Monday, March 26, 2007

Rag Doll

One day last week as I was driving down the hill into Double Bay, heading west, I saw spreadeagled, face down on the road, a rag doll. It was tall with striped pants and orange hair. Arms out either side. I swerved to avoid running over it but you could see that plenty of other drivers had not. How did it end up there? Whose familiar was it? Did some child drop it crossing the road or did it fly out a car window? Did someone throw it from the balcony of one of the tall apartment buildings flanking the street? Did it fall from space?

It revived or perhaps recalled my greatest fear while I drive: that I might hit a pedestrian. Don't really worry about hitting, or being hit by, other cars even though, on any night, you might have half a dozen narrow escapes. Probably that's something to do with the metal skin you're all encased in. Whereas pedestrians ... it's the thought of metal hitting unprotected flesh, allied with the fact that pedestrian behaviour is becoming more and more casual, to the point where people now commonly step out into the road at any old time, even when the trafiic is flowing and the lights are against them.

Last week my nightmare almost came true. I'd picked up a fellow in the City and taken him out to the University of NSW for his daughter's graduation. She'd studied Chemical Egineering and was already working out north of Mt Isa. He was a former member of the board of the Film Finance Corporation, an interesting man who found out, I realised as I drove away, much more about me than I did about him. It was about 6.30, before daylight saving had ended. I was coming down High Street towards Anzac Parade, with the setting sun directly ahead of me. The combination of low light, downhill trajectory and dust on the windscreen made visibility almost nil. Like driving into a golden haze, a swarm of dusty light.

I was probably driving too fast, as I tend to do when I'm thinking about other things. Suddenly I saw, out of the haze, a young woman stepping in front of the car. Hadn't even seen the pedestrian crossing she was using; and she, with her ipod on, certainly hadn't seen me. In fact, I don't think she ever did really see me. I slammed on the anchors, praying the car would stop before sending her plumpness flying into meat. It did, just. And she carried on, oblivious. As I did, a bit shaken, a bit trembly, and much slower. For the rest of the shift I kept getting flashbacks: both her form appearing out of the haze and then, overlaid or perhaps immediately sequential, the rag doll spreadeagled face down on New South Head Road.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Some nights are like that, they just whizz by. First ride, a taciturn rich kid going home to Mosman, actually Beauty Point, or was it Quaker's Hat? From nearby Central Ave, another laconic rich kid, off to Brookvale to pick up his - or more likely his parent's - car. On the way back, at Spit Junction, a pregnant Asian woman, going to the QVB. Whew, that's the first hour, about 70 bucks worth. Lawyer's rates! Well, not quite. At the rank in Park Street the Taxi Council guy tells me how a woman, earlier in the day, tried to get cab 666 to take her to Newcastle. For nothing ... a lawyer clutching two fat ring binders gets in and asks to go to Lane Cove. He's spent a dreary afternoon at the Equal Opportunity Tribunal representing someone in an apartment building dispute. I tell him that the serial complainer in this building has just given her notice, to everyone's relief, and we chat happily on all the way there. Cab 1660, which I'm driving, shows vacant even when engaged, so you're offered a lot of radio jobs. I take one from Lane Cove to the City and am just about to look in my directory for Apollo Street when someone climbs into the cab. He's going to Wolloomooloo. The Ford dealership in Riley Street. I abandon the job from Freedom Furniture and take him there. Back up to the rank at Chifley Square, it's moving, a businessman going to the Airport and thence to Melbourne with property deals, it sounds like, under his belt. Airport jobs are tricky, especially this time of day, you earn $25-30 but it can take half an hour there, another half hour back to town, ruining your hourly rate. Never mind, ten minutes before six I get hailed at the corner of Pitt and Park by an English chap who quips, when I ask him which way he wants to go to St Leonards, via London. He's a scream, tells me stories about growing up there with West Indian kids in, must be, the 60s? Something weird is going on in North Sydney, there are people hailing cabs everywhere. Turns out the trains have failed, there's one stuck on the line north of Wynyard, another just south of Milsons Point, some problem with the electrics, the Bridge is out, chaos about to ensue. A young Chinese couple going to, where else, Chinatown. She's in a hurry, for a doctor's appointment, but the Bridge is jammed. They are very funny, trying to guess where I come from: South Africa? Ireland? Singapore? Tasmania? Gaul? They don't get it and I have to tell them. Turns out he was born in Peru, or rather, his father was. They're sweet and I find myself wondering if she's pregnant and hoping so ... George Street is gridlocked but a young woman crossing through the stopped traffic hops in the cab and asks to go to Concord. This is brilliant, it means I can get out of town, perhaps until the madness is over. From Concord, a fare to Burwood, from Burwood to Strathfield, Strathfield to Burwood, all little rides but no waiting and no traffic jams. I can't believe the din the birds are making as they roost in the plane trees outside Strathfield Station and then I'm astonished to find they are not, as I thought, starlings, but rainbow lorikeets ... hundreds of them. In Burwood Road another young Chinese couple, with shopping, hail me and want to go to Parramatta. They have very poor English and show me the address written on the lighted blue screen of a mobile phone. That's great, I think, further west, even if I do have to go back empty. But, just coming into Church Street, the radio offers me a fare to Waterloo. Waterloo! Fifty bucks, just like that, to go where I'm going anyway. I'm sort of pale with anxiety as I negotiate the one way street system looking for 2 - 12 Macquarie, jobs like this get snapped up real quick by rogue drivers but no, he's there, Simon, a Korean boy who works for AMP. Wants to go via UTS in Broadway to pick up his girlfriend. Very friendly, with a stoved in face and a hectic laugh. Lived in Equador when he was young and tells me about trout fishing in a lake in the crater of an old volcano. The air so thin they couldn't get their rice to boil right. The girlfriend is studying to be a solicitor, she's in the library with her law books, a smiling woman with a big head, very curious pair, these two. In both looks and attitude. It's sixty bucks by the time I let them go, even though I forget to add on the toll money for the M2. I could go home now, but I don't, I drive into town to see what's happening, which is nothing much. Two drunk guys who work in advertising climb in the cab just when I'm thinking of parking and having a pee in the Criterion. They think they're funny but they're not, as I make clear, so they stop trying and return to planning a party they're going to have. He's socially adept, he won't want to come to a party given by his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend, one says, he won't want to meet the guy who's pounding her now ... let them off in Shirley Road in Crows Nest and wonder if I should make a break across the Bridge for home now, but decide instead to take one more fare. George Street, a blond, young, she's going to Rozelle. Afterwards I mosey down to Norton Street in Leichhardt, just in case I find someone going west like I am. Hailed by a woman and two men, they say ... Parramatta. That's another forty bucks I hadn't counted on even if, and I do, I come back empty, it doesn't matter ... my wallet's full. And it's only half past ten. And the weekend.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Killing a Chinaman

The other day I did what I suspect a lot of cabbies do, but I never have before. Was driving up College Street, past St Mary's Cathedral, when the radio offered me a job: Art Gallery of NSW to Darling Point. Nah, I thought. Fifteen bucks? Nah. I hit reject. Then, seconds later, thought: Well, why not? I'm here, they're there, there' s no other cabs going down Art Gallery Road, maybe I should. So I did. They were three old ones, two women and a man. Probably had been viewing the Archibald, as many individuals and organisations, surprisingly and old-fashionably, do. We were back on College Street, heading towards William, when the old gent said: Look at all those red lights. You must have killed a Chinaman. Somehow, in the instant, the thought of the Chinese, the image of all those reds, fused. Is that specific to red lights, or just generally about bad luck? I asked. Bad luck, he said. You must have killed a Chinaman. Heh, heh, heh. Well, I said. I haven't killed anyone. I'd remember. Heh, heh, heh, the old gent chuckled. I checked it out with a couple of fares later in the evening. One, a fellow from Adelaide I took to the Airport, said he knew it well but didn't use it so much any more, because of political correctness. He told me the meaning of Bush Baptist (someone who goes bush on Sundays, while everyone else goes to church) and also a long complicated story about Twaddle having a meaning to do with chemical detritus. Still haven't sorted that one out. The other was a Pom I took to Woollahra. O my goodness me, he said. Well, well. No, I haven't heard that one before. Dearie me. Killing a Chinaman, eh? That's too bad.