Recently I’ve had two taxi drivers. Neither of them was Mr. Bickles.
The second was a slightly overweight gentleman who took me to the airport last week. He picked me up and we started off. The usual questions flew as he asked me how I liked Georgia, what I did, and if I wanted a Georgian wife. Then he hit me wit a new one.
“Do you speak French?” Shocked, I nodded and he turned his car off. Keep in mind, we were on the highway. With a smug grin, he reignited his engine and cupped one ear as a French voice intoned, “Warning, your fuel is low!”
“I need gas!” he roared with laughter. A moment later, he pulled the same trick, but this time the woman informed us that, “Your seatbelt is not fastened.” Listening to the French, I glanced down to his buckle and saw that he had his hand on the belt. Giddy with mischief, he lifted his hand an inch or so to reveal that he had unfastened his seatbelt expressly to show of his Renault’s in-vehicle French narrator.
“I am learning French,” he told me, inflating his chest, “Attention!” As the French escaped his lips he thrust his finger into the air, punctuating his excitement.
Which brings me back to Rezo. A month ago when my dear friend Haven came to visit, I vowed I would pick her up at the airport. Nothing scarier than flying nine timezones to a developing country where you don’t speak any of the appropriate languages. So 2 am rolled around and I wandered down to Baratishvili to catch a cab. The first wanted 25, so I let him pass. The second, however, was Rezo.
A Mercedes pulled over and agreed to take me to the airport for 15 lari, not a bad price. After filling up Rezo’s tires, we continued onward, talking as cab drivers love to. He made me put his number in my phone and then call him right away. Oh boy, I thought, It’s the beginningof the end! I was only half right.
When we arrived at the airport, Rezo offered to wait for Haven with me. “Make it 40 round trip and I’ll wait for thirty minutes and then drive you back!” Choosing to ignore the mild price increase, I agreed.
Haven arrived a little later and after greeting her I told her I’d brought a driver. “His name’s Rezo. I guess we’re friends now!” Rezo shepherded us to his car and brought us back home. As I paid him and got out, Rezo shouted to me, “Rali! Tomorrow if you need a taxi, call me! I will bring you wine and churchkhela and drive you anywhere!”
“Okay, thanks Rezo!” I wearily replied, shutting the car door and going inside.
The next day Haven and I wandered around Old Town for several hours. We’d stayed up far too late and Haven was fighting jetlag, so other than hiking for four hours (From Sameba to Nariqala to Kartlis Deda and back) we didn’t plan on doing anything else. And then Rezo called.
“Rali! I’m here! Come out!” Haven and I had been drinking Sprites on the balcony and enjoying the warm, sunny afternoon.
“Tell him I’m napping so we don’t have to go anywhere,” Haven offered.
Rezo didn’t mind that Haven was “tired.” On the contrary, he had just stopped by to drop off a two liter Fanta bottle of village wine and two churchkhelas. Happily, I brought them to the balcony where we supplemented our chocolate lunch with churchkhela and wine!
Two hours later Rezo called again.
“Rali! Do you want to go to Mtatsminda?” I looked at Haven and told her that Rezo wanted to take us up to the TV Tower, pointing it out as I said so. We looked at each other and agreed that, why the heck not?
So we piled into Rezo’s taxi and he brought us all the way up to the park and the TV Tower, accompanying us on our stroll and offering to take our photo at several vantage points.
He brought us home again and told us to call him when we came back from Kazbegi. While this put visions of an excursion to Telavi into our heads, we wound up not seeing him until it was the night Haven was to fly out.
Sadly, Haven’s trip had come to an end and it was time to bring her back to the airport. After staying up until 1:45 watching Gnarles Barkley music videos, we called for Rezo. Soon thereafter, Rezo pulled up to my apartment, announcing his arrival with a phone call.
We lugged Haven’s bag out to the car* and got into the back seat. Rezo turned in place and presented Haven with a surprised bouquet of lilies! In shock she took them as Rezo explained, “I bought these at the market today. They are for you!”
Tbilisi by night is a lovely town and as the lights flashed passed our windows Rezo’s radio played Hey Jude and we sang along, taking in the night air. Rezo seemed to be enjoying himself as much as we were and he turned the music up for us.
Not long after the song ended, Rezo mentioned that he had “the same flowers at my house, but they smell better!” I congratulated him and went back to talking with Haven.
As we approached the mysterious monument that signals the turn off to the airport, Rezo asked me, “My house is just five minutes from here. Do you mind if we go there real quick?” I didn’t object because I can smell a Georgian adventure coming a mile away!
As we wound down suburban roads (a generous designation, indeed!), Haven began to look worried. In the dark we stopped by a locked gate and Rezo hopped out, motioning for us to follow. He led us into his yard and disappeared inside. When he reemerged with a large knife and a larger smile, I turned to Haven and reassured her that, “Only in Georgia can you go to your taxi driver’s house by the airport and when he comes out wielding a knife it’s not a big deal.”
I followed Rezo to a fragrant tree in the yard and he asked me to help him bend the tree branches down as far as they would go. He sawed off maybe a dozen bunches of fresher, more pleasant lilies for Haven. Rejecting his suggestion that we have coffee together and heeding Haven’s pleas that “Raughley…can we go to the airport now?”, I helped Rezo tie up the flowers into a bouquet. This involved an awful lot of packing tape.
When the job was complete, Rezo triumphantly presented the flowers to Haven and we were on our way.
Haven was overwhelmed and grateful, but a little concerned. “Raughley, I can’t take these on the airplane!” she whispered. I tried to introduce that concept to Rezo before we arrived at the airport.
“Rezo,” I called, “Haven loves the flowers, but I don’t think that she can take them on the airplane! I will keep them for her.”
“Nonsense!” Rezo countered, “She can.” It looked like we were going to move on to Operation Airport Trashcan Ditch. Or so we thought. Passionate Rezo insisted that rather than drop Haven off at the airport and be on our merry way, we should walk her through her airport experience. This precluded any attempts by Haven to discreetly “forget” her flowers as she was forced to carry them through the initial security line, the ticket line, and at the bank while Rezo helped her exchange her money.
Hugs went all around and after we watched Haven ascend the escalator Rezo turned to me, “Don’t you want to wait until her flight takes off?”
As good a friend as I am, I was not prepared to sit in the airport for another ninety minutes just to watch a screen tick to “departed“. Rezo brought me home and we parted ways, me taking the crappy market flowers and Rezo driving off into the night.
That wasn’t the last I’ve seen of Rezo–far from it! When I need a taxi I’ve often called on his services and he’s frequently tried to hit me up for a hang out. It hasn’t happened yet, but summer is just dawning and you only live once. Who knows what another day in Georgia will bring!
*It was not large or heavy