Taxi! Stories From the Back Seat
By Aimee de Jongh
The inside of a taxi is a strange space, in that for one person it is familiar because that person occupies it for long periods of time, and yet for a least one other person if not more, it’s a transitory place that doesn’t beg much attention. If you’re alone, you’re probably staring out the window, especially if it’s a place you’ve just arrived at on a trip, and if you’re with someone, you’re probably talking with them. I guess nowadays people also bury their noses in their phones.
And then there’s the whole province of Uber and Lyft where you’re driving in someone’s personal transportation. That makes me think about New York City in the 1980s when you could still ride in the old Checkered Cabs, so any given trip had a novelty to it and if it was in the daytime, you could become preoccupied by the sights with the Checkered Cab, which were not the same as any old car you might step into.
But more often than not, it’s you and the cabbie, brought together through sheer chance, sharing a space that you have different perceptions of. And every once in awhile, one of you turns out to be chatty.
Dutch cartoonist Aimee de Jongh takes these ideas in Taxi! Stories From the Back Seat and turns them into an autobiographical work that takes place entirely in cabs in four different locations at four different times. Each taxi ride reveals something about de Jongh’s life and varying degrees of information of the cabbies’ lives.
In Los Angeles, 2014, de Jongh needs a ride to the airport to pick up a friend, and encounters a stand-offish cabbie who refuses to speak, though de Jongh is not easily deterred. In Jakarta, 2017, she visits the country her father was born in, faces the confusion and chaos of a foreign land, and makes an unexpected connection with her driver there. In Paris, 2018, de Jongh hits it off immediately with the driver, a friendly guy who talks about life as an Algerian Muslim in modern Paris. And in Washington D.C., 2017, she talks with an overly-chipper cabbie whose conversation delves into a tragic personal circumstance.
With each encounter in Taxi! Stories From the Back Seat, de Jongh has her own situation that effects her interaction with the taxi driver. For instance, in Los Angeles, she is lonely and her desire connect bursts loose in her chatter trying to loosen up the driver. In D.C., she’s head to a comics show and has business on her mind, and is less engaged with the cabbie at first, but as his sincerity and openness grow, so does her attention to the conversation. And in two of the stories — Paris and Jarkarta — the drivers end up being stabilizing influences for her as the cities around them seem out of control.
Taxi! Stories From the Back Seat is a book about connection and conversation, of course, but it’s also about seizing the moment. Each person we encounter is a mystery and an opportunity, and we can’t predict what they could offer to our lives if given the chance. Most people don’t get that chance and most of our encounters are defined by their status as unrealized possibilities. As de Jongh portrays, there are most likely not major impacts that are going to be made, but there is something to be said for small results. They aren’t appreciated enough, but de Jongh has created a wonderful tribute to the little moments that make an intimate difference for people.