I am sitting in the worst cab on earth. Hurtling through pea soup fog at 120 km/hour in a godforsaken gypsy taxi with shot suspension, missing muffler. One lone wiper scrapes the windshield without a blade against the gloom. Pavement is visible rushing past my feet, while my ass sticks halfway through the backseat, and I'm shortly going to crawl the rest of the way into the trunk. At least I will die with my luggage.
The ink on my passport stamp had not dried before some tout grabbed my bags and seamlessly hustled me into this Mercedes deathtrap. I was supposed to know better, but 36 sleepless hours of travel slow even the keenest reflexes. In Africa, the slow and weak are always the first to fall. It's nature's way of tidying up the gene pool.
To my great surprise, I was duly dropped at my hotel door. A rancorous discussion regarding the bill shortly ensued, as per local custom, but since the police were just then hustling a prostitute down the hotel steps, a tactical retreat seemed to serve his long term best interests.
I have often said that you can go far in this world with nothing more than credit cards and a willingness to surrender all dignity. As a product of American public schools, I can barely speak English, and I know just enough Spanish to order beers and insult your mother. I can't even do that in French or Arabic. This stands me poorly in dealing with the realities of daily existence here in Morocco.
Somehow though, a mixture of sign language, goofy pantomime and the liberal application of a cartoon French accent propels me forward. Possession of a thick wad of Moroccan dirhams and a willingness to part with them doesn't hurt.
My first few days consist of little more than jolting awake at 3 a.m. in a jet lagged stupor, lying perfectly still for two more hours to mimic the death I would at this point cheerfully embrace. At first light I shower in water the color and temperature of yesterday morning's Earl Gray and embrace the dawn.
But Casablanca's embrace can be seem prickly, like hugging a chain smoking cactus who's leaning on the horn, speaking French, Arabic and Berber with equal ferocious passion and driving like a bat out of hell.