Wednesday, September 27, 2006


There's a ritual at my taxi base. It's called Change and refers not so much to small denomination coins as to large notes. Every day when I go to work, I take with me an envelope in which is my work sheet and my pay-in (the hire of the cab for 12 hours) from the night before plus, if I'm lucky, the rest of the credit card receipts or cab charge dockets. The balance, if it's more than the pay-in, is the Change. The wife of my boss, Chinese Bob, sits at the wheel of their car in the service station forecourt with, among much else, an envelope full of banknotes and a plastic bag of coins. She redeems the change, invariably handing over the largest notes she can to make up the amount. She loves giving out, in descending order of importance, hundreds, fifties, twenties, tens, fives, gold coins, silver coins. Italo told me that her name is Estrela, which is also, coincidentally, the name of the love of Antonio da Nova's life in Luca Antara. Estrela, who's Chinese as well, used to worry about the small amounts of change I'd be getting. I would tell her it was partly because I sometimes cash in the cab charge receipts down at Five Dock, so I can go home with actual money in my pocket, but first she didn't believe me and then she couldn't understand why I'd sacrifice the small percentage (2%) they charge for the service. One afternoon she asked me if I'd ever had a $300.00 night. I said no, and she smiled sorrowfully and shook her head. Lately things have improved, making her happier on my account, which is sweet. And then, last night, I did have a $300.00 night. Not only that, but I was home before midnight. I'm looking forward to telling her today.

People just kept cliimbing into and out of my cab, though that doesn't necessarily mean you make a lot of money. But then, outside the Casino in Pyrmont, I had a windfall. Two blokes, one in a suit, one not, hurried across the road and waved me down. The one in the suit got in the front, his mate in the back. Wide boys. They were going to an address in Botany to get a document signed; they wanted me to wait and then take them back to Crows Nest. It was about nine pm and they were sweating. As we sailed down Botany Road, they nervously discussed the prospects. They didn't know the house they were going to and they didn't know the bloke they were meeting, either. There was speculation about the possible dangers they might face. They were under instructions to view the bloke's driver's licence, or passport, or something. He wouldn't send you anywhere dangerous, the guy in the back reassured the guy in the front. I'm glad you're coming with me, the guy in the front said. I was dying to know what it was all about but didn't like to ask. The guy in front changed the radio station and turned the music up real loud. The guy in the back navigated, using my street directory. We were on a mission. It was exciting as well as nerve-racking.

When we found the house, a small brick cottage on a corner next to a highway, with a little reserve called Arthur Park opposite, the suited one left his jacket on the front seat and said I could lock the cab if I wanted to. They said they'd be about ten minutes. I leaned on the bonnet of the cab, smoking a Gadung Garam, looking into the windy darkness, intermittently illuminated by white lights, very near the shores of Botany Bay. No-one around, hardly any traffic either. I was wondering if I might hear shots or shouts or furniture crashing over. It was a lonesome part of town. The windows of the house were the antique brown of rattan blinds lit by dim lamps from inside. Then the door banged, and the voices were loud but cheerful. They piled back in and we took off, real quick. I made an illegal U turn so we could go back up via Southern Cross Drive and the Eastern Distributor and then through the Harbour Tunnel to Crows Nest. They talked about the bloke, who, it turned out, didn't have a driver's licence but did have a birth certificate. They talked about the place ... a shithole, they said. How could a bloke who commands $2.3 million live like that? This sequed into a story the guy in the back told, about a unit in Abbotsford he rented off a mate. The mate had lived there eighteen years and never cleaned up. Before this guy moved in, he scrubbed the carpets with a wire brush and took away four garbage bags of rubbish from off the floors alone. But, and this was the point, his mate had paid for his new unit in cash. Half a million. So, squalor doesn't necessarily mean poverty.

As we came up to the Falcon Street exit the guy in the front said that I must think they were doing something dodgy like a drug deal. I said, yes, I was curious. Turns out it was property, a place in Byron Bay that would go to auction at eleven this morning if the contract wasn't signed. A cash deposit of $100,000 had been made and the document was the guarantee for the rest of it. Where's the hundred grand? I asked, looking around hopefully. In a safe place, he said, and laughed. I dropped them off outside the Crows Nest Hotel on the corner of the Pacific Highway. There was about 70 dollars on the meter plus $7.50 in tolls. The front guy handed me a green hundred dollar bill and asked for fifteen bucks change. And a receipt. I wrote the cab number on the receipt and told him he could fill the rest out himself. He was happy about that. Said he'd put maybe 102. They both thanked me as if I really had been the driver of the gang for a half hour or so. While I was resetting the meter, another bloke came out of the pub, crossed the road and got in. Lewisham, he said. Later I took a young Asian woman home from work, all the way from William Street in the City to Lugarno, another 70 dollar fare. The whole night was like that. Change.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Farting in taxi cabs is a largely undiscussed and thus far wholly unresearched subject. Nevertheless, the phenomenon is real and can have unintended consequences. Suspicion may become mutual between cabbie and fare and still the matter is seldom, or never, raised. My own feeling is that there should be a tariff on all releases of hot air in confined spaces, howsoever expressed, though there are of course practical problems in the realisation of this ambition. A vexed question, to which there is no obvious answer. Winding down the windows sometimes helps.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

some sydney street names

Aloha Street, Mascot

By The Sea Road, Mona Vale

Curt Street, Ashfield

Done Street, Arncliffe

Early Street, Parramatta

Fur Place, Rooty Hill

Goodchap Street, Surry Hills

Herb Greedy Place, Marrickville

Ice Street, Darlinghurst

Joy Street, Gladesville

Kia Ora Arc, Double Bay

Little Darling Street, Balmain

Modern Avenue, Canterbury

Nulla Nulla Street, Turramurra

Orphan School Creek Lane, Camperdown

Powder Works Road, North Narrabeen

Quirk Road, Manly Vale

Runnymede Way, Carlingford

Sunning Place, Summer Hill

Tram Lane, Randwick

Universal Street, Eastlakes

Vicar Street, Coogee

Woolloomooloo Walk, Sydney

Xenia Avenue, Carlton

Youth Lane, Burwood

Zig Zag Lane, Crows Nest

( ... have driven down, or past, most if not all of these streets at some time or other ... )
The lurid, late afternoon western sky invites thoughts of apocalypse. Is the sun closer or bigger than it used to be or is that just how it seems? A great black winged shadow moves across the glass face of the Stamford Hotel at Airport Central. I am so wrapped in thought that it is a moment before I register the impossibility that a bird this size, bigger than any eagle or albatross, actually exists. Am I so delusional that I'm starting to see pterodactyls? It's only just before the lights change that I see, towards the top of the tower, a small dark pigeon fly past the expanse of convex blue-green glass and into the cerulean beyond, leaving its mirror maze image nowhere except in the back of my eyes.

* * * * *

Fifty black-robed men come round the corner of Spring and into Gresham Street. An orchestra? Delegates to a Magician's Convention? No, I can see in the ambient yellow light a gleam of ivory white at every throat. They are priests or ministers of religion. There is something both gay and collegiate about their passage down towards Circular Quay, like kids on an excursion. At the rear, unnoticed, unattended, limps a bulky older man, also robed and dog-collared, with a tartan scarf flapping from his shoulders, trying vainly to catch up with the crow-black gaggle ahead of him.

* * * * *

Outside a late opener, two women are thinking of stealing a taxi while the driver is in the bottle shop. They are trying to entice the drunk young man across the road into joining them on their journey to the end of the night. What is the cabbie doing, buying booze? Why has he left the women alone in his car with the key still in the ignition? Did they offer him some tryst, some midnight liaison that requires alcohol and cigarettes as well as willing bodies? I want to know the answers to these and other questions, but not enough to get involved. The lights of Annandale, the birthplace of Mr. Sin, Abe Saffron, who died aged 86 last week, dim and fade behind as we accelerate down the hill towards the Great Western Highway.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sometimes at night above the Harbour Bridge or the massive pylons of the Anzac Bridge, hundreds of seagulls gather the way moths do about an outside light ... tossed like fragments of paper rising from a fire, or like dust swirling in an updraft. In the stark white glare of the lamps they can seem like bits of light themselves and I wonder what attracts them there? It's always too noisy at road level to hear, but I imagine them skirling and screeching as they dip and turn and scatter about the delusive sensors that they perhaps mistake for navigational aids in the ineluctable darkness of the City.