Thursday, August 31, 2006

total recall

is of course impossible but that doesn't stop us trying. Last night was my final night driving for a while, so I thought I'd try to remember every ride ... went ok at first but there always comes a time when events overwhelm the apparently simple desire to record and recall. Pick up my first fare on Broadway, a cyclist and his manager. The cyclist talks about his legs. His manager talks about sports promotions. After I let them out at Martin Place, a few metres up on George Street there's a very out-of-it young woman yelling into her mobile phone and waving hysterically for a cab. I ease past her, something I hardly ever do, and am hailed immediately by a fellow in a suit with a battered leather briefcase. Manly he says then doesn't speak again for the entire journey. Blond, blue-eyed, English or perhaps South African, he looks like a dissolute Wehrmacht officer. Legs crossed, hands clasped on his knee, wrapped in some cloud of unspeakable sorrow. Coming back through Mosman, I score a radio job from HMAS Penguin. A sailor called Ben, going to Maroubra. He's having his wisdom teeth out and has just had a consultation at the Naval hospital there at Middle Head. He's been in Timor - you didn't see much - and thinks he's probably going to Iraq next. He's an electrician off HMAS Kanimbla, a helicopter capable amphibious transport ship. An impenetrable silence descends when I ask what he and his mates think about the death of Private Kovco. It'll go on for years, is all he'll say. There's been an accident on the bridge, traffic going north is backed up for kilometres. Doesn't bother us, we whizz down Southern Cross Drive and soon I'm heading back empty to the City again. It's only just after four and already I've made $90.00. Around about this time, or a little later, someone is run down and killed by a train in the tunnel between Central and Town Hall stations, on the Illawarra line. Passengers in the train behind have to get out and walk back to Central in the 45 degree underground heat. The City is thrown into chaos as commuters try to get home by road. I take a young Asian woman with a limp to a doctor's appointment in Hunter's Hill, she's so nervy that when someone toots me as I change lanes in front of him, she nearly jumps out of her seat. Coming back, I pick up a Macedonian woman in Bathurst Street and take her to Bondi. She's thin as a rake, with a great beaked nose, lustrous eyes and a bowed, generous mouth. A nice person. We chat happily together as we scoot away from the madness. In Macedonia, the cabs are 1980s Ford Lasers with the door handles and window winders in the back removed, there's no air and everybody smokes and yells and it's hopeless ... There are so many people looking for hails in the City it's ridiculous. On the corner of Oxford and College Streets I stop for a woman who's going up to St Vincent’s hospital to see her sister. She has visited her every evening after work since she was diagnosed with leukaemia late last year. Today her sister, after a bone marrow transplant, thinks she can eat so my fare is taking her a pear she bought at DJs. She's from New Zealand, an Aucklander. She doesn't think her sister's going to make it, she has that look ... I ignore all the frantically waving people on Liverpool Street and make my way up Pitt to Park. There's no cabs on the rank and a desperate huddle at the head, but I need cigarettes if I'm to survive the night, so I leave the car and buy a packet of Gudang Garam from the African in the convenience store. Three people pile into the wagon, they have luggage, they're going to the Airport. It's a multiple hire, they're a couple and a single guy, they don't know each other so, by rights, they should each pay two thirds of the metered fare. I tell them this and then say I can't be bothered enforcing the rule. The single guy in the front seat tells me that, on his way in from the airport last Sunday, his taxi driver fell asleep at the wheel. They stopped at some lights and when they went green, the cab didn't move. He had to lean over and wake the cabbie up. An old chap who drove at snail's pace anyway. When we get to the Virgin Blue terminal, there's 23 bucks on the meter but the guy writes $35 on the cab charge docket. I smoke an illicit cigarette, my first of the day, on my way back up O'Riordon Street to the City, where I'm once more besieged by hails. I get a young businessman going to Oyster Bay, at the southern limit of the metropolis. I can sit back and relax as we wind down towards Brighton Le Sands on the shores of Botany Bay. He's a Pom, he has a cold, his wife doesn't want to talk to him on the phone so he calls some mates instead to arrange boozy weekends in London and Paris. I can't work out if he's in music or sport and in the end decide it doesn't matter. This is where I start to lose it ... remember smoking another fag as I barrelled back up the Princes Highway into town, but what happened after that? Took a young woman to Central Station, the Country Trains, an Eastern European guy from there to the Casino, picked up in Pyrmont, a chef getting off work who was obsessed about the greasy smell he carried like an atmos around him and reckoned he wants to buy my car ... let him have my mobile number but doubt he'll ring. His grandmother gave away his deceased grandfather's '67 Chrysler Valiant with only 23,000 on the clock and the plastic still on the seats and he hasn't got over it yet - Steve, the chef from Adelaide, I mean. I took two people, one after the other, to Moore Park, a fussy woman and a fat American. Took a nice bloke to Potts Point ... might have gone any number of other places but I just can't remember now where, or if, they were. Much later, I sit for about three quarters of an hour on the Park Street rank outside the Criterion Hotel, watching the passing to and fro of the night people, until a sad Irishwoman who's been sitting on a nearby bench eating some kind of bun she bought from the McDonalds across the road, stands up wiping her fingers and, leaving the paper bag and the stained wrappers to blow away into the gutter with all the other detritus of the day, climbs into the back seat and asks to be taken to Lane Cove West. After that I go home.