Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Rookie

So I pulled a rookie move today. I did a big 'no-no.' I took a taxi from one city to another.

Now, I'd heard many times not to do this; they simply charge way too much. But, I did it. The thing was, I didn't know I was doing it till it was too late. I was hitchhiking from Arad to Timisoara. I was waiting with two other people at the usual hitchhiking spot. A car stopped and the other two jumped in. I stuck my head in and asked if the man was going to Timisoara. He seemed to wave me in, so I jumped in the back seat and off we went. Little did I notice the car was bright yellow...

About 5 miles down the road the two others paid (an amount the driver was less than pleased with) and got out. At this point I leaned forward to the driver to ask if he might be going to Lugoj by any chance. He said, "wherever you want." This confused me a bit. Usually those driving from city to city have a destination in mind. It was then I noticed the little counter on the dash. I felt like an idiot. The guy seemed more than pleased to go to Lugoj, but seeing the rate of 21 lei/hour flashing on the counter, I decided Timisoara was far enough.

At the next stoplight we pulled up alongside a truck with big, shiny silver hubcaps. Looking at the reflection of our car in the hubcaps, I noticed that it was bright yellow with a checkered stripe down the side. A taxi; no question. How didn't I notice before?

I tried my best to talk to the guy. I gave him the usual speech about being an English teacher, and so on. It seems that any time a Romanian discovers I'm an American, they ask me whether I like Romania. This question usually leads them into a discussion of what life was like under communism. Of course I can't speak from experience, but I find it interesting that quite a few Romanians I've talked to really miss communism (especially the older generations). They tell of how everyone's social standing was more or less equal, salaries were adequate and prices were small. I don't know how much of this is fanciful romanticizing, or whether life was really better back then. I've heard both sides. However, the fact is, life in Romania is pretty rough for a lot of people. The transition to capitalism has caused a great disparity in wealth. There are some very rich people, a lot of very poor people, and not much of a middle class. Many complain about the constant rise in prices while salaries lag behind. I am not an economist, nor can I really speak for the economic situation in Romania. Nevertheless, there seem to be a lot of Romanians complaining. My usual response is that transition is tough, and capitalism certainly isn't perfect.

In talking with the driver about the economic situation in Romania, I was sure to really emphasize that, being a teacher, I didn't make much money. It's true, teaching is one of the worst-paid professions in Romania.

My tactic worked. When we got to Timisoara, he decided not to charge me full price for the ride. Phew! He even helped me by taking me to the spot where I could pick up another car to Lugoj. So, all in all, it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. It seems a little conversation goes a long way.

Next time I'll be more careful about looking at the color of the car...


Cameron Wright said...

I gotta stop just being quiet when I hitch-hike, however knowing there is an economic incentive to talk a bit, I just might!

The Book Guy said...

Don't we always romanticize the past? Man is built to minimize negative memories. I've read enough to know that back then, especially in the 80s, all telephones had factory built-in microphones that were monitored on a random basis.

Woman were required to submit to monthly pregnancy tests and to explain why she wasn't pregnant, because the Party needed workers. Men and women who remained childless after the age of twenty-five, whether married or single, were liable for a special tax amounting to between 10 and 20 percent of their income.
Villages were being destroyed wholesale and residents transferred into those ugly blocs in manufacturing centers.

All available food was being exported for hard currency to pay the IMF debt, leaving people starving under a severe ration system. One of the money-saving methods was endless rolling electrical blackouts on a daily basis along with the same for water and heating.

Something like 30% of the populace were registered informants for Securitate. If you spoke to a foreigner you were hauled in for questioning. Even many priests and bishops filed reports on their membership.

Your home was subject to search without warrant or warning and if you had too much food on the shelves (by whatever standard the searchers decided to use) it was confiscated and you could be arrested.

Typewriters had to be registered and characteristics noted so the source of underground newspapers could be traced. It was a criminal offence to listen to anything other than official radio broadcasts.

If any of your relatives or close friends defected or were exposed as anti-communist activists you could expect to lose your job, your apartment and perhaps be shipped to a work camp.

The job of the youngest and oldest members of the extended family was to find lines to stand in at various shops and hold the place for whichever member of the family was available when their turn came. People bought anything that became available in shops people would buy them whether they needed them or not to save for bartering later.

The joke was (and is) that under communism everybody had enough money but the shops were bare and now the shops are filled and no one has money.

You can certainly develop a list of some positive aspects of life then and living there I wouldn't make it a point to over-debate how good things are now, but people often wear rather thick rose-colored glasses when thinking back 20 years.