Because of the city’s size and level of congestion, your best bet for getting around is to use one of the many local taxis. The typical taxi journey in Athens is not expensive; however, you must wear a helmet.
At that time, I was in Athens for the first time with a couple whose identities will be withheld (he is now a well-respected physician and is married to another woman). My pal “John” introduced me to his friend Stavros, who was Greek and lived in the area. Before departing for the islands, we planned to spend some time with him and tour the city of Athens.
Stavros had attended the same college as we had in California and had, in all likelihood, grown up there. After enjoying the more refined aspects of university education (such as fraternity parties and other social events), he and his brother established a snowboarding business in Athens. Who in their right mind would be shopping for snowboards in Greece? Stavros and his brother weren’t selling them in Greece; instead, they were selling them across Europe.
Stavros picked us up at the airport in a friend’s car and drove us to his little studio. It was determined that we would first get some shut-eye before going out for a night on the town. Consequently, this would be the first time we would ride in an Athens taxi.
Driving taxis is a very competitive sport. I have no doubt that there is a cab driving World Cup and that drivers train for it on the public streets of their respective cities. While a taxi in France is an excellent way to see the Eiffel Tower and travel the wrong way down a one-way street, the taxi drivers in San Francisco and New York are part of a select club of professionals. In Athens, the race to the finish line was all about speed.
After getting inside, Stavos communicated our destination to the driver. As the taxi drove up to the kerb, I spoke the word “shotgun” like the moron that I am. When Stavos simply grinned in response to my success, I ought to have known it wasn’t a good sign. During the next fifteen minutes, I had serious concerns about my life. As well as those of others.
After pulling away from the kerb, the start of the race had finally arrived. We made our way through the congested and twisty streets of Athens. The chaotic essence of Athens manifests itself on its roadways, which are clogged with cars, buses, pedestrians, and highly courageous cyclists. One motorist approached the crowd as if it were an obstacle course and maintained speeds above 80 miles per hour. Our driver was under the impression that he would receive a bonus if he achieved a specific time.
Most of the time was spent in the slow lane, which had a far lower traffic volume. I still have nightmares about the cyclists’ faces looking at me as we passed them with only about five inches of clearance between them and us. Terrifying images are frozen in time. When you add that cars are beginning to pull out on the road, you have the year’s event that will give you white knuckles.
I didn’t start breathing normally again until we had finally pulled up to the club. I left impressions on the door when I removed my hand from the handle and walked away. While we were still standing outside the taxi, Stavros asked me if I wanted to sit in the front on the way home and began giggling.
It took two drinks for me to get my jitters under control. I was going to walk home, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.