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Coming back from Queensland I took photographs of my airline meals, as I generally do. In fact I often take photographs of my meals out, if they are at all interesting in place or kind or size, which is where my shockingly neglected blog comes in.

I have an idea for another blog, just as an aside here. I've got the domain registered and I'm playing around with a few ideas.

When I get time. My own computer with the busted hinges finally flickered and lost it on Sunday, so it's in at the repair shop. It's been around the world three and a half times, and spent just about every night of two years knocking around my cab, usually pushed down beside the passenger seat, so it's done well to last this long.

Got home - I all but clung to the flight attendant when the time came to get out and walk across the tarmac in Canberra, begging her to take me back to Queensland - and voted. I was naughty. "You've got my vote!" I said to one of the two major party reps as I walked in.

"I put your guy last!" I told the Green on leaving. I like Bob Brown personally, but the Green policies make no economic sense to me.

In fact I voted Independent in House and Senate, but you've got to put one major party above the other, and I put Liberal ahead of Labor both times. Do my bit to encourage Independents, and make Canberra as marginal as possible.

Besides, I really wanted Julia Gillard to do well, but she has just totally been the party slogan machine. Her vision for Australia seems to exist entirely of getting elected and she will say anything, make any promise, attack any opponent to make it so.

Not that Tony Abbott is hugely inspiring in himself, but I see him as having more character. He ran a very good campaign, looking more and more the Prime Minister every day.

As it turned out, watching the election night coverage, where the experienced commentators refrained from calling the outcome and no concession or victory speeches were made by either major party leader, it was Independents' Day.

The decision on who will form government will rest in the hands of three Independents from regional Australia. I'm hoping that this will lead to a lot more open-ness and honesty in government. At the very least, it's one in the nuts for the big parties.


Jul. 13th, 2010 11:48 am
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Cool and misty day outside. Canberra's winters always seemed to me, when I first moved here, to be clear and blue and sparkling. Cold, to be sure, with a frost every dawn, but rarely overcast.

Nowadays, fifty-fifty. Maybe it's indicative of my state of mind to see more clouds than sun, but I doubt it. It's just different. More people, maybe. A wider change, maybe. Possibly both.

Whatever, I love Canberra, and so long as I do it safely ruggled up or in a heated office, winter here is to be enjoyed, not endured.

We've got a temporary cab to drive while Betsy is off the road. It's Silver Service, an old Statesman, and it's a chore, that's what it is.

That bozo who tried to overtake me in the bikelane a couple of weeks back, I'd like to sue him for the lost income, the inconvenience and the stress.

Getting into a new cab is difficult enough. The controls are different, the meter, printers, keypads and so on are all either different models or arranged differently or both, the kill switches for the various things are hidden away in different spots.

But an old cab - and TX70 has over half a million kilometres up - is an extra collection of bother. Small things are broken, or loose. The engine and suspension are no longer fresh.

Let's see. The bootlid struts are gone. Lift the boot up to put luggage in, it falls down. You unlock the boot using either the inconvenient button in the glove box or the stud on the key, and it unlocks and stays closed because there is nothing to push it up away from the catch.

It took me an age to find the switch for the Cabcharge keypad - which no longer fits on the holder because some crucial part is broken.

I can't change the date and time. Maybe there's a way, but if so it isn't intuitive amongst the hundred or so buttons forming the Statesman's ergonomic dash. Likewise resetting the trip meter.

The thing vibrates:
a. at a certain speed
b. when idling after about fifteen minutes.

The wiper blades are worn.

The rear ashtray falls open and won't stay closed.

One of the front park globes is gone.

Turn off the engine and the doors lock.

A hundred other things. Yeah, it drives, it works, it does the job, but it's no joy at all.

And no petrol in the tank. The dual fuel engine starts on petrol and switches to gas a few seconds later, but it really wants that petrol.

So there I am on the airport rank. I get to the front, a lady approaches with a bag, I turn off the engine - remember, I can't open the boot from inside the car, I have to lift it as I unlock it - and she slings her small soft bag into the back seat anyway. I crank the engine. And again, and again.

Passengers are streaming out, cabs behind are growing impatient, my passenger jumps out and gets the next cab.

Finally I get the thing going, get a passenger - no luggage - and he says "Kingston". A short fare.

I drop him off, and that's it. Five hours into a thirteen hour shift, I'm going home. This is NO fun.

Fill up with a bit of petrol and top up the gas, park it in the carport and have a pleasant remainder of the evening with the family watching some Montreal comedy festival. That's fun.

Then at four in the morning I'm woken by a text from the day driver. Problem with the printer. Then - battery flat.

So I'm out in the frosty predawn, moving cars and mucking about with jumper leads and blaspheming away as I describe last night's shift to him.

Thank goodness my day driver is a saint. Every moment with him is a joy. Talking taxis at halfpast four in the cold is a pleasure.

Well, give him joy of TX 70. Leather seats and six-stacker CD it may have, but it's a chore to drive.

He sent me a text a bit later on. He'd gotten a VIP passenger a fair bit closer to The Lodge than the Prime Minister, who remains in her Kingston apartment.
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Packing complete, last minute chores done, bags ready, and my day driver turns up early, bless his cheerful heart!

We arrive at the airport in style, silver limousine drawing to the kerb in the best position on the crowded drop-off area, my uniformed chauffeur hands the luggage out, my wife licks the last vestiges of chocolate away - a cabbie with a bag of tiny Easter eggs, imagine that! - and we're off!

Check-in is easy enough, but Canberra being Canberra, the premium line is longer than the regular queue. Security a breeze - for my wife. She's flying with just a handbag, while my tiny daypack is bursting at the seams with a tonne of light-weight, space-saving kit that I can't possibly part with. I could live for a week off this stuff, so what's in my checked bags, my dear wife wonders.

She looks immaculate and elegant; me, I'm the complete travel geek in cargo pants, plastic belt and a black polo. Sometimes I wonder why she picked me. Opposites attract, maybe.

The lady manning the J lounge twinkles when I outlined the itinerary: "Cherry blossoms in Kyoto, tulips in Amsterdam and a smile on Kerri's face."

This lounge is full, and we're lucky to snag a couple of seats together. We're the odd couple here: I'm not in a suit, and she's not male. There are a bare handful of women in the lounge, standing out like tulips in a sea of dark suits and power ties.

Long gin and tonic for Kerri and a glass of bubbles for me. A selection of snacks. Olives dripping vinegar, a tiny plate of what might be wasabi peas. There is a tub of pumpkin soup, trays of hot savouries, cold meats, cheeses, juices and crackers, but we ignore these. We're saving ourselves for something better.

An hour or so before our flight is called. We're on a jet. Not that I mind the turbo-props, but the high whining sounds hurt my wife's ears. My years in the mortar platoon fixed that for me long ago.

A quick glance over the tarmac as we leave. The view from the J lounge isn't great, but over in the distance the tents of the Great Moscow Circus are rising. Canberra International Airport: land of temporary structures and constant change. The terminal itself will be gone within the year, all operations crammed into Stage One of the new building.

One day, the dream will be complete, the roadworks and taxi torture test track will vanish, and we cabbies will scratch our heads in puzzlement, reminiscing about the old days here, when every day was a new adventure.
Moscow Circus
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There has been a rash of horrific fatal accidents recently, and the kneejerk reaction of governments around Australia has been to increase fines and punishments in legislation. Seize the cars of persistent offenders and crush them. Lock the buggers up. Fine the daylights out of them.
The idea is that, knowing there’s a savage penalty in store, drivers will fall into line, obey the road regulations in every respect, and the problem vanishes.
As ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said, announcing tougher laws, “We are sending a clear message to the community that Canberra’s culture of dangerous driving will not be tolerated.”
Government is out of touch. The accidents have been fatal. The crime of being stupid on the roads is one that is punishable by death. Drivers know this, so what possible notice are they going to take of any lesser penalty? A hefty fine for going around a corner too fast and sliding into a tree is nothing when you compare it to having a branch speared through your trunk.
Sending messages to the community and paying for advertising campaigns doesn’t work. Jon Stanhope could be sitting beside some of the morons on the road, reading out the regulations, and they are still going to slug down a six-pack and whip out on wet roads for a pack of fags.
When self-policing obviously isn’t working, you need to get real actual burly police out there on the roads doing the policing.
The point for the government is that police are expensive and fatal car crashes are free. Apart from replacing the odd light pole it’s a user pays situation.
Well, Chief Minister Stanhope, I’m about fed up with some of these public artworks you’ve been scattering round interchanges and motorways. A pile of painted rocks and twisted metal girders may be art in your book, and well worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars to the “artist”, but it’s another useless roadside obstacle for drivers to run into if they lose control on a wet road, and it’s the cost of a car full of policemen patrolling the streets to catch the lunatics driving dangerously.
And there are lunatics out there. I’m a cabbie. I see them every day and night. They don’t care about the death penalty, and they aren’t going to care if you ratchet the dangerous driving fine up to a million bucks. It’s not going to happen to them so why should they worry?
Well, make it happen. Get a couple of coppers in an unmarked car appearing out of nowhere when they least expect it. That’ll send a message.
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Anzac Parade
Anzac Parade,
originally uploaded by skyring.

Work began on the Anzac Parade resurfacing on 12 November last year, with a completion date of 24 April this year, so as not to upset the two major commemorative events of Armistice Day and Anzac Day.

For months, traffic has been limited to the eastern carriageway, with a line of concrete barriers dividing three lanes into two. It has been a major inconvenience, not to mention a continuing eyesore on one of Canberra's prime tourist views from the War Memorial down and across the lake to Parliament House.

Today the concrete barriers were being removed and traffic was flowing smoothly again. Here the barrier blocks are being lifted onto trucks beside the Vietnam Memorial.
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Long Fares
Long Fares,
originally uploaded by skyring.

Just when you start thinking that you’ve seen it all, along comes a shift like the last one.

Pat the day driver turned up early. I was fresh out of the shower and only partially uniformed, but I heard the dog give a bark, so I went out to chat. Once upon a time my little skittish terrier dog would have yelped herself into a frenzy, but nowadays someone can come along in the middle of the afternoon, park a limousine in my carport, get out and begin polishing the windows, and she barely mentions the fact.

We chatted for a while, and at one point I opened the car door to check something inside, and then we said goodbye. He was off to home and an early night, me to finish getting my stuff together to begin my shift.

Took me about five minutes to pack up my gear, put my shoes on, etc. I came down, logged onto the despatch system, got out a fresh envelope, jotted down the start of shift figures, stowed my bits and pieces away.

“Warm in here,” I thought, and reached down to start the engine and get the aircon working. Oooops. No key. Felt into my pocket, checked all the usual places, went and looked inside the house. No key.

“Errr,” I messaged Pat, “do you have the key in your pocket?”

He didn’t exactly reply that he did, but his response, that he had swearwords on his tongue, suggested to me that he was leadfooting it back.

So I began my shift a little late.

I got a lovely job early on, collecting some members of the Australian Academy of Science building from their distinctive meeting place, officially known as the Shine Dome, but shown off to bemused tourists as the Eskimo Embassy. Got a great picture of the cab outside, but that will have to wait for another day.

Later on, I got a call to a major government building for a ComCar offload job. ComCar is the Commonwealth limousine service, and they generally shuttle members of parliament around, taking up all the good slots at the airport, idling the evenings away outside restaurants etc. Usually they only work when parliament is sitting, which it isn’t at the moment, so occasionally they call on Silver Service for an odd job.

I won’t say who my passenger was, but he was a senior government minister, and I waited half an hour for him.

It wasn’t quite the same as a Washington DC cabbie giving Hillary Clinton a lift, but it was still an experience I don’t get every day. No photograph from this trip, neither.

I went back to the airport to meet the last flight, the one from the Gold Coast getting in half an hour before midnight. Normally this is a bit of a gamble. You don’t want to drive out to the airport, have nine passengers get off the plane heading for the cab rank, and be taxi number ten. On the other hand, jobs from the airport are usually a lot more pleasant and better paying than picking up folk from the nightclubs in town. I’ll often get some very cheerful drunks and we’ll have a wonderful time, but you never know.

On this occasion, I was taxi number eleven, and when it became obvious that the airport was clear for the night, there were a few swearwords on my tongue as I drove off.

Drove past the service station, accelerating away into the night, into town, when I got a job offer. “Canberra International Airport”, it said. The passengers from the Queensland flight were all gone, but every now and then I’ll get a job from a late worker at the business park, or the VIP squadron, or the private aviation hangars.

So I took the job. Better than lining up in Civic with a bazillion other cabs for the eight dollar fifty fares getting carloads of woozy students back to their colleges.

Well, blow me down and sweep me up! My job was to Wagga Wagga, for a five hundred and fifty dollar fare!

My pickup was outside the Qantas doors, and there they were, a few young folk chatting to a policeman. The cop approached as I drew up. “Looks like you’re going to Wagga!” he said.

We loaded the bags into the boot. A bit of a squeeze, but we filled up all the corners. Likewise my passengers.

Money up front - that’s the rule for long fares. I didn’t think that these youngsters were going to run off into the night when we got to Wagga Wagga, but best to get things sorted out before heading off several hours into regional New South Wales.

We got the fare settled - a bunch of pineapples and a card, for which I had to get authorisation, and then we headed off.

Oddly enough, it was the cab’s second long trip of the week. A day earlier Pat had taken a gentleman up to Sydney, and almost continued on to Brisbane with a thousand dollar tip in his pocket. His blog tells the story far better than I could have, but I’d had to drive a spare taxi that night, and my backside was still wincing after a shift spent sitting in the most uncomfortable car seat in the world.

I could tell there was a story to this trip, and with laughter and embarrassed sighs, it all came out.

My four passengers had a friend who was graduating from the Army recruit training centre at Kapooka, just outside Wagga Wagga. They had flown down, intending to hire a car for the two to three hour trip out. But when the only driver in the group went to the rental desk, he discovered that he’d left his drivers licence back in Queensland, and not surprisingly, the rental firm wasn’t going to hand over one of their cars to a group of teenagers without a drivers licence between them.

Midnight, and there are no trains, no buses out to Wagga. In a strange city, their options were either to camp in the terminal, or hire a taxi.

Five hundred and fifty dollars is a lot of money for a cab ride, but they scraped it up - probably their spending money for the trip - and luckily they drew a Silver Service car, with the leather seats, the legroom in the rear cabin, the driver who was polite enough not to laugh at their story...

No, seriously, I was thinking that these things happen to anyone. Even the most organised man in the world - my day driver - had forgotten a car key that very day.

Midnight, and a long drive ahead. But I swung around Parliament House for these late night tourists to have a look at the building and to get a photograph.

Then we headed up Anzac Parade, that glorious ceremonial avenue leading to the Australian War Memorial, and after that the buildings became ever more sparse.

They were tired after a big day, and gradually the chatter ceased, and the young lady who had been given the front seat cranked it back and began sleeping. I turned the music down and the heat up as we flew down the empty highway. It would have been a great trip in daytime, but at night it was just distant lights, roadsigns and a great darkness hiding the beautiful rolling golden hills of southern New South Wales.

We joined the Hume Highway, a stream of double-length semi trailers improving the midnight hours between Melbourne and Sydney, but after a few minutes of cruising with these monsters, I pulled in at the Yass services. The car needed gas, and I needed coffee for the long drive there and back.

I also took the opportunity to text Pat, letting him know that I wouldn’t be back until dawn. Just in case he got dressed and turned up at my place at three in the morning to wait for a taxi that was halfway across the next State.

It was a quiet ride down the Hume, apart from trying to share the road with people whose professional careers consist of steering mighty trucks through the night. They know every twist of the road, every speed sign, every lane change the same way I know the road out to the airport, and when we hit roadworks five miles from Gundagai, I had an impatient semitrailer not just filling all three rear-view mirrors, but illuminating the cab’s interior with blazing searchlights telling me to hurry up.

I hurried, sipping my coffee and anxiously looking out for wildlife on the road. At 120 kilometres an hour, I’d make a fine mess of any kangaroo. And vice versa.

The GPS display tightened up and eventually we were at a scale where street names made sense. Wagga Wagga, here we are!

Wagga Wagga was not interested, and the motel was dark and deserted. We found an all-night service station, unloaded the bags, posed for photographs, and parted ways. I had to get the car back for the day driver’s shift and there was a lot of driving to do before I could sleep.

I loaded up some junk food, put “The Long Tail” on the iPhone, and hit the road, enduring a series of horrible punning text messages from my waiting day driver.

Luckily, no wombats were injured in the making of this voyage and I delivered a car that was full of gas, if not sparkling clean, just as the sky began to pale.

And there’s one brand new soldier today, who has the best friends in the world. They were four lovable, engaging young folk, and it was my privilege to be of service to them.

Cabbie fun

Jan. 4th, 2009 08:59 am
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Running repairs
Running repairs,
originally uploaded by skyring.

A guy in a taxi wanted to speak to the driver so he leaned forward and tapped him on the shoulder.
The driver screamed, jumped up in the air and yanked the wheel over. The car mounted the curb, demolished a lamppost and came to a stop millimetres from a shop window.
The startled passenger said “I didn’t mean to frighten you, just wanted to ask you something.”
Taxi driver says “Not your fault Sir. It’s my first day as a cab driver; I’ve been driving a hearse for the past 25 years”.

A cabbie classic that one. The cartoon is closer to home. Things go wrong with cabs all the time. Especially with some of the older cabs, a million kilometres on the clock and years of life left in them. Bits rattle loose, one speed bump too many, passengers tinkering with the moving parts, or just old age sneaking up on cab and cabbie alike.

And what’s a night driver to do when the workshop is closed, the defect isn’t serious, and there’s people lined up to be driven home? Naturally, the 24-hour servo is the handy-dandy patchit shop, and a roll of duct tape is just the thing to hold a wobbling wing mirror straight. Next time you load your bags into a taxi boot, check out the corners. Like as not there’ll be a couple of elastic straps, the kind with hooks on the ends, tacked away somewhere. You can hold a cab together with octo straps, and if there’s more luggage than the boot can easily contain, just pile it in and use the straps to hold the boot lid down on the trip.

Had to laugh the other day. Driving up Commonwealth Avenue towards Parliament House, and there’s a ratty old Holden Commodore parked on the median strip, a gaggle of young guys standing glumly around. The car had obviously been in a recent shunt, because the front end was slightly bent, bonnet buckled, bumper missing. But obviously drivable, because the bonnet was held on by about a kilometre of duct tape. Checking under the hood would be a major (and expensive) exercise.

My guess is that the lads had come to Canberra to attend the annual Summernats car festival, a three day event where young men spend all their money on petrol, junk food, beer and birds. They head back home on the Sunday, sunburnt a blistering red and running on the last fumes of their credit cards.

Naturally, the local police call in all their reserves for this weekend, which they spend cruising up and down looking for galahs. They haul them over by the dozens, breath-testing drivers, issuing defect notices, speeding tickets. This car held together by tape wouldn’t have lasted long.

I would have stopped to take a photograph, but I had a passenger beside me, and so the opportunity was mist.

My cab’s safe for the weekend. The owner called in my day driver last week, giving us three new tyres and replacing some burnt-out lights. We’re street-legal again.

The cartoon and joke above courtesy of the Irish Taxi website, though I suspect that the cartoon was borrowed from somewhere else. Africa, Ireland, Australia, cabs and cabbies are pretty much the same the world over.


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September 2010

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