July 2006. Drew and I had just completed our short sojourn into Jordan. In the space of a few days we managed to nearly plunge to our deaths near Petra, run out of oxygen on a SCUBA dive south of Aqaba, and acquire a particularly virulent stomach bug that actually caused at least one person to poop explosively on a wall while trying to get to a bathroom. I’m not kidding. At least four feet up. I won’t say who it was.
It was Drew. I’m sorry buddy.
So after spending two days in the fetal position, we decided it was high time to evacuate. Yeah, that’s a cheap poop-your-pants pun, deal with it, I’m not sorry. In our haste, we hired the first cabbie that would agree to drive us back to the border near Eilat. First mistake. If you’re going to take a cab across some seriously empty desert where nobody can hear you scream, maybe do a little more vetting than, “Eilat? Ok, let’s go.”
Our guy was a terrifying blend of stereotypes. There had to be at least a quart of gel holding his hair into some sort of Gladiator-esque coif. He had recently bathed in what may have been Brut (yeah, the cologne in the green plastic bottle), or possibly tear gas. His shirt was shiny enough to be used as an emergency signal to aircraft. As we got in, he put on his gigantic shades and pumped up the techno to 11 before peeling out in our shuddering chariot.
As we screamed through the scrubby hills of Western Jordan, our new best friend shouted questions at us over the deafening wailing sounds coming from the speakers behind our heads. Normal things, like, “Where you from, U.S.A?” and “What your name?” He seemed friendly enough, so we chatted a little bit to take our minds off the painful death that seemed to await us around every hairpin turn. “You have girlfriend?” As I remember, both Drew and I had recently experienced some sort of college sweetheart emotional demolition, and replied in the negative. “You have boyfriend?!” He screamed this one at us with intensity. When we both again replied in the negative, he raised his voice and bellowed “I have boyfriend!” Neither of us are homophobes, but something about the escalating intensity in the car was getting a little disconcerting. “ALL DAY LONG I AM F#$@ING HIM!” He punctuated his earsplitting declaration by pounding the dashboard with a swarthy fist. It had just gotten weird.
We tried to court silence by not responding, and it seemed to work until we passed a small Bedouin camp. A small flock of sheep caught our driver’s eye. “SHEEP!” We mumbled some sort of affirmation that they were indeed sheep. “WE BRING SHEEP IN TAXI AND F#$@ING THEM!” After comparing notes later, Drew and I confirmed that this was the exact moment where we both realized we made a fairly grievous error by getting into this cab. Our bewilderment and discomfort were only matched by our quiet resolve to not be turned into skin suits by Jordanian Buffalo Bob. We would not put the lotion on our skin! We would NOT do what we were told! We passed the next hour or so in silence, if you can call mumbled prayers for safe passage and thunderous techno beats “silence.”
Then, suddenly, in the distance we could see a grimy picture of King Abdullah shimmering in the midday heat. His ever-present bemused, kingly grin seemed reassuring, welcoming us to the border crossing. We scrambled from the car, probably before Buffalo Bob had even hit the brakes. We narrowly restrained ourselves from kissing the crumbling asphalt of the Wadi Araba. “You give me your email, I come visit you in U.S.A.?” Probably not buddy.