Back home

Apr. 27th, 2009 09:04 am
skyring: (Default)
I'm back after a weekend trip to Melbourne to deliver Ken home. Ken and The Canberra Times came to ending their relationship, which also had the effect of ending my daily rides with Ken - a little dose of joy each night.

I'm sure I'll see him again, but I'm going to remember these past few months as some of the happiest of my life. Rarely have I met anyone quite so witty, well-informed, thoughtful and friendly as Ken.

We drove down the Hume. I took us out of Canberra, but soon I had to hand over to Kerri, fading away in the back seat while Ken read aloud from a book of travel stories. I took over again somewhere north of Melbourne, and we navigated the various freeways and link roads down to Langwarrin.

Warm welcome there, dinner and an early night.

Next morning a late breakfast, and then we headed up the road to the National Gallery of Victoria. The international collection, which it's been a while since I saw it. I love the Australian gallery so much it's hard to turn away.

A Modigliani, a green Picasso, some nice nudes, and some mouth-watering Impressionists. I think I liked a Pissarro of a street scene best. It was dull and grey and cloudy, but it was Paris, unchanged in a century.

A fantastic lunch in the gallery restaurant. Expensive, but well worth it for the food, the company, the setting and the wine. An Astrolabe Marlborough Sav Blanc. A glass of New Zealand paradise.

Only a glass. It was a long drive up the Hume.

We got home before midnight. and i've a shift to drive this afternoon.
skyring: (Default)
originally uploaded by skyring.
Love him or not, Jeff Kennett left a lasting legacy from his time as Victorian Premier. He reorganised Melbourne’s taxi system, directing that cabs be painted yellow, that drivers wear uniforms, and a number of other things. The drivers themselves might be as mixed a bunch as in any other city, but there are some proudly carrying the torch:

FAITH is central to Mohammed Jama's life. In keeping with his Muslim beliefs, he prays five times a day, often driving his taxi to a mosque in King Street mid-shift to carry out his spiritual obligations.

Jama, as he is known, keeps a tiny copy of the Koran discreetly on his dashboard, but don't ask him to discuss religion while he's driving; he has nothing to say on the matter since such conversation between Melbourne taxi drivers and their passengers was banned by the Victorian Taxi Directorate.

Likewise, don't expect a lively debate about the state of Australian or global politics; that's also a no-go under VTD guidelines.

Full story here in an article from The Age.

Driving to Melbourne and back, I didn’t need a cab, but I was impressed with the look of those I saw. They look clean and bright.

I relied upon my own Navman GPS, now nearly three years old, for directions. I didn’t have a copy of Melways, Melbourne’s excellent street directory, and although I have a rough idea of the layout of the city from living and working there twenty years back, there are a whole stack of new tollways and tunnels. Some of them aren’t in my Navman at all.

Driving down, with Ken beside me, I had his helpful guidance. Even so, the Navman directed us far too close to the CBD for my liking. In fact we drove along beside the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where the first of the crowd were beginning to straggle out from the stands. Another half hour and it would have been rush hour on what was all but a holiday.

Coming back from Frankston, I ignored the GPS advice for the most part. It seemed bent on steering me into the city before letting me out again. Instead I peeled off the freeway well east of the city centre and headed north. For the next half hour I tried to angle my way across a relentless grid, rapidly losing all but a rough idea of direction under the overcast sky, through a series of unhelpful signs bearing names of unfamiliar suburbs. I’d hit a junction: left would be Bungey, right Page, and Gullett ahead. Which way to go?

Eventually I found my way through Bundeela and saw a sign for the Hume Freeway, heading north. But without a street directory and under the guidance of a machine which reckoned the congestion of the CBD to be part of the swiftest route, it had been an uncertain trip.

Smart yellow cabs or no, I’m very glad that I’m not a Melbourne cabbie. Melbourne is too big to know well. No cabbie can be intimate with every street in every suburb. Not to mention the traffic. Canberra’s peak hour lasts an hour, and only along a handful of streets. In Melbourne, you can get gridlock lasting for hours.

Canberra has a well laid out system of arterial roads. Traffic flows smoothly along wide roads through dedicated reserves. Suburbs are clearly defined and grouped into town clusters. It’s just a joy to drive in Canberra.

Eventually I left Melbourne’s grid of trams and traffic lights behind, seven hours of freeway driving ahead. Melbourne’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to work there.

Long fares

Dec. 27th, 2008 04:56 am
skyring: (Default)
Ken Square
Ken Square,
originally uploaded by skyring.
I’ve had all sorts of people in my cab, sharing a moment in their lives. Politicians, judges, artists, sportsfolk, authors: people whose doings and photographs fill newspapers. And the ordinary every day folk who are fascinating in themselves. We share a story, a joke, an observation, and I go on my way chuckling, or thoughtful.

But of all the passengers I’ve carried, by far the most fascinating, the most unforgettable is Ken Haley.

He’s an author, a world traveller in unlikely places, and he’s in just about every newspaper.

That’s because he’s a journalist, currently working as a sub-editor on The Canberra Times.

He has a memory crammed full of trivia, every Monty Python or Pete&Dud skit, a stock of quotes from movies and books and famous figures of history, and a love of puns and wordplay that made me his adoring fan after a few minutes in his company.

He’s written a book or two, and I’ve read and reread my copy of his quirky travel book, Emails from the edge. Now I’m waiting for the next adventure to be published. I’ve seen the manuscript on his kitchen table, and I long for the day when I have my own copy to add to my collection of Morris, Theroux, Chatwin and other great travel writers.

He’s all these things and more: he’s a paraplegic. Half man, half machine, I have to position the cab carefully to allow him to come alongside, transfer his bum into the front seat, and then shift his disassembled wheelchair into the back seat.

The result of a breakdown and attempted suicide, Ken’s paraplegia doesn’t stop him getting into places where most people would fear to tread. Places like South Ossetia, Syria, Botswana (where his taxidriver managed to get bogged in the only mud puddle in the nation).

He roams the world in a wheelchair, vital medical supplies and spare parts in his baggage, finding willing hands in unlikely places.

He pulled up beside my cab on Manuka rank one evening, and when I realised that instead of some fetching young lady leaning in my window, there was a head bobbing around at hip-height, I leapt out of the cab.

When I see a walking stick, a pair of crutches, a Zimmer frame, or a wheelchair, I know that the passenger has a genuine need for assistance, and I do my very best to supply it. People with mobility problems depend on cabs and cabbies to get around, and when you can’t walk, things as simple as popping down to the shop for a loaf of bread can become time-consuming and expensive adventures.

I like helping people, but I suspect that the real reason Ken keeps calling me when he needs a taxi, and I drive like a demon across town to be there, is that I laugh at his jokes.

Every trip with Ken is a delight. I chuckle happily, or listen enthralled, all the way home. Sometimes the trip is not enough, and I stand in his doorway, demanding more entertainment, until the lights on the cab begin to fade out.

There’s a legend in the lives of cabbies of the mother of all long fares. The lady who walked up to a cab rank in Sydney one day in the 1920s, asked “Do you take long fares?” and when an affirmative reply was given, asked to be taken to Sydney, the long way.

After visiting every mainland State and Territory, she paid the fare and walked off into history.

Ken related the story to me with gusto, and ever since, I’ve lived in hope and terror that the day will come when he wheels up to the door and asks, “Do you do long fares?”

Well, that day has come. We’re off to Melbourne in a few hours.


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