Or something like that. I wouldn't want to embarrass the man by having one of my obsessive blog-fans track him down....
That - or something like it - was the registration number of the cab driver who took me up to Liudaokou last Monday. And a fine character he was: no fuss, no bullshit, no feigned inability to understand my fractured Chinese, no patronising correction of my tones. And the man actually knew how to drive. And he nodded appreciatively, approvingly when I told him to go on up to Beishatan Qiao rather than run the gauntlet of the 4th Ringroad, readily accepted the instruction rather than trying to argue for the merits of getting stuck in a traffic jam for 20 minutes.
This, you see, is an uncommonly low taxi driver number. I can't even recall how many digits they have (I think it might in fact be 7, or even 8 - must check later today), but one generally looks only at the first two. The prevalent superstition - amongst locals as well as expats, I think - is that the critical threshold is around '20'. A number lower than '20' is usually good (although you may get the occasional dingbat in the high teens). A number higher than '20' is often a bit dicey (although you may be lucky in the low 20s, since these guys have at least got a few years under their belt now; and a lot of the more recent recruits [I guess we're closing in on '30' now] are actually pretty good too; it was in the low and mid-20s that the Supervision Bureau seemed to go through a really dire spell of accepting any old swarthy peasant for the job). A number less than '15' is these days a real rarity, and implies, I think, that the guy has probably been on the road for 15 or 20 years. A number less than '10' is virtually unheard of.
Numbers less than '05' you write down in a notebook and compare with friends. I think I did once have a '0344... something'; but this guy last week must have been the second or third most ancient cab driver I've ever come across here. A red-letter day indeed.
And particularly welcome, since I've been having a bit of a bad run of late. I've been using taxis way too much, putting myself statistically at risk of "bad taxi moments" - and lord, I think my recent experience has been outside the standard deviation. I mean, I got a guy last weekend who stopped dead at a green light. Is it possible that the Beijing Taxi Supervision Bureau approves drivers who are red-green colourblind? I think perhaps it is!
I think I will formalise this as a regular competition for my Beijing-based friends (prizes yet to be decided, but probably involving alcohol): collect your lowest taxi driver numbers, and we'll see who's got the best one each month. Please, if you spot any really good, old numbers (or simply have an amusing - preferably positive! - taxi driver anecdote to share with us), add them in the comments below.