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I'm not the eager cabbie I used to be.

When I first had my taxi licence, I was working six twelve-hour night shifts a week. I was raking in the money.

Now, it's different. There are about twice as many cabs on Canberra's roads and it's rare to have the sort of peak hour frenzy or Sunday morning cab queue that I cut my taxi teeth on.

I'm also paying a lot more attention to my family.

They warned us about it in cabbie school, and I've seen too many cabbies run into marital difficulties. The long shifts, the fatigue, the stress.

As the old lament of the shearer's wife goes:
Friday night too tired,
Saturday night too drunk,
Sunday too far away.

Over the years of cabbing I've cut back a lot. Most recently, I've given up the lucrative Friday and Saturday night shifts. Nor do I stay out until four in the morning to hand over to the day driver. Sure, I'm missing out on money, but I'm better off for it.

I have a family.

It wasn't fair for my family that they should spend their weekends tip-toeing around the house so that I could get some sleep. And that when I woke up, I'd get into my taxidriver uniform and head out onto the streets, coming home at dawn and falling into bed exhausted.

It wasn't fair on me either. Taxidriving is unhealthy enough without adding constant exhaustion to the long idle hours, the junk food, the supernormal amounts of caffeine.

So now I have a life, and I have fun.

And, to be honest, with about a bazillion cabs on the road, there isn't the financial rewards of staying out after midnight. I often spent a couple of hours sitting on the main cab rank, slowly moving up and then getting a fare that was only a few dollars.

I could do better than that. I could spend that time tucked up in bed.

I've given up my Friday and Saturday night shifts in favour of doing family type things. Shopping, browsing through galleries, having a family dinner with a bottle of wine and candles on the table. My two kids live at home and now that they are grown up, they are a pleasure to be around. Not that they weren't as children, just that nowadays we can have grown-up discussions. Set the world to rights over a good bottle of Shiraz.

There are things in life more important than money, and nowadays I'm happy, my family is happy too, and that's really what it's all about, isn't it?

Taxi 66

Aug. 8th, 2010 01:18 pm
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They got in on the main city rank, now re-opened at a third the original size. "Can we stop at a bottle-o first?" one asked.

"Right-oh!" I replied. "But where are we going?"

"Formule 1"

"You beauty!" I thought to myself. The Formule 1 motel is one of those cheapo deals out on the highway. $59 a night for a basic room and the dining room is a vending machine.

But it's a nice long fare.

We went through Braddon, stopping at the Bottle-O there. That's the trade name, and it's a good one. Well-stocked grog shop, free parking outside, off-licence to print money, it is.

One of the two young men went inside and I hit the "Pause" button on the meter. It was going to be a good fare and people who stay at cheap motels are reaching into their own pockets to count the pennies. I look after them.

The guy in the back seat, a fairly chunky sort of fella, caught sight of the "Route 66" keyring I have bluetacked to the dashboard. It's one I bought at the Route 66 museum in Chandler, OK last year, and I keep it there for daydreaming purposes. That half day spent exploring the old road between Tulsa and Oklahoma City was a very happy one!

"I'm going to ride Route 66 next year with my father," he said. "We'll pick up the Harleys in Detroit, ride them to LA, and ship them home."

Wow! What a trip! This chap immediately had my attention.

His mate got back in, with a six pack of Jim Beams to help the night ahead go down, and we set off on Canberra's own Mother Road. Northbourne Avenue.

We talked Route 66 and the USA all the way. The food, the cars, the motels, the people. I mentioned that I'm planning my own father-son trip along Route 66 next year. From the other side of the generation gap. Myself, my son and my daughter.

I had lusted after a rental Mustang, but looking at the reviews it sounds like it wouldn't be as much fun for the third person, sitting in the cramped back seat, peering out through a couple of tiny side windows. I'd be doing a lot of the driving, but some of the time it would be me in the back seat, and I wanted to enjoy the experience.

So we'll likely hire something with a bit of size and a bit of style. A Chrysler 300C would be ideal. Lots of room for people and baggage, space for extras, a bunch of buttons to press and an image that is unmistakably All-American.

Not as much fun as a Harley, to be sure, but I'm not a Harley kind of guy. I wished my passengers the best for the trip, put my foot down and whipped off in a cloud of dust for the airport, where I watched the planes climb into the night sky and sent my thoughts with them.

Earlier that day, a package from Amazon had arrived, containing a DVD: Route 66: Producer's Picks.

Not a lot to do with Route 66 as such, but for the feeling of driving through Sixties America in a classy car, there's nothing to beat it. The black and white scenes, the corny live-to-camera adverts, the unforgettable theme music, the guest appearances of later stars, the thought-provoking plots, and above all the lifestyle, it's a pleasure to watch.

I've got a bunch of maps and guidebooks, any number of websites, and all my dreams to keep me going until next year.


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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The high school reunion went well. I took notes and misplaced my camera, but I enjoyed the evening and will blog fully later.

Shopping with the inlaws was a bit stressful, especially for Kerri. There was a lot of co-ordination involved, getting to and from places in what is now an unfamiliar city. Kerri's mother is a demon shopper, but frail, encumbered by lots of equipment, and in frequent need of long bathroom breaks.

I delivered them all to the inner-city shops, made sure that all was good, and then gleefully evaded the ladies shopping that ensued. I bought a couple of WordPress manuals and a new giant Starbucks Brisbane mug. Arrived at the meeting point a little early - at another Starbucks - lined up for ages for a couple of slender lattes - and was able to present one to me frazzled wife when she arrived. Sent M-I-L off home with S-I-L, and we had some time to ourselves. Sat down to finish off our lattes, then looked around some bookshops for a couple of craft books she wanted.

Then we retrieved the rental car, drove around some of our old Paddington haunts, and headed off for the airport, where we lounged in the lounge before our evening flight home.

Monday night was bad. I was returning to the airport when some bozo whose mission in life was to overtake every other car on the road decided I wasn't getting out of his way quickly enough and overtook me on the left in the bike lane. There wasn't enough room, he tried to push me out of the way, and our lovely silver cab is looking bruised and battered. Driveable, but shorn of side mirror and indicator, with scrapes and bumps all down her left flank.

I was disgusted to see that the other driver had his wife and infant children in the car with him. What's more important in your life, I wanted to ask him, overtaking random taxidrivers or getting your family home safely?

It wasn't as if I was dawdling along the road, neither. I think this guy might have been enraged by the fact that after speeding along the road, overtaking everything in sight, including me a long way back, he got stopped by a red light and I was able to sail through at full speed a moment after the light changed to green. Comes of going through that intersection a hundred times a week for years. You get to know the light cycles.

I wish I'd been more alert for what this bloke might do, but honestly, who expects someone to overtake on the wrong side in the bike lane? Geez. If I hadn't been constrained on the accident report form to tell the truth, I would have put his numberplate down as "2CM".

Now our cab has been off the road for three days, the owner, my day driver and I have lost a chunk of money, the taxi service in Canberra has suffered, and so has my happiness and self-esteem. I've had far more accidents in the last three years than in the thirty years before, and I'm not sure I really want to keep this up.

On the subject of happy, I've begun yet another blog. More on that later.
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Charles and Betsy

Last October we said goodbye to Betsy, our lovely silver Holden Statesman taxi. Almost new, she was loaded down with great features, and was a pleasure to drive.

But while I was off in America, the owner managed to write her off. One design flaw is that the A-pillars are very thick, hiding oncoming traffic at intersections. He didn't mean to hit the other car, but he did, and hard enough to do some serious damage.

But he bought her back off the insurance company and over the past half year or so, while we've been driving loaner a Ford Fairlane, he's gradually put her back together in the back of the workshop.

Yes, Charles the Fairlane that I crashed a week ago.

Friday it all came together and we swapped the patched-up Charles* for renewed Betsy. I got to drive her first shift as a reborn cab, just like I drove her first shift as a new cab last year.

What a pleasure! She's got some wonderful functions, such as automatic windscreen wipers, front and rear parking sensors, MP3 disc player. The gas tank in the boot doesn't rattle, so I don't have to use the "ex-girlfriend" joke any more.

On the slight downside, there's no seat memory - a boon for a car with three regular drivers - and the transmission makes a racket. Put your foot down, and the world can count the revs.

There's also a new taximeter, so I'll have to upgrade my muscle memory after three years of hitting the old set of buttons. At least this one comes with a user manual, which is a lot more than ever we got with the old one.

* Charles was repaired with bits from another Fairlane that just happened to be stuffed in the back of the workshop, and - trust me on this - there's a fair bit of duct tape hiding some of the scars.
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Sad Charles

These things are supposed to be autosaved, so when my browser crashed at the end of a long, detailed, thoughtful post, I wasn't too worried. I'd restore from the autosave, rewrite the minute or so that had been lost, and repost.

Well, I was given a blank slate instead of a draft. Heaven knows where my post went.

And yet, if I somehow get a draft saved and not posted, because I've used two browser windows instead of one or something, it hangs around for months, asking if I want to restore the two sentence stub.

Oh well.

Long story short.

On Friday night I went through a red light near Parliament House on the mistaken perception that the green turn arrow was my green go light. You don't muck about in the taxi game on the way to the airport, so I hit the gas and halfway across the intersection collected someone innocently turning right,

The various witnesses who helpfully came forward soon sorted out who was in the wrong, I got a ticket from the helpful police, and I'll undoubtedly get a nice big bill from the owner and the insurance people. Not to mention the money I lost by not driving that shift, or since.

Nobody injured. I'd feel terrible if I'd hurt somebody. Just damage to two very nice silver cars and a lot of inconvenience for all concerned.

And I can just feel the vibes from my fellow cabbies. "Thank heaven it wasn't me, this time!"
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Just past advesperation and the airport zones were showing about a bazillion cabs booked in, so there was no point in driving out to the airport to wait a long time for a passenger. Canberra isn't a big place with a busy airport, and there's maybe one plane every half an hour, the taxis move up twenty places and then everyone waits for the next plane to land. Airport cabbies tend to get out and talk with other cabbies a lot between arrivals.

Evenings are like that. Most of the afternoon rush is from the big offices and hotels to the airport, and once out there cabbies tend to stick around and have a chat with their mates when they see the work in town drying up.

I'd just taken a short fare from Woden to a nearby suburb, and as the hospital zone was showing only one cab logged in, with a half dozen jobs in the past hour, I parked in the taxi rank at the entrance. If I didn't get a radio call from the surrounding residences, I might get a patient or a doctor fed up with the chronic lack of hospital parking.

Instead, nothing happened for half an hour and I checked my emails on the laptop. People would come out the hospital entrance and head towards me and then walk past to one of the other buildings, so I was always looking up and being disappointed.

Finally, the door opened and a man got in, sitting down beside me and growling.

Yeah. Growling, and if it wasn't growling, it was snarling, his face contorted into a mask of anger. Honestly, I almost opened my own door to run away in panic.

However, I listened carefully, hoping to get some useful information out of the grunts and snorts.

I'm good that way. People tell me where to go, I take them there, and then they give me money. It's a pleasant system, and it helps reduce stress at traffic lights and in traffic jams. I glance down at the meter, happily ticking away, and life is sunny.

No instructions were forthcoming. The man gave up, dug around in his pocket and fished out a torn piece of paper with a name printed on it.

I read the name. He looked hopeful. "Is that you?" I asked.

He nodded and pointed off down the road, with a hand that was shrunken and deformed into a claw.

"You can show me where to go?"

He nodded and gestured again.

I indicated, pulled away from the rank, turned on the meter and headed off into the winter dark.

I was pretty nervous, to be honest. Most passengers are very good, and most of my work is what you might call mind-numbingly repetitive. It's the fares that are a bit out of the ordinary that bother me, because I've got to work out how to handle things on the fly, and if I make a mistake, it's a vicious circle.

I once had a tourist with limited English, and when I drove him late at night to the Formule 1 motel out on the highway, taking the back road past the television studios and the bushland and the kangaroos, he ceased believing me when I mistakenly told him it was very close a couple of times, and he demanded I stop and let him out. He paid off and must have walked a long way back to civilisation, but I couldn't have taken him the last two hundred metres to the (invisible from the road) motel, because he had clearly ceased to trust me and was on the verge of taking action against the obviously mad cabbie.

My bloke tonight couldn't talk, he looked (and sounded) angry, and I had no idea where I was driving him. I was hoping for a short fare, to tell the truth. A house in one of the nearby streets, maybe.

Instead, he directed me out onto the main road and we sped up to match the traffic. He was pretty good at giving good indications of directions, and which lane I should be in, so I relaxed a bit. I've often said that language is not a problem with cabbies, as you can always tell the driver where to go with four hand signals. Go. Left. Right. Stop.

And heaven knows that there are often language barriers with cabbies. Immigrants arrive and get a cab licence because it's an easy job, and they learn English on the go. If the passenger doesn't know where to go, like because you've just picked up a tourist at the airport, why you simply hand them the street directory and they will tell you. And if there are any mistakes, hey, the meter's running.

My passenger directed me off the main road, through the suburb of Curtin and north. I kept glancing at him as we approached each intersection, but he wanted me to drive on.

The last houses disappeared and then we were on the Cotter Road and soon on Lady Denman Drive, past horse paddocks, bushland, the zoo and the dam. Not quite your howling wilderness, but neither was it a busy road. I started wondering about someone printing a name on a bit of paper and luring an innocent cabbie out into a deserted layby.

Through a tricky intersection and on through Gridloch Interchange, heading for Belconnen. He seemed happy as we poured up Bindubi Street, tapping his hand in time with Chet Baker, the soft jazz soothing the savage breast.

We stopt at lights near the shops, and he gave some instructions, drawing a diagram with his finger on the console. Right and left and right. Right.

That took us to the hospital. Calvary Hospital instead of Canberra Hospital. My son bashes dixies at Calvary, and it's a pleasant place, surrounded by bushland.

We were met at the main entrance. A man who seemed very pleased to see my passenger, who positively bounded out like a puppy and skipped away with him.

Um. Thirty three dollars on the meter. The man had muttered something about getting a Cabcharge, but here I was, sitting empty, passenger door open. Waiting.


Ten minutes and the man came back with a card, paying the fare.

"I'll bet he has a lot of trouble with other cabbies!" I said.

"Yeah. He's really a sweet guy. Thanks for your trouble."

And it was no trouble, really. Sure, a bit of anxiety here and there, but once I stept into his shoes and saw cabdrivers through his eyes and imagined some of the worries he'd have with them, it was no trouble at all. No wonder he was tense and nervous to begin with. I'll bet that he'd been taken for a drunk or a lunatic any number of times, and when he couldn't explain, it would be even worse.

That's one of the delights of the job. The regular fares are pleasant enough, and the money's nice, and a couple of times a shift I'll have a good old chat with a passenger, but you never know who is going to jump into the passenger seat and tell you where to go. Every shift is the same, but different.
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Someone observed the other day, "People in general are just rude."

They were talking about walking the dog down their street, smiling at other people, and receiving back nothing but blank stares.

You know, I don't think people are rude. As a taxidriver, I meet a LOT of people (one of the reasons someone who doesn't know me well suggesting that I should "get out more" totally made my day), and most are friendly and polite.

So long as I am. I greet people with a smile and a "Good Morning", "Good Evening", "Good Heavens" as appropriate, make eye contact and take note of their needs. Someone elderly with a walking stick, for example, and I jump out of my seat to help them in, make sure they have enough legroom, close the door, etc. Younger folk, more spry of body if not mind, get Michael Jackson on the CD and they sing along.

I think it's a matter of everyday life being superficial. Larry McMurtry noted in his book Roads : Driving America's Great Highways that you can drive across the nation and speak not a surplus word to another soul, with self-serve petrol pumps and fast food restaurants. "Big Mac, medium fries and a bucket of root beer" does not make for a meaningful interaction, even if you add "please" at the end and the teenager instructs you to have a nice day as she hands over the rootbeer.

When we lived in smaller communities and knew everybody's business, we could be closer to their hearts, if I may put it that way. Nowadays, the bus driver is someone on a random shift from the other side of a great city, the cabbie comes from a different continent, the news is broadcast by an anchorman instead of a town crier, and gossip is reserved for Facebook rather than a good old natter over the back fence with the minister's wife.

Gone are the days when you sat on your front porch and waved to your neighbours as they walked by. One town council, seeking a return to friendly neighbourhoods, decreed that every new dwelling should have a porch. And so it was- the porches were built and secured with metal grilles to keep out intruders and the world.

I don't have any easy answers. Smile at strangers and you could attract stalkers. Move to a small town and be unemployed?

Perhaps my best advice is something I follow myself. Imagine that, following your own advice!

Become a cabbie.

Trust me on this, you'll get to know a lot of people, you'll be a small but essential part of the community, and the pensioners will love you as you lug their groceries up the steps.

And at night, as you put on the soft music for the couple embracing in the back seat, you can sigh happily for the spirit of romance.

Cabbies might not have all the answers, but they know a lot more than they generally let on.
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Foursquare on the iPhone

We've got a new game, my day driver and I. A game where cabbies shine.

IPhones each, we share apps. Sometimes they are classics. Shazam is just a brilliant piece of software. You want to know who sings the song on the radio? Just Shazam it for a few seconds and it comes back with the title, the artist, a link to the lyrics and a download button from iTunes. There are currency converters, weather forecasters, games a-million.

And now Foursquare, funking off the iPhone's GPS and social networking. It's a scavenger hunt, it's a map of your day, it's a point-scoring exercise, it's gathering facts and sharing info.

Once you download the app, create a new account with all the regular rigmarole of user name, password, icon picture etc., Foursquare checks your location, finds nearby places of interest, and asks if you want to check in. Meaning do you want the world to know that you are currently at that location.

It might be a bar or a restaurant. A museum or a supermarkt, a statue or a cab rank. If where you are isn't listed, just add it. And then check in.

You get points for checking in. And for adding new locations. And for doing all sorts of stuff, such as checking into a location with "bar" in its title on a school night.

And for adding tips. Yeah, I know all cabbies love tips, but these are information tips. Drinks are half price on Thursdays. Ask for the Megaburger with Rickie's special sauce. The receptionist has four breasts - she's got a double-decker bust.

Interesting, useful titbits of trivia and advice. Invaluable as a handy guide to the traveller.

If you check-in at a place more times than any other place, you become Mayor of that place. My co-driver is Mayor of the Canberra Airport Taxi Rank. If you are Mayor of a bar, and that barkeep knows his savvy, you get a discount on your drinks. Sometimes the office of Mayor changes several times in an evening, depending on who has the quickest fingers on their iPhone!

Cabbies are good at this game, because we go lots of places and have time to check in while we are waiting for the next fare. To another place.

My Foursquare is here: Skyring.
M co-driver is here: PeskiePete.



Original post here at
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The place

Bowen swans
It's hard to imagine Canberra without Lake Burley Griffin. It was the main feature of the winning entry in the competition for the design of the new capital city, but it took fifty years for it to become reality. For most of its existence, Canberra was a sleepy little country town with a provisional Parliament House in a sheep paddock, and roads leading down to wooden bridges spanning the slow-moving Molonglo River.

Depression, World War Two and the fact that most of the public service remained in Melbourne and Sydney kept Canberra small, until the Sixties when rapid growth really began. New suburbs were laid out, the National Library and the Royal Australian Mint were built and the place just mushroomed.

In keeping with the modern buildings and their fresh architecture, money was poured into landscaping and parkland. The shores of the future lake were defined and built up, high level bridges over the Molonglo erected to complete the geometry of the Parliamentary Triangle, and Scrivener Dam raised in a narrow part of the river valley down past Government House.

Came the big day when the dam was complete, the band played, the Minister for Territories pressed the button, the floodgates were lowered and the crowd rushed to the side to peer over.

Go to A Table Somewhere or Read More )
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Three young friends got into my cab for a ride into town from one of the Defence bases here. One was full of pride in her job – a cabin attendant on the RAAF VIP transport. She talked to her two friends about how the Prime Minister smiled and greeted her by name, was kind and considerate to her and all the other staff. She might not agree with all his policies, she said, but he was a nice man.

She had no kind words for another senior Government minister. He was only interested in calling for the most expensive bottles of wine aboard, and downing a couple on the relatively short flight to and from Melbourne. He called the cabin crew, “Hey, you!”, but he knew the onboard wine cellar by name and pedigree.


He was wasted. This time on a Saturday morning, the only people over twenty-five in Civic are a few cabbies like me. This bloke was mid-thirties, business suit, tie loose, shambling along the footpath. A mid to senior-level public service manager, by his look.

My cab was next up and he opened the door, falling into the seat beside me. I examined him carefully. He was wrecked, to be sure, and he could be trouble. Trouble like throwing up, falling asleep, talking endless rubbish.

Read the rest at
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There's idle time in taxidriving. After the afternoon rush to the airport, to car repairers, to and from Parliament House, there's a quiet evening period where the work is steady but slow. Some nights get busy after midnight as we take home the nightclubbers.

But there's always time to crank the seat back, reach down for a book, and read a few pages before the next passenger shows up.

Lately the reading material has been a book on changing lives. An inspirational book talking of the beneficial impact of very small loans to the world's poorest people. Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank, was once a professor of economics, who looked out of his office window to a small village and wondered how the theories he was teaching related to the residents.

On investigation, he found that the poorest people in the village were very poor indeed, held back by poor access to money offered at usurious interest rates. A woman would work all day weaving intricate crafts for a profit of a few cents, which she spent on feeding her children. If she could gain just a small amount of money to escape the money-lenders who were also her raw material suppliers and the tied buyers of her work, she could prosper and profit.

From a small seed loan came a great organisation, breaking free of money-lenders, private banks and government corruption and ineptitude. Aimed at small loans to the very poorest, Grameen Bank prospered, spinning off programs and organisations across the globe.

His book, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty, has been my taxicab reading material for the past week.

Read the rest of the post here.
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Saturday is the day when I go out there and give 1.00 percent.

After a long week of long shifts, Saturday is my day for not caring. I do random stuff, maybe go shopping with my wife, a little housework, a lot of napping, reading the papers, drinking tea and just winding waaaaay down.

Sunday I might have my energy levels back up again, but Saturday is me winding down and enjoying family life.

Actually, I was out and about at 1030, fresh and shaven and making passable conversation with folk from the School of Practical Philosophy. This is the mob I stop work for every Wednesday night for two hours or so, and they have gotten me thinking some deep thoughts. Today was a Saturday session. Tea and cake and philosophy at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture as we learnt about the founder of the school and discussed some of his teachings.

I staid awake long enough to do some serious thinking. Odd that philosophy would help a cabbie, but there it is. I find the stress just eases away. I keep my mind focused on the job in hand, concentrate on the driving, do my very best to keep the passenger happy, finish the fare with smiles all round.

Happy passenger equals happy cabbie. That's my philosophy.

In odd moments, I registered yet another domain name and did some housework to set up a new site. Not sure how it will pan out yet, but it will involve me, my co-driver, Twitter and a Taxi and it may lead to a series of grand adventures.

Stay tuned!


Bonus video

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[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="My life"]My life[/caption]

Twice a night I get to chat with one of the late night service station console operators. I go in at midnight to fill up and again at the end of a shift to top up the tank and clean the car. Usually it's just a few words as I run the card through the machine and grab the docket.

"How's your night going? Wet out there! Time to go home!" Just a few words.

Poor old operators. They have to keep the shop tidy and stocked up, hose down the forecourt, keep the windscreen wash buckets full and fresh, coil up the vacuum hose neatly, empty the litter bins and about a million other things.

Oh yeah. And serve the customers coming in for gas and late night snacks. They rarely get a moment to scratch themselves, even in the wee small hours.

Occasionally I'll pull in and one of the operators will be sitting down outside, well away from the bowsers, having a quiet fag. His moment of rest and he's got to get up and turn the pump on for me.

I get out and go over to him and chat until he's finished his smoke. A minute out of my night mostly spent waiting for things to happen is nothing compared to the sweet indulgence of an unbroken cigarette for a console jockey.

We were sitting there, just enjoying the still, when a man comes running in from the darkness, smack into the automatic door, which of course was locked while the operator was outside. He looked around, and my companion sighed, got up, handed me the cigarette.

"He wants a packet of smokes," I smiled. These late night cravings hit the nicotine addict hard.

I watched as the customer was served and made a quick exit, running away into the night.

"That was quick," I said, as the console guy retrieved his smoke. "He needed his tobacco, yeah?"

"Nah, condoms."
skyring: (Default)
I'd like to welcome my long-time colleague and co-driver, PeskiePete, to the blog, with this wonderful dream run.

We share the same car, but he has all the fun and takes the great photographs. Dawn over Canberra and Pete's out on the road, camera in hand, angling for the perfect shot. Me, I'm punching out zeds when the sun comes up, and when it goes down, I'm also flat out.

I couldn't ask for a better co-driver, actually. The cab's always clean and sparkling and fresh. The highlight of my day is taxi shift changeover, when we chat for a few minutes about the passengers, the car, the city, the weather.

It's been pretty perfect the past few days. The late summer skies are clear and blue, the lawns are green, the trees just starting to get a hint of a tint. The politicians, the public servants, the students and cadets are all back in town and it's bumper times for cabbies.

And now life just got rosier with my co-blogger signing on to write when I'm sleeping.

Welcome, PeskiePete!

–Skyring, night driver
skyring: (Default)
Three young people from the post-midnight cab rank. They were in a good mood, continuing a conversation about tummy rumbles as they hopped into the cab. Young man beside me, sweet young thing in the back, and another young chap beside her.

"So embarrassing!" she said. "Everyone looks around when they hear the noise."

"Ah, it's okay. Go right ahead," I piped up. "Everyone always blames the cabbie."

Froot Loops - the colours of your lifeThe chap beside me began talking about food and its effects. "I had some Froot Loops," he said. "So unhealthy! Just sugar and salt and die. They made my Number Twos change colour."

"Ewwwwwwww," said someone in the back.

"I was talking to the driver," he said.

I felt I needed to say something. Not sure what. I paused. You know, one of those pauses, where everyone looks at you, waiting for the noise.

"Ah. Um," I began. "I was just thinking about the colours. Blue, green, orange, pink, yellow..."


"Beetroot," the fellow beside me went on, relentlessly. "Canned beetroot. It comes out the same colour it goes in."

It was one of those nights when cabbies get stuck for words.


Copied from One More Fare

RIP Betsy

Nov. 7th, 2009 05:42 pm
skyring: (Default)
I returned home from the USA on Sunday morning, ready to drive my first night cabbie shift on Monday evening, rightly assuming I’d be tired and not wanting to drive.
That was the night the owner crashed our lovely new cab.
And now the car is written off.
We only drove it for a month, enjoying every moment. While I was away my day driver felt so emotionally attached, he gave our silver cab a name: Betsy.
Heavens to Betsy, but she was the cab they drive in Paradise. so much to love about her. Automatic windscreen wipers, for example. They worked off a sensor, so you never had to fiddle with intermittent settings, or even turn it on. They were always on, and the more rain you got, the faster they went.
Just remember to turn them off before going through the car wash!
So many lovable little features. She had an auxiliary input, so we could plug our iPhones straight into the sound system.
Built-in Bluetooth. Auto up/down on the driver’s window. Clever lighting under the doors to reveal puddles before you stepped into them. Fog lights.
She was a delight to drive. I’d finish a thirteen hour shift, get out and stroke her silver flanks with real affection.
I never found her limits on the road, either. She always had more to give if I needed to overtake, or to grab that last half second of amber light. I felt in control, sure of myself and my place on the road.
And she was new. Well, a couple of years old, but for a cab, that’s new. The previous owners had looked after her, and my co-driver and I were taking good car
The only drawbacks were small ones, such as the fact that the drivers seat had no memory function, or that the A pillars were wide, creating a blind spot that could obscure oncoming traffic.
Passengers would get in, look around admiringly, and say something like, “This is the cleanest cab I’ve ever been in!”
Music to a cabbie’s soul!
She was beautiful, and now she’s gone. Saturday night the owner drives the best shift of the week. He was crossing Jerrabomberra Avenue, four lanes of traffic with a service road each side, paused to let two cars past, and then floored it in the cabbie way. Unfortunately, there was a third car, coming up from the left in the blind spot on that side, and he collected it in the middle.
No injuries, which is the main thing, but poor old Betsy had her front crumpled right in, headlights and bumper dangling. After a short period of hope, she was written off by the assessor.
So now we’re driving replacement cabs and wondering what we’ll get next as a permanent mount.
skyring: (Default)
Last night was a fresh start and a storm.
I've driven TX58 for the last time. A short shift, because I was so very tired. I collected my wife from the airport - it's been a long day, she warned me, I need some TLC! - and instead of taking her the short drive home, I headed for Belco, where the car is living at the moment.
Turning Eighteen again )
skyring: (Default)

She was waiting for me outside Accident and Emergency. A cold night and she had a hospital blanket draped over her shoulders. I cranked up the heat as she got in, but she said, “No, I’m warm as toast. These things are great!”

I had Chet Baker blowing a golden trumpet on the CD. Mournful he wailed into the early morning. He’d been matching my mood, but my passenger grimaced and asked if we could change the station.

I looked at her. Female. My age. There was only one choice. I reached over to the iPhone, turning on the ABBA golden hits video.

That brightened her up. In fact, after a bit it was a battle to keep her from getting up and dancing. The Fairlane’s a big car, but not that big!

It was a long fare out to a far western suburb and in between songs, her story emerged.

A week back, she had driven home drunk and crashed her car. Some minor injuries, but only to herself. “Rooted me car, but.”

She’d been looked after in hospital, come home and some days later had had a bad day with the depression and concern over upcoming court appearance, the expense of fixing her car and repairing relationships. She’d said a few things she probably shouldn’t have, gone for an afternoon nap and woken to find a couple of policemen, who escorted her to hospital, where she was locked away in a room bare but for a bed and a bucket and placed on suicide watch.

She’d gotten loud and cranky to begin with, but after several hours managed to convince a doctor that she wasn’t going to harm herself and they’d let her go, giving her a blanket and a Cabcharge card good for a ride home.

She and I and ABBA had a party on the drive home and she was anything but depressed when I dropped her off. Outside, her car was indeed rooted, crumpled bonnet and half the front end missing.

But she was alive. Alive and vibrant, and as I smiled goodnight to her at two in the morning, I hoped she’d stay that way.

There’s no future in driving drunk. Let a stranger drive you home in a silver cab.


May. 27th, 2009 08:54 am
skyring: (Default)
I'm halfway through my cast. At the rate it's shedding small but irritating fibreglass dust, it might not last the distance!

No, just kidding, it's as stiff and solid as ever. But I can feel the dust on my left fingers, and I've learnt not to rub my eyes, even if they are itching, because it just makes things worse. Every now and then I'll get a sneezing fit, which is no fun at all.

Two more weeks and I'll be back on the roads, but I'll only have a few days between resuming driving and going off on my next big trip. While I'm enjoying the time off, I'm really annoyed that I'm missing out on some superb autumn times in Canberra and the chance to earn some badly-needed money.

I can't even drive. The only time I've set paw to wheel has been to reposition one of our cars in the driveway. I have to either walk or be driven. On the upside, that means that if I want something from the shops, I'll walk into Civic, which is both pleasant and good exercise. I stride along with my "Smiles" playlist going, feeling supremely happy.

And I have been happy. It's been good to spend some solid family time. Too often I'm driving a twelve hour shift out of phase with my wife and children, and then on the weekends I'm catching up on sleep. My holidays are mostly spent away, travelling by myself.

Then there's the chance to chat and email and share forum space with my friends. I am constantly thrilled and amazed by the love, generosity, fun and creativity displayed by those around me, most notably my quirky BookCrossing mates. Seeing the photographs coming back from New Zealand brings the warm memories of what was truly a magical holiday.

And, of course, I'm catching up on tasks neglected. There's housework and cooking, blogging and journalling, reading and writing.

I'm currently writing up my blog of the New Zealand trip, printing out the episodes, punching and gluing them into pages of a Levenger Circa journal and then adding in the various boarding passes, dockets, maps and ephemera I collect along the way. Some items are big enough to punch and slot intio the binder disks, some need to be cut out and stuck in.

And when I get around to it, I'll get my photographs printed, to be added to the record. The end result is a scrapbook I can look back on in years to come, rekindling memories of the wonderful time I had in New Zealand.

I've got a stack of these books now, each one a happy storehouse of a part of my life.

All in all, I'm happy at the moment. Supremely happy.


skyring: (Default)

September 2010

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