I decided to meet her at the airport fearing that her taxi driver would commit a ritual fare screwing. They are notorious for this, at least from the airport. Initially, we were told that the fare would be 15 ($10) dinar but after voicing my displeasure I was informed that the meter would be engaged. Sitting in the backseat I watched as Mr. Cabby Man surreptitiously pushed buttons to increase the fare every time he placed his hand upon the gear shift adroitly employing the Sub Rosa Knuckle Technique. Naughty cabbie. I decided it would be better to wait until we arrived to the center before formally lodging a complaint.
Pretty sure he never saw it coming and although the language barrier was formidable I am sure he got the message after I pointed at the meter (it read almost exactly 15 dinar) and screamed 'Bullshit!'. I was anything but subtle. I began yelling for assistance from a nearby traffic cop who soon approached. By this time our cab driver had readjusted the meter to read accurately (around 6 dinar if I remember correctly). This made me chuckle. The cop was not quite as sympathetic as I would have hoped but my action did have the intended effect. Unfortunately, neither Leslie, myself, nor the driver had change so Mr. Dastardly left with 10 dinar. I had to settle for a moral victory. Sometimes I suck.
So how much should it cost from the airport to the center of Tunis? Around 3 to 6 dinar depending on the time of day (fares are a bit higher at night). Why would I attract the attention of the police? Well, from what I understand great pains are taken to protect the sensibilities of tourists and preserve appearances so the police can be quite helpful in situations like this…..probably. When I had my wallet stolen I was told to file a report as items are often recovered. I had already canceled my ATM and credit card so I decided that the hassle would not justify the reward but I remembered the advice.
Perhaps, when viewed through the prism of hindsight my actions were a bit much. Yes, he was trying to bilk a goofball and his small red-headed travel companion out of a few bucks. Yes, he would not have attempted this with a local and, yes, letting him get away with it forges a path for future screwees. But still, when you consider all that was to occur shortly after my departure and how desperate folks were at the time giving the cab driver an extra five spot would not, in my most humble opinion, been such a violation of the traveler's creed. If I had it to do over again? I would have acknowledged his dastardly scheme, punctuated my discovery with a supercilious grin accompanied by a finger wag, and 'donated' some extra dinar. This I would have done to let him know that I knew that he knew that I knew he was trying to screw me but was willing to support his 'cause' for the sake of prosperity.
Our first snag came as a result of a lack of technical knowledge. We could not figure out how to go backwards. Yep, that's right, putting the car in reverse eluded us for the first half hour or so. I made this discovery while attempting to park. We headed to the highway and parked on the shoulder in order to solve the puzzle. There is a ring lever around the gear shift (below the gear knob) that needs to be lifted in order to engage reverse. Neither of us had yet to encounter this dazzling form of advanced alien technology.
If that was not embarrassing enough we actually managed to lose the car for about 45 minutes. After parking on the main street (Habib Bourgiba) we checked out of our hotel and hauled our crap back to our car to discover a woman sitting in the front street. Crazy, right? Not when you find out that it wasn't our car. Our Punto was nowhere to be found. Can you say panic? It had been towed. I was aware of this possibility but thought we were in a safe zone as I did not see the 'this is a tow zone' sign that I did elsewhere (it was missing). That woman was sitting in her car in order to avoid being towed. Had one of us remained in the Punto all would have been well. Ooopsie.
A cab driver standing nearby said something about where to find el Punto in broken English. In order to clarify we entered an upmarket hotel to inquire. We were immediately referred to a bell hop who informed us that he not only knew where the car was but that he could retrieve it for us. Why not? Less than 30 minutes later we were on our way. Cost? About $20. Did we get f***ed? Yep. Did we care? Nope.
Sooooo a guy dressed in a bell hop uniform shows up to the impounded car place with a key and they allow him to drive away for an undisclosed fee. Riiiight. It was apparent that we were not the first people to suffer such a fate. All rental cars have blue license plates so I guess we might as well have painted 'Tow This F#$^er!!!!!' on the windows. The conspiracy theorist within leads me to believe that missing signs and helpful bell hops is not all that coincidental. But, then again, who the hell am I? Not such an auspicious beginning.