Wednesday, June 06, 2007

people like us

Took a Chinese woman down to Earlwood, she got in the back seat outside the Criterion in Park Street then, at the corner of George, said she wanted to sit in the front. Well, do, I said, so she did, before the lights changed and we were on our way. She was tired, she worked in stockbroking, had spent the day translating figures from one currency to another, one screen to another. We didn't talk much, though front seat travel generally means an inclination towards conversation. I liked the way she smelt, which isn't always the case with front seat passengers: a light perfume beneath which her own body scent lingered.

Afterwards I wandered up through Undercliffe to Marrickville and there, at a bus stop, in the murky evening light, were two obviously half cut disreputables roistering. There was a vacant cab in front of me, which they didn't hail, so I was a bit surprised when one of them stuck out a hand for me. A moment's decision: to stop or not to stop? Trouble or no trouble? Should I ... hit the anchors. They took ages to actually get into the cab, one in the front, one in the back. The one in the front had a khaki beanie pulled down over his ears, the dirt of decades etched into the skin of his face, only two or three front teeth left in his mouth. Fellow in back was older, almost dapper by comparison.

They're going to the Coopers Arms in King Street, Newtown. To get pissed, which meant, in their estimation, they aren't yet. That tells you something, because I think they're properly shickered. How long ya been driving a cab? asks Beanie. I think, and in the moment of thought, he answers for me. Too bloody long, eh? he says and sniggers. Guy in back says: Never catch me driving a bloody cab, too bloody dangerous ... Beanie: Ever been jumped? I look at him, he laughs. Don't worry, he says, we're not gonna jump ya. I say: I know you're not.

Fact is, I haven't ever been jumped though I might have come close to it a couple of times. It's hard to judge the seriousness of a threat that isn't made good. I never thought these guys were going to try anything, on the other hand, they were the kind that could easily have turned nasty if the wrong thing had been said. Now Beanie's unravelling a long cab-riding story that is designed to show his bona fides. He'd once caught a taxi from Sale in country Victoria to Melbourne. The fare was eight hundred dollars, and he offered to double it with a tip. His folks gave the cabbie a sit down meal, either before leaving Sale or upon arrival in Melbourne, I can't work out which. Cabbie refused the tip at first but Beanie forced it on him. Musta cost me three grand, that trip, he muses.

Meanwhile Dapper, sitting in the back, is keeping up a running commentary, which basically consists of contradicta: everything Beanie says, he disputes. If Beanie says he's generous, Dapper says he's mean. If Beanie pretends to wisdom, Dapper says he's thick as pigshit. If Beanie says ... this is done without malice, indeed, with high good humour, so he's chuckling widely between the insults. I'm fifty seven, he says at one point, apropos of nothing at all. He's forty three. See? See? Perhaps he meant together they made a hundred. Beanie ignores him. He's still talking about jumping cabbies, looking toothlessly sideways at me and grinning. Don't worry, mate, I won't jump ya, I'm gonna tip ya. Dapper says: He's a miserable bastard, he won't tip ya.

There's twelve dollars on the meter when we pull up outside the Coopers Arms. Beanie scrabbles in his pockets for a bit, he's got quite a lot of cash loose in there. He comes up with a ten and a five. Thereyagomate, toldyaI'dtipya. He shakes my hand. Dapper leans over from the back seat, he shakes my hand as well. Helluva job you got, mate, he says, I'd never drive a bloody cab, have to put up with people like us ...