Thursday, June 02, 2005


I was at the Bondi Junction rank last evening when a young man in a suit rapped on the boot of the cab. I opened it. He and another guy in a white chef's jacket manhandled an oil heater into the boot. I thought I'd be taking the suit home with his purchase but it was the other guy who got in. We were replacing a defective heater bought that day by a woman in Double Bay. She needed a new one urgently because she was having a dinner party that night. Her place was full of heavy antique furniture and she herself was Austrian or German, about sixty, hair in a French roll, cheerful ... she knew the guy who was delivering the heater because she'd bought some cheese off him that day as well. He was Bulgarian and the buyer in the cheese department at David Jones. Don't ask me why it fell to him to deliver a replacement heater. We talked cheese all the way back from Double Bay to the Junction ... fetta, gorgonzola, stilton rolled off our tongues ... as well as discussing the habits of the wealthy. A nice guy. And a happy man, as happy as only twenty years buying cheese could make him. When he got out, he left me with a blank, signed cab charge docket and a dilemma. How much should I charge David Jones for this service? The $25.25 on the meter or ... something more?

The night before I'd picked up a young fellow at The Object House in Surry Hills, going to Homebush Bay, where he lived in one of the units built to house the contestants at the 2000 Olympics. In his case the Nigerian athletes. He too was travelling on a cab charge docket, as he divulged almost as soon as he got in the cab, which is of course a mistake. This gradually became clear to him while, driving west, we chatted. He realised that the $80.00 fare for the same journey another cab driver had charged him was at least double what the trip was worth. That cabbie had detoured through the North Shore. He was a sweet young guy, just twenty, with a soft, furry attempt at a beard on his chin. He worked for Alpine Offset, who print many of the glossy mags from Kerry Packer's empire. Alpine Offset are notorious in Australia because of a fire at their Homebush plant in 1993. It turned out the facility had just been insured for a sum vastly in excess of its actual value; the owners, a 'prominent' Labor Senator, a 'colourful' stockbroker and one of Packer's executives, banked their shares of the insurance money in numbered Swiss accounts ... millions and millions of dollars.

Anyway. The young guy filled out the cab charge docket for an amount about ten dollars in excess of the metered fare, but still only just over half of the eighty bucks he'd been charged last time. And the David Jones one? I wrote in the sum I needed to make up my pay-in for last night without contributing any actual cash to the envelope ... in other words, I gave myself a tip of about $15.00. Do I feel guilty? No. Am I worried about being caught? Yes. But after all rorting ... is the great Australian sport.