Our driver today has a moustache which could sweep a conference hall.
Its greying bristles twitch in the wind as he heaves his van through the streets of Damascus, ferrying passengers along a route he has probably driven a thousand times.
The journey starts near the upper slopes of Mount Qassioun on the northern edge of the Syrian capital and winds its way down through the teeming streets to the Christian Quarter in the east of the Old City.
His service taxi, which like most of the others can hold about 12 people – a couple more if you don’t mind squatting without a seat – is a great leveller. Businessmen or students; ageing housewives hauling their shopping bags or young girls on their way to a night out in a coffee shop or bar; the driver takes all-comers.
And he is by no means alone. There are other men who work this road – and countless more who growl through the Syrian capital on separate routes which criss-cross Damascus like the circuits of a microchip.
For 10 Syrian pounds (around 12 pence) it is possible to get from one side of the city the other. Or a simple shout of al yameen lau samaht (on the right please) will see you dropped off at any point along the way.
The driver rarely turns round to meet the eyes of his passengers. As every 10 pound coin is passed through up to three sets of hands to the front of the van, he bends his right arm back as if he were a pallbearer then drops the fare into his money box on the dashboard.
One wonders whether he keeps track of every passenger’s contribution or simply relies on an assumption of goodwill among those on board. It’s probably best not to try and hoodwink him though – he’s been around the block a few times after all.