Sunday, December 31, 2006

So I was at Summer Hill station earlier today, waiting for a train to the City, when a woman in blue jeans & dark glasses came up to me & said: You look like a distinguished sort of fellow, can you tell me how to get to Chelmsford Street, Newtown? I did, & said, & she sat down & we fell to talking. Pulled out a pack of Winfield Blue so we shared a smoke as well. She was going to see a friend in Newtown & tomorrow was off for 40 days in Thailand. Never been out of the country before, though she'd been all over it. Had a ticket to Bangkok & one night's booking in a hotel, would wing it from there. Up north, she said, to try to recover a sense of what life is. Really about. Kind of raw, a straight shooter, wild, funny, sad, not without optimism ... from Wagga. Later we found out we're both cab drivers! That was peculiar. Swapping modus operandi as the train shuffled from Lewisham to Petersham to Stanmore ... in Wagga, you record every fare on the meter & print out the total at the end of the shift. The driver gets 41% of said total, the owner/operator, 59%. You get a lot of redbacks, she said. In two and a half years she thought she'd probably thrown about a dozen people out of her cab. Something I've never done in Sydney. And, if my boss took sixty percent of what I took I'd hardly make anything. We're under the bootheel down in Wagga, she said. It was one of those conversations that could have gone on for a long time, we were that easy with each other ... This is your stop, I said, in the brief night of the overbridge. We'd both taken off our dark glasses by then, we'd introduced ourselves to each other: Kathy Hartweg (sp?), German she said. We shook hands as she left. From the lower level, I saw her give a small, poignant wave as she walked past on the platform, even though our eyes couldn't meet again. She to Chiang Mai, perhaps, I to see the Paddy Bedford show at the MCA:

Saturday, December 16, 2006

through the looking glass

Been trying to clarify a feeling I've had for a while, which is to do with the way that driving a cab somehow increases the curiosity I feel about the nature & appearance of this City. On days off I love to ramble down any old street, any old where - so long as it's one I've driven down. Not an onerous qualification, because you find yourself driving down most streets in the CBD & the inner city at some time or other. It's a through-the-looking-glass feeling, I think: in the cab you view things from a point of view that is anonymous, global, voyeuristic, detached. You see all sorts of goings on but only at a remove. You feel like an omnipotent observer in a moving Panopticon. What you don't see is much detail, & here I mean both physical detail of buildings, shops, footpaths & so forth as well as the human detail of possible or actual interactions with people casually met in the street. This somehow makes the experience of mingling in the street much more enticing. I don't experience people in the street as alienating or alienated - quite the opposite. I'm avid for contact, even of the most fleeting sort, & Sydney being the louche, informal, anything goes kind of place that it is, such interactions are available anywhere, anytime. And, at the same time, it is, like any City of several hundred years age, so intricately, comprehensively & randomly layered that the built environment is itself full of interest, full of surprises, replete with interactions of a different kind. I wonder if, without the functional alienation of driving, I would still feel this equal & opposite degree of intense engagement?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Cossack Rambler

Hell - Bob cancelled my shift today, leaving me with half my rent ungathered. He rang back about two hours later to say he'd found a car for me to drive but by then I'd gone off on another track with what remained of the day, so I declined. I was over in Newtown looking for the new Little Axe record, Stone Cold Ohio. Driving to Newtown reminded me that, last time I went that way, last Thursday, I got a puncture. Had seen a rug shop in Stanmore, pulled up, did a U-ee, parked, went in. When I came out the back left tyre was almost flat. There's an old-fashioned garage over the way that I'd always wanted to visit, so I went there to reinflate the tyre. But the valve was shot, air was hissing out as fast as it went in. I persuaded the grumpy proprietor to get his man to change it for the spare then carried on to Camperdown. Next day I went to my local guy, Pierre, to get the tube replaced. While he was doing it, drove back to Stanmore to buy a bamboo rug I fancied. When I came back, a fellow who lives in my street was there, waiting for Pierre to give him the pink slip for his classic 1960s Rambler. I've often watched him shuffling up and down the street, he has a peculiar, small-stepped gait, like someone moonwalking in slippers. We chatted while we waited. Turns out he's a Greek from Russia. Grew up in Russia, was educated at a Russian school, speaks the language. Remembers the Nazis rounding up all the Jews in the town and taking them away. They were the first, he said. Later he went down to Greece and later still, 1950, came to Australia. Best country in the world, he observed, a common remark here. When he was in Russia he learned Cossack dancing and it was in a dancing competition here in Sydney that he won the money with which he bought the green Rambler! Wonder if that's why he walks like he does?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

blinded by the light

Weird night last night. Don't think I've ever before worked a shift where I haven't got out of the cab even once ... how did this happen? Hard to recall. Started late, drove into the City, the rank at Park Street is empty except for a gaggle of fares waiting but as I pull in a guy steps off the curb outside McDonalds & hails me. The Taxi Council bloke on the rank wagging his finger at me as I go. The queue-jumper's in real estate & wants to go to Rose Bay. Has his mobile phone switched to speaker, which irritates me 'cos its crackle interferes with some cool jazz on the radio ($18). Then I'm offered a job from Rose Bay to Hunters Hill ... whoa! Three chubby teenage girls wearing hardly any clothes. They spend the first half of the trip in the back seat reviewing the weekend's activities on a mobile phone. Then the Mum of one of them rings in & insists her baby go home immediately. Baby gets out at Town Hall to catch a train back to Bondi Junction. One of the others is pleading on her phone with some boy to meet her in town that evening; she gets the sulks afterwards. Traffic is awful, all night. At a servo in Hunters Hill, Chazza casually slings me two twenties & four dollar coins - where do these kids get their money from? - just as I'm offered a job from Hunters Hill to Ultimo. A Catholic boys school, St. Josephs, literally round the corner; except the guy, a teacher now doing admin in fact wants to go to Kensington. Maybe he's the wrong guy, I don't ask. We discuss the vagaries of State versus Church education all the way ($34) ... back in the City, Elizabeth Street is jammed up but, sneaking along on the inside in the bus lane, I'm hailed by a grim looking woman who wants to go to Artarmon. Takes half an hour just to crawl to the Bridge but she's fine about it ($47). Approaching Artarmon, I'm offered a job to the City from Onyx Road. Used to live in a road called that in Pearl Beach. She's a woman my own age, perhaps, going to a party at the law courts in Liverpool Street. I only have a social life at Christmas, she offers. I don't have a social life at all, I say ($33). Back to Park Street, where I pick up two smart young woman & take them to a pub in Paddington. Their conversation is in every respect the kind of talk you hear from the Masters of the Universe at the Big End of Town, so I guess they are Mistresses of the Universe. No idea what line of work they're in ($12). After that ... Park Street to Coogee, a quiet woman, going home from work, there's been a race meeting at Randwick today so its a crawl up Anzac Parade & Alison Road ($25). On the way back, in Belmore Road, I pick up a startlingly beautiful young woman carrying evening clothes in a plastic sheath, going to work in Darling Harbour. Her make up as thick as a Geisha's only it's brown, not white ($20). Outside the Imax, as she leaves another woman arrives, she's going to Balmain ($18). I head back to the City, thinking there'll surely be a chance now to stop on a rank & stretch my legs but I'm hailed on Bathurst Street by a stolid young woman who wants to go to Kirrawee, way down there in Sutherland Shire. It's gorgeous to drive out under the sky at sunset & we get all the way to the lights at President Avenue before I have to stop the car, even once. She's a Kiwi too, it turns out, from some tiny little town on the Canterbury Plains. Winchester. Likes it here but her husband can't get steady work ($55). Barrelling back up the Princes Highway I score another radio job, Rockdale to the City. A young Chinese couple who sound very sweet, chatting to each other softly in Mandarin in the back seat ($27). Drop them off in George Street, head back to Park, thinking now, surely ... but it's still empty of cabs & crowded with people. Another woman, she wants to go to Clovelly ($25). As I'm turning from Oxford Street into Flinders I have a moment of complete disorientation that is very scary. For an instant, I can't tell where the road is & at the same time have the illusion that I'm heading straight into a line of traffic that's coming towards me, fast. This is when I realise how tired I am & that I have to either take a break or finish the shift. Somewhere out in Randwick I'm offered a fare to Maroubra but I think no, that's enough, it's not even ten o'clock but I've made my $200.00, I'm going home. So I do. Walking back through Ashfield Park, with the fruit bats screeching & dropping fragments of figs from the trees, I'm amazed at how quickly the stiffness goes from my legs. Almost, but not quite, like being young again.