There are taxicab confessions and there are taxicab confessions.
What if you were a passenger in a cab, and the driver was one of those talkative ones? Not the kind of talkative where he complains about the mayor, or about his sister-in-law or about the cost of gasoline. The kind who matter-of-factly tell you about his greedy landlady, and how he killed her.
You know, to death.
That’s what happened recently to some taxi riders in Belgrade, Serbia. They got in the cab and their driver, after bitching about traffic and the general chaos of the city, suddenly started revealing gruesome details of what he characterized as a “youthful mistake.”
“I rented a flat from some old woman,” he volunteered, utterly without prompting. “Rich, stinking rich. And I was broke, without even money for bread.”
The passengers were unnerved, shifting uncomfortably or muttering some noncommittal acknowledgement that they were hearing him. This I know because it was all recorded on one of those miniature cameras commonly installed for the driver’s protection. It’s all on tape for the video voyeur, as he spins his shocking tale.
The landlady, he says, “Tortured me. ‘You can’t shower when you want. You can’t do this. You can’t do that.’ Life was hell. She was stinking rich, this old hag.
“She really drove me mad,” he continues – but surely, it’s he who was driving mad. Now, in a moving automobile being operated by a remorseless murderer or lunatic or both, there’s not much you can do to escape. Strangely, these passengers seemed to accept his ravings with equanimity.
Driver: “So I decided to rob her.”
Businessman in back seat: “Ah.”
Then the driver explains how the robbery went haywire, leaving the landlady dead. And then he describes having the police on his neck, driving him farther into mental disarray. “The guilt comes in, then the insomnia.” Quite a drama, all in all.
Actually, quite literally a drama, because what the man was describing was the theater staging of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which will be featured in the fall season of the Yugoslav Drama Theater. The driver was actor Slobodan Tesic. And the cameras were rolling not to protect him, but to promote the theater’s repertory.
Two other videos in the series spin out a harrowing tale of jealousy and rage, and an episode about a moneylender who exacts a pound of flesh from his penurious borrower. I will not insult you by naming the plays. Neither is "Jersey Boys."
Now it happens that I have a slight connection to the principals. A few years back, my wife produced "The Graduate" at the Yugoslav Drama Theater, and the advertising for that (smash hit!) was done by McCann Belgrade, which produced these videos. That’s how I came to discover them. But others have, too. This is a state theater in a poor country, and I promise you its marketing budget is functionally zero. Yet the taxicab spots are the talk of Belgrade.
You may recall that I tell everyone who will listen not to squander time and resources making videos with the intention of creating viral sensations; it’s like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. But, perhaps because these people are from a strange and distant land, they might not have my books on their nightstands, all dog-eared and underlined. Therefore they foolishly undertook to merge "Taxicab Confessions" pop culture with culture culture -- and produced a minor sensation.
Well, sometimes lightning does strike. I am just grateful for one thing, video-voyeurwise. This season, Yugoslav Drama Theater is not staging "Oh, Calcutta!"
Editor's note: Yugo is a brand of subcompact cars manufactured in Servia between 1980 and 2008.