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Silver Cabs
Silver Cabs,
originally uploaded by skyring.
My days are about forty-eight hours long. It’s not that the night shifts stretch out interminably - on the contrary, the hours flash by - but that I’m always conscious of the hours before and after Canberra’s day.

About the same time as I flip the meter onto the night-time rate, it’s midnight in New Zealand, where so many of my friends live. I drive through the dark, wash the car and crawl into bed on Thursday morning, but it’s still Wednesday for another six hours in Europe. And in the USA, where so many of my Internet friends live, it’s just about always yesterday. They must think I’m a being from the future sometimes.

And occasionally, I have a very long day indeed when I’m travelling with the sun. Typically Hong- Kong to Heathrow, but the longest Friday of my life had two dawns and two dusks, from waking up in Canberra to falling asleep in Washington DC, with a midnight pass over a glowing Hawaiian lava field somewhere in the middle.

For me, Christmas Day was yesterday, spent on the road up to Gosford, having lunch and a lazy afternoon, and then driving home again. But it’s still Christmas in other parts of the world.

We passed through the centre of Sydney on the way up, and, waking from sleep in the back seat whilst my wife and daughter shared the driving, I took a picture of two Sydney Silver Service taxis returning from the airport. My day driver later reported in, saying that he was having a profitable shift.

One cabbie was doing very well, I noticed. We were stuck in a creeping traffic jam from North Sydney to Pymble where the north coast freeway begins, and amongst all the grim-faced drivers was a happy cabbie crawling along beside us. And a couple of grim-faced passengers in the back seat.

We had a delightful lunch with my sister’s family, including my mother down from Rockhampton, played with the toys scattered about in various stages of assembly, experimented with Skypevision with other family members and just had a grand time before it came to an end too soon and we had to be back on the road.

Christmas is a special time in the Western world. My day driver and I exchanged presents, he dressed up in a Santa cap for his Christmas shift, and every single passenger I had on Christmas Eve wished me a Merry Christmas, often with a nice little tip.

Good humour, fellowship and smiles are the order of the day.

It’s been a great year for me. Sometimes I feel that it’s Christmas every day. Sometimes I just have to stop and savour my delight. Driving around the Arc de Triomphe was a highlight, as was kissing my wife on top of the Eiffel Tower. Looking out for giant gorillas on top of the Empire State Building, walking through the entrance to the National Building Museum in Washington, watching the incredible light show on Hong Kong Harbour.

Giving a helping hand to a lady in need, swapping travel stories with tourists picked up at the airport, singing along to Abba with some party-goers, laughing at the wicked wordplay of one of my regulars, hanging out with other cabbies - it’s been a blast.

Or just driving along a deserted freeway in Canberra, a favourite song playing as I pass some floodlit monument in between passengers. A happy cabbie.

But one moment sticks in my mind. Yesterday morning Paul and I wished each other a Merry Christmas as we sat in the front seat of the cab parked in my driveway. I’d finished my Christmas Eve shift, he was starting his Christmas Day, and we just sat and chatted for a few minutes.

Another cab passed by, stopped, reversed, and the driver got out. It was Geoff, who happens to be Paul’s father-in-law. We swapped more greetings, shook hands and then he was gone, Paul fired up the car and drove off, and I went back inside, very very happy with my job, my life, my family, my friends and the world in general.

It all comes back to what I answered on my taxi driver course two years ago, when we were asked, “What do you expect to get out of being a taxi driver”.

I thought for a moment and wrote down, “A lot of company for a short time, and a few good friends for a long time.”

The instructor looked at this and said, “You’ll have no troubles.”

And he was right.

Merry Christmas, everybody!
skyring: (Default)
Clocktaxi
Clocktaxi,
originally uploaded by skyring.



They were four young things, tweenie Australians out on the town, two from Perth giving their impressions of Canberra to a couple of locals as I drove them all home. A deserted freeway skirting Parliament House, the Prime Minister’s Lodge and the Mint. We owned Canberra.

“You’ve got the city planning down nice,” one said, “but it’s so far from anywhere.”

That was just great, I thought, coming from a sandgroper. Perth is three day’s hard driving across deserts and several State borders.

“It’s two hours to the beach,” said another. “In Perth it’s fifteen minutes max, and we can watch the sun set over the ocean.”

Fair call.

“Canberra’s public transport sucks.” The first one was on a roll. “The capital city and it sucks arse.”

No argument there, either. Canberra’s public transport consists of infrequent buses meandering through strings of suburbs. People sometimes accuse cabbies of going the long way, but with the bus system here, you get the maximum journey time for your money. And it stops running at midnight, long before the drunks get really ratty.

In fact, apart from the rare worker such as a baker beginning his shift, or a public servant burning the midnight oil when the government’s in a jam, it’s pretty much all drunks after midnight. Anyone else out at this hour has their own car.

So I was astonished to see someone waiting at a bus stop, getting on for two in the morning, after I delivered my four passengers home. It was a quiet night to begin with, and by now we cabbies were really scratching for fares. Luckily there were only a dozen or so cabs still on the road, so it kind of evened out.

I pulled up at the bus stop, and could hardly credit the sight. A little old lady, great-grandmother age, walking stick, sensible shoes, big handbag and floral dress.

She teetered over the kerb to me. “Are you a taxi?”

“Yes, hop in.”

Easier said than done, and I jumped out, scurried around the car, opened the door for her, tucked her in, made sure all was secure and closed the door.

“I can’t tell if it’s day or night,” she said, and then named a suburb about five minutes away.

Maybe she was blind, but she seemed to know where she was as we owned along Adelaide Avenue. “Turn here,” she commanded, not that I had any option for the address she’d given me. Canberra’s like that - there’s only a certain number of ways you can get somewhere, and if you don’t make the turn, you’ve got a long drive and a cranky passenger to recover.

I figured she was befuddled, as folk my age and up so often are, and when she mentioned that her knee and her back were hurting bad, I wondered if she had had one pain-killer too many earlier in the day. She spoke with an accent as she repeated her address a few times, and I reassured her that this was exactly where we were headed.

It was a small house on a pleasant street, garden overgrown, narrow driveway, letterbox vanished in the foliage. But it was the right address, I was sure of it.

She peered out uncertainly at the house in the headlights, and when I flipped on the side light to give more illumination, she nodded.

“That’s fifteen dollars fifty,” I read the meter for her.

“Fifteen dollars? So much!”

She was living in another time and place inside herself, a time when fares were cheaper, maybe measured in shillings and pence. “Fünfzehn Reichsmarken fünfzig,” I almost said, but instead, when she emptied out her purse, I picked out four gold coins and left her the silver. Not a note in sight. I’d go backwards on this fare, once I paid half the meter amount to the owner.

“Let’s get you out.”

I opened the door for her, made sure she had everything, and torch in my teeth, provided one arm to steady her and the other to carry her handbag as we tottered together along the narrow garden path. She peered about uncertainly, but when we reached the steps and she automatically latched onto the handrail, I was relieved.

It took some painful movements to get up the four cement steps, but we got there. She looked at the porch and declared, “This is not my house.”

The house in her mind was half a world and half a century away, so I suggested she try her keys in the door. We had a job finding them in her complicated handbag, but a flash of metal in the torchlight, and there they were. Naturally they fitted, and we opened the doors. I turned on her hall light, and she beamed happily as I passed in her belongings, finishing up with a gorgeous silk scarf. I’m very sorry I didn’t ask her to put it on for me, because there would have been a beautiful lady beneath it, but the thought didn’t come to me until later.

“Thank you so much!” she smiled. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas!” I echoed. It might have cost me four dollars and half an hour, but for a Christmas gift, no diamond ring could have given either of us as much pleasure.

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Skyring

September 2010

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