Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cab 1660 ...

which I've been driving the last few nights has a flash new computerised meter that, when you have a fare on board, shows the location you're driving through on the screen. Was stuck in traffic on the Cahill Expressway, approaching the bridge, where you do a 360 degree turn through a cutting chipped out sandstone, with a crew of film people going to a screening in Neutral Bay, when I happened to glance down and saw that we were in ... Gallows Hill. Stayed there for quite a while, maybe ten minutes. Time to think. Gallows Hill? Why was that still somewhere you could be? One of those buried places, a vestigial location whose name, for some reason, survives. Turns out you can still order flowers to be delivered to Gallows Hill, though I don't know of anyone who lives in, or goes to, or leaves that place. Essex Street is its more usual nomeclature. I had just been talking on the phone to a producer who suggested we meet next day at Guillotine, an editing suite in Redfern, so my neck still felt a little vulnerable. Later on I found that the no-mans-land on Oxford Street between Paddington and Bondi Junction is called Mill Hill. Ghost sails turning where the Reservoir now is, just above Victoria Barracks. I thought of White City, which I also drove past (or through), the other night, explaining to my fare why that name persists when all else that used to characterise the place has faded. Nothing to do with tennis. In a review by Peter Ackroyd of City of Disappearances, a book edited by Iain Sinclair, I read this sentence: What is the White City? A question I will try to answer elsewhere. It was a relief to quit Gallows Hill and join the roar of the traffic on the bridge, but also a sadness, to be leaving a place that no longer is, yet was, briefly, once more, and perhaps not again, if equivocably, inhabited.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

night on earth

Dark figures leave the lighted towers & move towards the line of waiting cars. None of the drivers knows who they will get, where the ride will take them; yet the mystery, inconsequential as it is, is soon solved. Will you be going to Moorebank with a dark-eyed fragrant passenger in the back seat? Or ferrying some Suit with a testosterone hangover to Manly? Or Bondi ... yes, Bondi, couple of skateboarders, one of whom spends the trip outlining, in great detail, the plot of a short film to the other. Shot by shot, scene by scene. They think it's hilarious but it sounds dull to me. Juvenile. What do I know? The most jaded people in the world, a film producer once told me, is who you have to interest. I never thought I would become one of these, but there it is, here I am. Can't be bothered looking for more work but, inevitably, I get hailed in O'Brien Street, a fare back to the City, back to the very rank I just came from. Is he American or English? What is she going on & on & on about? Why don't they just shut up ... dark figures leave the lighted towers & move towards the cars. No-one knows where they will be going & who they will take there. The mystery, inconsequential, will soon be solved. Shot by shot, scene by scene, the phantasmagoria unfolds. No-one is watching, no-one paying any attention, this is just another Night on Earth, exactly the same & totally different from every other. Norton Street, Leichhardt. An Irishman. That rarity, a silent Irishman. Aye.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

a bad run

On the rank at Farrar Place I did something I haven't done before: I refused to take a fare. This earned me a spray from a righteous cab driver further back on the rank - Let others do the shit work while you take the cream, is that it? he snarled. Good on you ... - and I drove off to the Airport with a sharpish Suit in the back wondering if I had offended the gods of cab driving. Things went well for a while and then they didn't. I was out in Coogee when I picked up a radio job to Woolloomooloo. Except the very drunk old guy at the Leagues Club in Carr Street was actually going to Waterloo. Waaar-loo, he dribbled, not Waaara-loo. He'd been at a funeral, burying his best mate and he was maudlin. Not a problem so much as a distraction. While he knew what he was saying, I mostly didn't. He was a big guy, and bumped his head each time he got into or out of the cab, which he did twice, since he had to stand up to reach his wallet. Traffic was intense because of a football game at Moore Park so I thought I'd avoid the worst of it by sticking to the western side of town. No use. I picked up a couple of junkies outside the George Street cinemas, going to Circular Quay, and together we inched up the car-clotted street while they alternately whinged in the back about the fare climbing on the meter and boasted about the bargains they'd got that day at Paddy's Market. They even tried to book me to take them to the Herbert Street Clinic the next day. By the time we got to Bridge Street, I could have killed them - and then I nearly did. They poured a vast amount of silver coins into my hands and started to climb out of the cab. There was traffic everywhere and I was being harrassed on all side by horns. I was so keen to get away that I took my foot off the brake before they were completely out. Hey watcha doin'?! Tryin' to kill us? An aggrieved whine. I told them my foot slipped. A young dude climbed into the car a block up the street and asked to be taken to Moore Park. We crawled up the Eastern Distributor and then out of the tunnel into Moore Park Road. The guy debated whether or not to get out there or nearer to the gates and settled on the gates. That meant, to save him walking a hundred metres or so, I had to sit in stalled traffic for another half hour or so. I tried to assuage my impatience by smoking an illicit Gadung Garam under the eyes of the cops marshalling the cars. Back in Elizabeth Street, a young man smelling sour from alcohol climbed in the back seat and said he wanted to go to Edward and Vine. What suburb? I asked. I don't know, he shrugged. You're the driver. He was surly and insolent like that, going out of his way to make things difficult, so I did something I hardly ever do, I took a slow way there. Edward and Vine's in Chippendale, it's a block from the first house I ever lived in in Sydney. As we neared I tried to confirm the address with him. Is that what I said? he said, bored. I can't remember. When I stopped on the corner and turned the inside light on he said, apropos of nothing at all: Are you from the Netherlands? No, I said, I'm from New Zealand. Are you? Yeah, via Chicago, Illinois. He paid with a twenty and then insisted I count out the change to the last ten cents. I'd get slapped for not tipping if this was New York City, he said when he had his change. So, tip me, I said. We were hating each other by then, the atmos was really mean. People don't tip over here, he said. It's included in the price. This isn't true, most cash customers tip, even if only by rounding up the figure to the next dollar, and I was quite certain he knew this. I bit my tongue, waiting for him to go; and drove back into town feeling like a dead man ferrying damned souls across the river into hell. But a Chinese couple hailed me on George Street and asked to go to the Sheraton on the Park, they were decent human beings, and after that things picked up again.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ministry of (un)Sound

Last night I was in Surry Hills when I got a radio job, 355 Riley St. to Rose Bay, someone called Sammy. I was just around the corner so was there in no time. A kind of dock or loading bay that has been turned into a small theatre, with stage and curtains and lights and all. A blonde was vacuuming the stage. Anyone here call a cab? I asked. She just left in one, the blonde said. Shit! I said.

About five hours later, up in Darlinghurst, two young groovers hailed me and asked to be taken to ... 355 Riley Street. There was an Event there: the launch of a new album by Ministry of Sound. I told them my tale ... her name was Sammy, I said. Sammy? one of them replied. Yeah, I know Sammy, she works for Ministry of Sound. Tell her from me ... I began then thought, ah, fuck it. Let the groovers groove.