Layne Mosler is a writer who ate and danced tango in Buenos Aires for nearly four years before moving to New York City to drive a taxi. She’s currently living in Berlin and writing Driving Hungry, a book based on her Taxi Gourmet blog (www.taxigourmet.com) that’s scheduled for publication by Vintage (Random House) in 2014.
When did you first know you were a traveler?
When I was 7 years old, we went to LAX to pick up my grandma. I took one look at the cities on the departures board and asked mom why we never went anywhere on an airplane.
Is there something you always do, whenever you’re on a trip?
Whenever I go to a new place, I get in a taxi and ask the driver to take me to his or her favorite place to eat. It’s more than a way to learn about food I might not find otherwise—it also helps me go below the surface of a place. Taxi drivers have a unique relationship with their cities and almost always have an interesting story to tell.
What’s one place that has moved you or changed you in a significant way?
Buenos Aires - actually, the taxi drivers of Buenos Aires - changed my relationship with uncertainty.
I met Germany’s answer to Zorba the Greek in a Berlin taxicab in 2010. The man is what Germans would call a lebenskuenstler: a no-office, no-boss, no-rules person who lives his life as a work of art. A year after my first taxi ride with him, we drove together from Berlin to Istanbul in a 1993 opel Astra that we christened “Zorba the Berliner.” He didn’t tell me anything about the route or his travel plans - every day was a spontaneous journey (and, for me, a struggle with the unknown). When I asked him how he’d like it if we went on a road trip in the USA and I didn’t tell him where or how we were going, he said, “I think that sounds really great!”
What’s one important lesson you’ve learned from your travels?
The best experiences are the ones you don’t engineer.
In what ways does writing inform your relationship with travel? Do you keep a journal? Conduct interviews? Write on location?
I take notes the way a lot of people might take pictures on the road - if I see a funny sign (e.g. The Universe of the Remote Control, in Buenos Aires), hear Lionel Ritchie in a fancy restaurant, or spot an architectural oddity from a taxi, I write it down. This way I pay closer attention to where I am. And when I flip through my notebook later on, I can reconstruct those moments and write about them.I also interview people (taxi drivers, tango teachers, other writers) and transcribe the interviews as quickly as I can - as I’m writing my book I’m realizing how crucial capturing all of this raw material is. I have to do a lot of mining after the fact to find the things that work for the book, but it’s so worth it.
Through travel, have you overcome any fears or obstacles?
I’ve never overcome my fears. I travel in spite of them.
What advice can you give to women who want to start traveling?
Figure out what it is you’re passionate about - eating, dancing, music, painting, architecture, whatever - and use this passion as a doorway, or an entry point, everywhere you go. This will lead you to people who share your passion and perhaps show you a side of a place you might not find in a guidebook.