Misty

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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I went out to set the chickens free for their daily romp and found that some leftover rainwater on the sheltering sheet of corrugated plastic over their coop had frozen.

I didn't actually see the temperature get below zero last night - the cab has an external sensor which I highlight on the dashboard display to frighten people who have just gotten off the plane from the Gold Coast or anywhere, really - but it got to 00° and then I decided to come home and get into a warm-ish bed.

I've begun a new blog, in co-operation with some co-writers. Flat Jay Walking is a vehicle for displaying the photographs of the lifesize picture of Discoverylover I took to Amsterdam (and left there, to be picked up and carried around Europe by various fun-loving folk). I'm hoping that everybody who had a hand in the adventure will make a post or two and upload some of the fabulous photographs.

It's easy to register as a contributor, and if I or my co-admin (RealJay) recognise the name, we'll upgrade the privileges.

Yeah, it's silly, but it's fun. There's a marvellous photograph of BookCzuk having a laugh as she cuddles FlatJay, sandwiched between her two menfolk, who look as if they'd rather be somewhere else.

I've discovered Goodreads. Aaargh! Another booksite. Which is better, does anybody know? This or Librarything or Virtual Bookshelf or anything similar? I like books, I really do, but I'm not going to spend ALL my time reviewing them on a dozen sites, including my own blogs.

I thought our new Prime Minister was doing really well, but I think she may have lost me with the asylum-seeker plan. Not the plan itself, which would likely work, but her declaration that it wasn't anything like the "Pacific Solution" of the Howard Government which cut the boats to zero and was roundly condemned by Labor. Every newspaper in the country is talking about the "Timor Solution", lady. It's the same bloody thing with a different name!

Is she going to try to win the election on the trivial differences between her plan and the last one? She's going to lose credibility big time if she tries that.

There's one more issue to be cleared off before she makes the trip out to see the Governor-General. That's climate change. I think that, rather than dream up a whole new plan, she'll advise a double dissolution election on the old one that Rudd didn't have the guts to stand up for. That doesn't mean she is required to have the joint sitting to pass the legislation after an election win, just that it clears the issue off the table and makes her appear firm where Rudd was foul.

She's the favorite to win the election. I can't say I love her - I love very few politicians, apart from Jed Bartlet - but she seems marginally less unsuitable than Tony Abbott, the Liberal leader. Why is it that the only people we get putting their hands up to be elected nowadays seem to be those who have been active in student politics and working as a party functionary ever since? Aren't there any real working people around? People who haven't spent their whole lives telling lies?
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Smithsonian Castle
Smithsonian Castle,
originally uploaded by skyring.

I ended my shift early last night, stocked up on hot dogs, sarsaparilla (another name for root beer, apparently) and Oreos, and staked out a position on the couch for the Obama inauguration. The Good Morning America coverage began with a shot of the Mall just as the first rays of the morning sun were lighting the tip of the Washington Monument, and already the space was crowded, with streams of people flowing in. By noon it was a solid mass of onlookers, all there to be a tiny part of history.

The GMA crew interviewed the spectators, asking, “Who has the most layers of clothing?” It was cold. Cold with windchill.

I’ve been there. I’ve walked through a bitter pre-dawn in Washington DC, and I’ve crunched across the Mall covered in fresh snow. That was exactly four years ago, the day after the second Bush inauguration, so I knew exactly how cold it was for the swelling crowd.

My wife and I had the city to ourselves then, and we spent a sparkling afternoon exploring the Smithsonians and marvelling at the wealth of art in the glittering halls of the National Art Gallery. But eventually the early twilight drove us outside, where we looked for a place to hail a cab. In the years following the 9/11 attacks, so many of the streets were lined with ugly cement barricades, but outside an impressive building on Constitution Avenue, there was a clear space. I set down my heavy tote bag with a sigh of relief and in a few moments a cab drew up beside us, just as I became nervously aware of the approach of a couple of uniformed security guards. Heavily armed security guards.

We hustled inside the cab and sped off.

“Crikey,” I said to the cabbie, a silver haired gent, “What’s the story there?”

“That the Department of Justice,” he replied. “They a bit antsy over Gitmo.”

Guantanamo Bay, where terrorist suspects were detained, had been the subject of some fairly high-level protesting in the weeks before our visit, so I guess that anybody carrying a bulky bag might arouse suspicions. After all, Washington itself had been attacked in 2001, and there were good reasons to be antsy.

The cab itself was an old model. Beautifully clean and tidy, but definitely showing the signs of a long life as a hack. I learnt later that the tax regime made it uneconomical to buy new vehicles, so cabs were operated until they fell apart, and this one didn’t have long to go.

We rattled through an intersection and I nudged my wife. “Look, the White House!”

“Yeah,” said the cabbie, “they got the wrong guy in there.”

We chatted the rest of the way to the hotel. He was interested in Australia, and we told him about the wildlife and the climate, stressing that we didn’t see much snow there. In fact it was summer right now, and we’d come straight from 30 degree heat to this snowy, subzero environment.

“Might move there,” he mused. “Might marry up one of them native girls, hey?”

We assured him that there was always room for taxidrivers in Australia, and gave him a small tip when he dropped us off at our hotel.

So when I saw Washington DC last night, looking frosty in the winter air, and joyous in the atmosphere of celebration, I remembered my own first fond impressions. Compared to Canberra, it’s a very different city, but there are similarities - the broad ceremonial avenues, the grand public institutions, the monuments and memorials. It’s a place where I can feel at home on the far side of the world.

“Aren’t you cold?” asked the television interviewer of one lovely old black woman, showing all her teeth in a fabulous smile.

“No, honey, I got my heart to keep me warm.”

There were a lot of happy hearts in Washington. A million strong, they thumped away and surged with excitement when Obama came out to take the oath. The sight of that sea of flags waving in a joyous tumult was unforgettable. I wish I was there, to share the excitement, to wave a flag, to feel the warmth of history and a glorious new dawn.

And somewhere, maybe in that crowd, maybe parked on a side street, listening on his cab radio, I am sure that there was one very happy cabdriver.

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Skyring

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