September 28, 2007

Swing Low Sweet Cybercoach

I slumped into the back seat of the dark taxi cab, ready for a quiet and mindless ride home from the office. It's rare that I take a cab home, considering that Budapest's public transport system is so extensive and I rarely work late. But The Firm's been working on a huge project that's coming up to deadline, and I'd stayed at the office until at least 9:30 the last five workdays. And The Firm pays for taxis if you stay really late.

As the cabby and I exchanged the necessary small talk to establish where he was taking me, I noticed a little screen on his dashboard showing a music video. The music was coming from speakers behind me. For a moment I leaned my head back and luxuriated in the sensation of being able to relax and not force myself to keep working.

"I can turn the volume down if it's too loud for you," the cabby said. When he turned toward me, I noticed his short grey hair, wire-framed glasses riding down on his nose, and his meticulously trimmed white Van Dyke beard gave him a grandfatherly aspect.

At that moment Depeche Mode's Precious was playing.

"Oh, no. I like this."

He cranked it up. I was a bit confused.

"Is this TV or a DVD?"

"Neither," he said, "This is a PDA. I hooked it up to the car's hi fi. I just load gigabytes of music videos on it from various sources. Lots of my passengers like it."

Another video started.

"Should I turn it down?"

It was Enigma's Sadeness. (No, that's not a misspelling!)

"No, that's fine. I like this, too."

He looked back over his shoulder with a knowing smile. We have similar taste.

The whole scene began to strike me like a cyberpunk fantasy. This wasn't one of the increasing number of sleek Mercedes taxis or other late-model hacks plying the streets of Hungary's capital (the banks have figured out that making car loans to taxi drivers is a good investment). It was a somewhat seedy Opel Astra, and the setup for melding the PDA with the audio system included a few more cables and brackets than anyone with a less geeky aesthetic sense would put up with. And it just had that sleazy William Gisbon kind of hawking-high-tech-in-the-back-alley feeling that my host could pull this off by cobbling together 1) an off-the-shelf machine that's essentially an overgrown address book 2) an amplifier and two speakers, and 3) digital media from dubious sources. We live in the future. Time is getting warped.

I told him I really loved one song from Enigma's first album, called Callas Went Away. I didn't tell him that I actually once wrote a poem based on what that song meant to me. We had some communication problems with me trying to convey to him what the title meant in Hungarian, and that the song was a tribute to Maria Callas. Nonetheless, he was interested, and said he'd look for it.

I didn't recognize the next video.

"What? You don't know 'Fateless'?" the driver asked. "Here, let me show you his most famous song."

He reached out with his index finger, and while he negotiated traffic, he also deftly navigated menus on the PDA's touch screen. Until he'd queued up Faithless's We Come 1. OK, so I live in a cave. I'd heard or seen the name Faithless before. I just don't watch music television or go to clubs, or spend lots of time with people of the age who'd listen to it.

I found the video intriguing, and would even say poetic. Which is saying alot, if you consider my basic aversion to anything rap-like. I like the way events play out inside a room that would by nature take place in a larger outdoor space. It gives the action the sense of being a fantasy, or suggests that what we see is always only part of something larger. It makes it real "trippy", too. Riding in a taxi through Budapest, it was stirring when the words "cold war" echoed between verses. (Which I later realized I'd misheard. It's the distorted repetition of "come 1, come 1. come1").

The video handles the theme of duality and division very artfully, using images of street protests and riot police to embody the lyrics:

"I am the left eye/ you are the right/ would it not be madness to fight."

We pulled up to my apartment building, and we sat (with the meter stopped, naturally) and watched the video to the end before we got down to the business of paying and making the obligatory receipt. I tipped him well (I'm so generous with The Firm's money!), and we shook hands heartily. I got the sense that this had not been your average taxi ride for either of us.

Instead of dragging myself out of my seat, I found that despite working ridiculous amounts of overtime for days, my cyberpunk taxi ride had a put a bounce in my step again.


vero said...

No taxis like this in my town! :((

Sadeness: :D:D

There's a Brithis-Etiopean singer-(in) too named Sade. I like her music v. much!!

Theo Huffman said...

The reference is actually to the Marquis de Sade.

No taxis like that where you are? Hmmm. Could be a unique business idea. Vero's cybertaxis!

But I think it was a pretty unique experience. I don't think it's franchise-able.

vero said...

"The reference is actually to the Marquis de Sade."

I know I studied some French history and literature ;) :D
I even know what the word sadistic somes from ;) (same man). I actually was always interested in ethymology I find it amazing.

Adrienne said...

I absolutely love Enigma. Did you know that? I have all of their albums. Actually, on the album entitled "The Roi Est Mort! Vive Le Roi!" I use songs #2-4 (Morphing Thru Time, Third of It's Kind, and Beyond the Invisible) when I meditate. I just put it on #2 and let it run...

Theo Huffman said...

There were several months in the winter of '93 when I used to do yoga to the first Enigma album. That was a period when I'd do it in the evening after I got home. It was dark, and I'd do it by candle light. Always knew when it was time to do a different exercise according to how far along I was in the music.

Fond memories.

I don't know "The Roi Est Mort! Vive Le Roi!" Maybe I should get it.