Driven: The Secret Lives of Taxi Drivers

By Benjamin Hertwig

by Marcello Di Cintio, Biblioasis, 2021/$22.95/280 pp.

In Marcello Di Cintio’s latest book, the Calgary-based writer examines the criss-crossing paths and stories of Canadian taxi drivers. The result is an engrossing collection of vignettes that quickly expands beyond the inside of a cab. From Holocaust survivors and Yellowknife’s “only Indigenous taxi driver” to former members of the infamous Westboro Baptist church and veteran Iraqi soldiers, Di Cintio’s subjects are varied, likeable, sometimes repugnant: human, in other words.

The taxi is the container that carries the stories. As Di Cintio’s interviewees flee war, cross oceans and step into the most private form of public transit, readers are confronted with global intersections made local. Here the taxi functions as portal and nexus, a self-contained room “accessible to all, but simultaneously personal and intimate.” The book is an engagement with the ways Canadians traverse urban space and how geographies of self—ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class—shape those interactions.

The chapter on “The Women of Ikwe” stood out among many strong narratives. As Di Cintio writes, “Ikwe, which means ‘woman’ in Ojibwe, is intended to give Winnipeg’s women, especially Indigenous women, an alternative to frightening taxi rides.” Founded by the Anishinaabe community activist and artist Jackie Travers, the grassroots organization features women drivers offering transportation to other women, and their fierce creativity is a notable counterpoint to the male-dominated and sometimes toxic taxi industry. In this section, the polyphony of voices allows for both nuance and generous attention. A former sex worker tells Di Cintio how she generally felt “safer with a cabbie than with a cop,” for example, and that “there are angels on earth” who have visited her “in the shape of a taxi driver.”

Many of the stories in Driven are heavy, but they are neither sensationalized nor exploitative. They reflect issues plaguing the land we call Canada: gender-based trauma, violence against Indigenous women, Islamophobia, homelessness, the opioid epidemic. At the end of the book, the decimation of the taxi industry in the “Pandemic Postscript” is particularly jarring, a reminder of the costs borne by those who can’t work at home.

As for Di Cintio himself, his presence in the book is minimal. He foregrounds the cabbies and their stories, only occasionally interjecting with commentary or personal reflections of his own. The absence of a vocal narrative presence sometimes makes remembering details of the various drivers a challenge, and I found myself desiring more connective tissue between the chapters, but Di Cintio’s writing remains strong and assured. His primary desire is to let the cabbies speak for themselves. They have much to say and we would be wise to listen.

Benjamin Hertwig is the author of Slow War (MQUP).

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