Hands free driving, Icelandic style

Posted September 15, 2016

Hands free driving, Icelandic style

You know the way some people ‘talk’ with their hands? My taxi driver was one of those people. I only wish I hadn’t discovered this as we hurtled along the road from Reykjavik to Keflavik. 

Our conversation began with him asking me where I was from. I told him I was Irish and that I’d been coming to Iceland for the last six years. He nodded approvingly. Encouraged by his response, I said I was thrilled to learn that 60% of Icelandic women have Irish roots. Genetics. An interesting topic, and as I was about to find out, the catalyst that unleashed the geeky social historian in him.

He was a big bloke, battered by a previous life working on the fishing boats. The last thing I expected from him was an erudite history lesson in genetics. But there you go: never judge a book by its cover and all that. 

Certain Icelandic gene types are more resilient to disease than others, he told me. Take the Black Death during the Middle Ages, for example … Sorry, what? I wasn’t sure how we’d got on to the subject of the Black Death but I remembered reading about it a while back. Didn’t it wipe out something like half the population of Iceland, I asked him. There was a brief pause as he considered this.

“I’ll google it,” he said.

I didn't think he'd google it there and then. 

With his mobile phone in his right hand and his left hand loosely on the steering wheel, he proceeded to search the internet. I sat in the back, nervously holding my breath each time the car veered into the other lane. My eyes were glued to the windscreen, watching for oncoming traffic. One of us had to.

His fixation with death was unnerving. And there was no easing up on speed as he read out each new nugget of information he came across. Not content with confirming the Icelandic death toll, he then wanted to know how many people in the world had died from the plague (an estimated 75 million, in case you want to know). I didn’t care. All I wanted was to make it to Keflavik in one piece. 

When he was done with researching the Black Death he moved on to imagining what a modern day pandemic might look like. He was sure that we were due one soon. Not HIV: that was now controllable. Not Ebola: that had been contained. What then? 

It was at this point that he burst out laughing. He’d been ruminating on the future decimation of the world’s population. What was funny about that? It turned out he wasn’t a closet psychopath. All this talk of disease had simply reminded him of his friend.

The unfortunate friend had recently caught a disease that left him screaming with pain every time he pissed. 

“It stings. It stings,” he squealed, mimicking his discomfort. My taxi driver was not a man you could see dispensing a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “All red and …”

He gave me a graphic impression of a throbbing penis (he’d taken both hands off the wheel to do this).

“Swollen?” I suggest.

“Yes. Big. Sore.” He was now crying with laughter. “My friend got Chlamydia.”

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