Thursday, April 21, 2005

Total Recall?

This week, for the first time, I achieved my target amount within the hours I’ve allotted to cab driving … a celebration is in order perhaps? Instead, I thought I’d attempt an account of the last night, Wednesday, of my three day week. For what it’s worth …

The air-con is still not working. The day driver had an accident on Saturday and now the cab’s a mobile sauna. The internal light’s blown and there’s a headlight out as well. I’ll have to drive with the windows down which means I won’t hear the radio as well as I’d like. Oh, well.

About 3.30 pm I pick up a Pommie chippie outside Central Station and take him to Kings Cross, where he lives. He tells me that when he started working in Australia, his first pay packet came at the end of his first week, not after three weeks as it would have in England, plus one week’s Australian wages was double what three week’s English wages would have been. In ten years, he’s never been back. Why would he? ($10)

Around the corner are three Japanese tourists, young, well-dressed men. I take them to Circular Quay. ($12)

At the rank in Chifley Square, from which you can see, surrounded by palms, the giant, perforated metal cut out sculpture of Ben Chifley – as if shot full of holes by all that has happened since he proclaimed the light on the hill – I get a fare to Market and Kent. A businessman making a delivery. He speaks confidently on his mobile to an associate he’s meeting in ten minutes at the Niko (?) Hotel then confesses to me he has no idea where it is. Nor do I. And it’s not in the street directory either. ($8)

At the Park Street rank I pick up a guy going to Lindfield. Overweight, black – or rather light brown – American, he's in IT. He spends the trip making work calls on his mobile. He pays with an Amex and when I cheekily ask him for a tip (the request comes up automatically on the terminal menu) he says crisply, no. ($40)

A young couple, seeming diffident, hail me as I drive away after dropping off the IT guy. Turns out they’re hiding a trolley full of shopping, thinking no cabbie will stop if he sees it. I don’t care – a fare’s a fare. I take them to Roseville. ($10)

I’m being harassed by the computer over a couple of small jobs in Chatswood, which I don’t want because I don’t know where they are and would take ages to find. But I head for there anyway. In Archer Street I get offered a job in … Archer Street. A diminutive, roly poly country doctor, a Pacific Islander by the look of him, perhaps a descendant of someone blackbirded out of Melanesia, he’s from the Northern Rivers and has eye trouble. I take him from the surgery to a private hospital in Killara. ($20)

Another radio job … Killara to the Airport. One of those plums cabbies dream of, worth at least fifty bucks, specially welcome since I would probably otherwise have driven back to the City vacant. She’s a nice woman, a South African, who starts out asking me about the safety screen I sit within, like the Pope in his Popemobile, and ends up receiving a full confession of recent complications in my personal life. I can’t believe I’m telling her all this, some of which I’ve never articulated to anyone before. She’s a psychologist, she tells me finally, almost apologetically. As she hands over the money I think I should be paying her; I feel so much better. ($60)

On the way back up O’Riordan Street, heading to the City, I cop a hail to Alice Street in Newtown. A young guy going home from work. Nice guy. ($10)

As I’m dropping off another radio job comes through. Newtown to the City. It’s the Street of Crooked Houses a friend showed me when we were tripping one time. Unseen again from that day to this. But I don’t have time to look around, this couple booked the cab for the wrong time and they’re late for dinner. He gives me meticulous, even pedantic directions all the way and keeps changing his mind about what route he wants to take. She gives me a large tip when I let them off at Circular Quay. ($25)

Back at Chifley Square I don’t even have time to stretch my legs. A sweet young woman going home to Mosman after work climbs into the back seat. When we get close she says turn left at the next lights, by the Caltex Station, but there are no lights there and no Caltex Station, just a derelict yellow Midas sign. ($25)

I head straight back to the City and pick up a hail in Bridge Street. A businessman going to the Airport, a young guy who seems inordinately pleased with himself. But I don’t know why because he doesn’t speak to me. ($25)

I’m out of cigarettes so, back in the City, I stop off and buy a packet of Gadang Garam at the Chinese tobacconist next to the Kebab place by Scruffy Murphy’s in Goulburn Street. I go looking for a rank where I can have a smoke and still stay in contention for a job, but I’m hailed outside a pub almost as soon as I get back in the cab. Guy’s a bit drunk. He makes a call on his mobile, speaking baby talk, so I think he must be talking to his kid. When he gets off he says, in a normal voice, shit, I’m in trouble. It was his wife he was talking to. She’s Thai. He’s from Clapham, London, and works for Ernst Young. We talk about real estate values and immigration issues all the way to Bronte. (There’s been computer messages all night about a fare someone dropped off in Bronte yesterday. Sounds like a police matter. I was working in the Eastern Suburbs at that time but I didn’t pick up at the Coogee Bay Hotel. I’ll never know what this is about.) ($20)

I go to the Bondi Junction rank where I finally get a chance to smoke a cigarette. The rank is packed, and slow-moving. I watch a young couple manhandling a huge fluffy toy, a brown bear, into a Tobacco Station across the road. It’s bigger than she is. Reach the head at last and take a seemingly unhappy woman in her thirties to Vaucluse. She’s very nice to me, the way unhappy people sometimes are nice to strangers. ($15)

A radio job, Vaucluse to Rose Bay. I take it. But I misread the map and end up in Watsons Bay instead. Vaucluse is a maze and I get hopelessly lost. I’ve just about sorted it out when the walkie talkie crackles into life. A truly absurd dialogue ensues, with the despatcher trying to find out how long I’m going to be and me trying to tell her I’ll be there as soon as she stops hassling me. Turns out I’m nearly outside the house anyway. Three scantily dressed, heavily made up, violently perfumed teenage girls trip down the path from a mansion. Young as they are, they already assume the incontrovertible authority of the wealthy. The one in the front asks me to turn on the internal light so she can check her look in the mirror. They argue about the route. When we get there, one says, stop before the party; another says, no, drive past so we can get a look. There’s nothing to see – just another mansion. They dispute amongst themselves about the fare then underpay. ($8)

Another job off the radio, Bellevue Hill to Bondi Beach. An older guy, smelling of sweet port wine. ($10)

A hail on Bondi Road. Two English women, also going to party. We stop at a servo so they can buy cigarettes along the way. ($6)

I go back to Bondi Beach, intending to park on the rank, have another smoke and listen to the ocean for a while. As I pull up a young guy opens the door. Thanks for stopping, he says. I hadn’t even seen him. I take him to Redfern. ($25)

I’m very tired. You can’t really do this sort of thing on five hour’s sleep. Plus I haven’t eaten. My last job last night I nearly went through a red light in Enmore, could have killed both my fare and myself. She was talking about Rotorua and I was thinking about Tarawera. I go up to The Rocks, have a pee in the Hero of Waterloo and stop outside for a while, smoking and listening to the pianist doing Tom Waits’ "Jersey Girl" then Dylan’s "Make You Feel My Love". He’s a shit singer but plays piano nicely.

I get a hail in Bridge Street, a non-descript young guy with a packet of white sliced bread in his hand. God knows why. He’s going to the Park Hyatt in College Street. ($9).

I really should head home now but, after leaving the Hyatt, I have to turn left into Oxford Street, where I’m hailed straightaway by two young dudes. They’re drunk but not aggressive. There is a lot of clinking from their bags and I figure that they’ve probably been pinching glasses from wherever they’ve been drinking. They’re work mates, one more senior than the other, and they have a startlingly explicit conversation about the women in their office. Detailed discussion of anatomical features plus lurid scenarios of possible action … I tune out. One gets off at the tennis courts in Rose Bay, the other I take to yet another mansion in Vaucluse. ($25)

That’s it. 11.30. I’m definitely going home now. FBI are doing a Crosby, Stills and Nash special on The Bug-Eyed Highway, their late night country music show. I turn it up full blast as I roll through Double Bay. "We are stardust/Billion year old carbon/We are golden/Caught in the devil’s bargain/And we’ve got to get ourselves/Back to the garden …" I couldn’t do this job without the radio. The City’s full of cabs cruising vacant, all the ranks are jammed up. I get another hail on Parramatta Road, two young blokes who’ve been at a gig. They’re cool. And Stanmore’s on my way. ($12)

I have to fill the tank up with gas - $20 – and put aside $130 for Chinese Bob, whose cab it is I drive. I’ve travelled 230 kilometres and made $375, which means my take home is $225. Or thereabouts. The young Iraqi guy, always so immaculate at the beginning of a shift, now looks tired and rumpled. We exchange mute, weary smiles. I buy a bottle of beer from the Summer Hill Hotel and go home to make myself some salami and tomato cheese melts.