether of how the remainder of the conversation will flow. If either party perceives a hint of boredom or overextended enthusiasm, the imbalance will sink the conversation immediately. If mutual tolerance and interest does develop, participants move swiftly into the Conversation Stage.
3) The Conversation Stage
At the threshold of the Conversation stage, neither party knows exactly what to expect, which provides equal levels of intrigue and worry. It’s possible that the conversation may involve an engaging exploration of each other’s family backgrounds, musical tastes, and opinions on the best Ethiopian restaurants west of 12th Street NW. It’s equally possible that one remark about the U.S. election provokes a political filibuster that drains all joy and potential from the relationship.
4) The Realization Stage
If the Conversation Stage goes well, participants may realize a long term potential with each other. Business cards or phone numbers will be exchanged and the date/drive will conclude with a sincere “thank you – I really enjoyed meeting you.”
Most often, however, the opposite occurs. After crawling out of the Conversation Stage, participants begin to look at their phones or watches. Time begins to slow and the need for a swift exit strategy becomes apparent. Statements like “can you please speed up — we can make this light” or “I think our waitress forgot about us” start to pepper the conversation. Many participants will accept an urgent, fake phone call from a concerned friend, or simply feign imminent nausea. Almost all will find themselves staring out the window at happy couples blithely passing by on the sidewalk. Oh, it’s SO easy, isn’t it?
5) The Frustration Stage
If and when participants reach this stage, inner monologues disintegrate into Sally Field territory. “WHY am I stuck here?” “WHY did I agree to pick up this awful person!?” “WHY didn’t I just walk straight home after work?” At this point, the financial burden of the experience becomes apparent – fueling both anger and anxiety. In a cab, one may choose to throw money at the driver (or customer) and bail out three blocks early, either out of frustration or actual dearth of cash. On a date, one may decide to split the drastically imbalanced bill simply to save time.
At the end, when the doors open and participants are thrown back into the real world, we question why we subject ourselves to this same, emotionally draining experience week after week, month after month. We question if life would be easier and more peaceful if we lived in a different city.
Above all, we think of our college crush – and his/her car.