The Flying Sheik

January.21. 2012

Catching a cab in Kuala Lumpur is always a hit or miss affair. You never know if you’re going to get an honest driver or be taken for a ride (figuratively as well as literally).

On a recent trip to Kuala Lumpur, I had to catch a cab from Mid-Valley Megamall, (my favorite stomping ground in KL) to Sungei Wang, (my second favorite stomping ground in KL).

It was the week before Christmas and the mall was packed. There were literally people and cars everywhere, as far as the eyes could see.

After trying to hail a cab for ten minutes, one finally stopped for me.

Now, one thing I’ve learned in KL is to always ask the driver indirectly if he was going to go by meter or if he was going to charge a flat fare (usually an exorbitant fare).

The way to do this is to ask if he would go where you wanted to go, like “Do you go to Sungei Wang?”

If he says yes, that means he would go by meter, if he gives a number figure like RM40, that means he’s asking a flat fare.

As luck would have it, when I asked him, my cab driver said RM30*. I made a motion as if to decline the ride, and he quickly changed it to RM25.

I was desperate and RM25 sounded much more reasonable, so I got into the cab.

Almost as soon as I got into the cab, he said, “I’ll take the tunnel.”

I was curious so I asked him, “The smart tunnel?”

“No,” he said. “The tunnel.”

As he said this, he made a right turn and there, right in front of us, was an opening in the wall of concrete. We went through it, and almost miraculously, we emerged from the other side into a side road which took us straight into the freeway.

I was amazed at how easily he was able to bypass the huge traffic jam outside the mall, and I asked him, “Do other drivers know about that tunnel?”

“No, that’s a secret way,” he said.

Then he looked at me slyly and said, “I know every road and shortcut in this city. Other people need a GPS but I don’t need a GPS because my GPS is in my brain.”

We sped down the freeway and exited to an unfamiliar street. He was about to make a left turn into another street when he suddenly changed his mind and continued straight on.

I looked back and saw why. There was a police officer hiding further down that street. Even as I looked, I saw a car behind us turn into the street and was immediately stopped by the officer.

The cab driver saw this too and he laughed. “These people are stupid. They want to get a love letter from the policeman.”

Then he added, “I never get a love letter from them because I know where they hide and I know where they put their CCTV cameras.”

He went on. “We call them dogs. Because all they want is money. And the more money they get, the more they want.”

“You see, I’ve been driving this taxi, not five days, not five weeks, not five months but fifteen years. I know every road in KL. I’m the fastest driver in KL. You can drive a Ferrari and you still can’t beat me.”

I was really impressed by now. The guy was truly a virtuoso of the highway. He handled his old beat up Proton Saga as deftly as Heifetz handling his Stradivarius and he did it with almost as much panache and artistry too.

I had to go to the airport the next day and needed a ride there, so I asked him if he went to the airport.

He looked at me and said, “Yes, only cost you RM70 one way. But my regular customers give me RM120. They know I can take them there in half an hour when other people take one hour.”

He’s right there too. KLIA is 75 kilometers from KL and it normally takes about an hour to get there by car.

Part of me was curious about how he was going to cover 75 km in half an hour, but part of me says no, you have a plane to catch, don’t risk it, so I decided not to ask him to take me there, but I wanted his phone number so I asked him, “Can you give me your phone number?”

He gave it to me, then I realized I didn’t know his name so I asked him his name.

He looked at me and said, “They call me the Flying Sheik.”

Now, I know you probably think I’m making all this up.

What are the odds of the world’s foremost authority on virtuosity meeting someone in Kuala Lumpur (of all places), who goes by the unlikely name of “The Flying Sheik,” and who seems to have  mastered every one of the principles enumerated in the said authority’s blockbuster book “The AOV?”

From the principle of economy (taking shortcuts) to the principle of lightness (a traffic citation becomes a love letter) to a healthy disdain (and respect) for rules and authority, this man seems to be the very embodiment of all the qualities I wrote about in the book

But happened it did, everything, exactly as I described above.

In fact, I have the man’s phone number in my phone under the name “F Sheik.”

We reached Sungei Wang in less than 15 minutes, which was nothing short of a miracle, considering the traffic congestion everywhere.

And I’m resolved next time to ask him to take me to the airport. I’m curious as to what unearthly shortcuts he’s going to take to cover 75 kilometers in half an hour.

* RM stands for Ringgit Malaysia, the currency of Malaysia. As of the time of writing, $1.00 USD is roughly equivalent to Rm3.00.
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