What would you do if you were trying to reunite with your pregnant wife in Madrid but a continent-sized cloud of volcanic ash stranded you in Stockholm?

Kern Schireson, a marketing consultant from New York and his colleague Rich Hanks from Seattle, were in Stockholm together on business before the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano shut down airports throughout Europe. Schireson was scheduled to meet up his pregnant wife in Madrid, but the volcano had other plans.

With no way to know when the cloud would clear and flight restrictions would be lifted, waiting out the cloud wasn’t an option. After making their way by train to Copenhagen, the pair had to figure out how to make their way another 2500 km across the continent to Madrid. The cab ride wasn’t the first option. The earliest available train ticket was several days away and was a ‘standing’ berth for a 31 hour ride. They managed to reserve a rental car in Odense, around 150 km from Copenhagen, but when they showed up, the car had already been given away and there were no cars left. The taxi was the best remaining option.

‘The metered rate was about 15 Danish kroner per km’, Schireson explained. ‘We settled on half that – around US$3500 –  after about an hour of bargaining up and down the line of cabs. We had four cabbies seriously interested, and gently played them back and forth. The guys who ended up taking the fare were buddies and I think the combination of cash, a great story, and a few days on the road goofing around together was the winning combo.’

Others were driven to comparable extremes by the volcano. British actor John Cleese spent about US$5000 on a cab ride from Oslo to Brussels to catch the train back to London. Near San Sebastián in northern Spain, Schireson and Hanks’ cab pulled alongside another Danish cab on a similar long-distance journey. The drivers recognized the cab company and there was a brief mid-road celebration with waving, honking horns, and flashing lights before the cabs parted ways.

Rich Hanks, cabbie Mustafa Corap, and Kern Schireson en route to Madrid

Repeated stops for gas station sandwiches, pretzels, and espresso helped keep everyone fed and awake, but even with two drivers the distance proved challenging. ‘After 24 hours en route, it was clear our drivers were flagging. We had about 250 km to go and the driver’s speed was going up and down. When I saw him going 80 km/h in a 120 zone, I suggested we stop for coffee. At the roadside café, I convinced him that, given that I knew Spain and Madrid, I should drive. He protested, but knew he was toast, so he agreed’.

As fate would have it, a headlight had gone out and the cab was pulled over by the police while Schireson was driving.  'They asked where I was from, where the cab was from, etc. When I told them our story, their response was ‘Pues… tira pa’lante’ – essentially ‘Well, in that case…just get on with it’ – and they sent us on our way’.

Hanks and Schireson put the tired cabbies up in a Madrid hotel to rest for the long drive back to Denmark, and Schireson went off to finally reunite with his waiting wife. With all of the uncertainty and drama, they had to change their flight plans and are heading home to New York through the Dominican Republic. ‘It was the only flight available’ Schireson said about the unusual route. ‘Apparently when Madrid has the only airport open in Europe, it gets busy’.

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