Day three: on the road to Gyumri. We had a different translator than we had on days one and two. She was a quintessential Armenian beauty with dark brown hair blown-dry straight, large luminous brown eyes, always dressed to the nines, model-thin body. We’d had her translate for us before and on several occasions also experienced some interesting taxi conversations. I remember one ride that ended with some yelling, then a bit of disdainful laughing, followed by throwing money at the driver and, finally, slamming the door of the taxi shut. She told us the driver proposed to her during the ride.
Our driver for day three was young, handsome, and a big smoker. Smoking is very common in Armenia and many of the cab drivers smoke. Usually our translator asked them not to, and since we were hiring them by the day, they usually comply (although I’m sure they light up the second we leave the taxi). I smelled cigarettes hanging in the air of the cab and my eyes began to sting after a few minutes in the cab.
Our translator and the driver talked amiably. A beautiful girl and captive audience—I got the impression the drivers liked her as much as a full day’s wage.
As we made our way to Gyumri, the sky was dark and ominous looking clouds loomed overhead. About an hour into the drive, I happened to notice that the gas meter hand appeared to be millimeters away from empty.
The highway to Gyumri had several filling stations for the natural gas most of the taxis used, but the distance between one station and the next was many kilometers. The process of refueling was unlike anything I’d seen in the U.S. When we had to stop and refill the tank, we were asked to exit the cab and stand a safe distance away in a small way-station for this very purpose.
I whispered to Big Papa, “Does it look like the meter is on empty to you? Should I say something?”
Big Papa looked over the cab driver’s shoulder.
“Um, hey…” I say tapping our translator on the shoulder.
“I’m a little worried that we are running very low on fuel.”
The words were barely out of my mouth when the taxi began to slow. Then it started sputtering.
I moaned to Big Papa “Can you believe this–another taxi fiasco, three days running. Oh man, I really do not want to run out of gas in the middle of rural Armenia.”
“No kidding” he replied with an edgy nervousness in his voice.
Oddly enough, the driver didn’t seem the least bit concerned. Slower and slower, we inched along with the cab lurching and spitting. We rounded the bend, and there, like an oasis in the middle of a desert, was a gas station.
Big Papa, our translator and I let out a collective sigh of relief. We pulled into the station and the three of us got out and waited at the station house while the driver filled up. I should add that by now it was raining like nobody’s business.
Getting back into the cab, we didn’t talk much the rest of the way, but all I could think about was how lucky we were the gas station was there when we needed it. Maybe the driver knew the station was right around the corner or maybe he hedged his bets that he could make it, but all I know is we drove the last several hundred meters on fumes.
When the blue gates of the children’s home finally came into view, I couldn’t have been happier. As per usual, the greeter dog was there to meet us. And I, for one, was over-the-moon to see him.