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.