DON'T USE THE METER

"The airline is on strike," the Concierge told me. We'd just returned to the hotel in Granada after visiting the Alhambra and had planned to fly to Madrid in the morning.

"Don't worry," he continued. "I will arrange for a car and driver. It's only about three hundred miles, and the countryside is beautiful."

The next morning, we found the Concierge had, indeed, made arrangements. A bright yellow car with bold letters "taxi" painted on both sides was waiting. After reaching agreement the meter would not be running, we settled for a reasonable charge.

It was the longest cab ride we'd ever had; but as we entered the outskirts of Madrid, our driver confided he'd never been this far north in Spain before and had no idea how to find the Ritz Hotel.

I suggested he pull over to the side of the road and flag down a local taxi. Our new driver knew where the hotel was.

Colombo is the capitol of Sri Lanka, halfway around the world from Spain. This is where I had another occasion to ask a taxi driver to settle for a flat fee and not use the meter.

Lulu and I were staying at a seaside resort on the Indian Ocean where it was hot very hot. Someone had suggested we visit Kandy, high in the mountains, where it would be refreshingly cool. So, away we went in a taxicab without air conditioning.

Halfway to Kandy, the driver abruptly stopped in the middle of the road. An elephant carrying a huge log in his trunk was slowly crossing in front of us. Lulu was so intrigued in watching this big fellow that she didn't look out of the open window on her side of the cab, but I was watching.

A barefooted boy approached with a surprise for Lulu. He was carrying a fruit bat with a wingspread of at least three feet. This was a big one, and the youngster was proud of it.

Having never seen a fruit bat before, I was fascinated. Its body was about the size of a small rabbit and mink in color. It was really quite handsome although obviously uncomfortable by the way it was being held.

The elephant had disappeared behind a lumber mill, and Lulu turned in time to hear the boy say, "You want a fruit bat?" She screamed as he thrust it towards her; the driver drove off in a rush.

Not too many people have a close encounter with a fruit bat.