Years ago I underwent a gruesome dental operation called an apicectomy (= a surgical procedure designed to remove infection or other pathology from around the end of the root of a tooth). Now, whenever I hear the acronymn APEC (about 10,000 per day at the mo'), I'm back in that dental chair having my jawbone scraped. I fainted under the anaesthetic and, coming back, had a weird out-of-body experience that almost compensated for the violence done to my jaw.
APEC, from the cab-driver's point of view, is a bit like the Y2K thang was: a lot of fuss in the lead up but, in the event, nothing much. Because there's a lot less traffic, and because there's clearways all through town, you can actually drive the streets like you used to be able to do here, oh, twenty years ago. Plus, lots of cabbies have taken the week off, so finding work is not a problem. I've been meeting my quota by nine or ten at night, at which point I joyfully sign off and go home. And avoiding the obscenity at the top of town, where cages have been built to keep the people a safe distance from Our Beloved Leaders.
Was home and hosed Tuesday night almost before Dubya's cavalcade came in from the airport. Yesterday, in the arvo, I picked up three sailors at Bondi Junction and took them up to their base in Randwick. Halfway thru' the ride the one in the front seat, who was eating spicy sausage sticks, mentioned casually that he'd met GB that day. Bush and Howard had been to the military base at Garden Island glad-handing the troops, as they are wont to do. What was he like? I asked. He was ok, the matelot said. He was pissed. His wife was nice. I said: He didn't bring his wife. Oh, well, said the sailor, the bird he was with then. Was she black? Nah. Cute though. I woulda given her one.
Earlier, dropping off three Hong Kong journalists at the Convention Centre in Darling Harbour, I got into a snip with a cop. There were barriers everywhere but a gap in the place where you usually drop off there, so that's where I stopped. This rozzer tapped on the door and made a wind-down-the-window sign. I complied. You can't stop here, he said. It's not a taxi stand.
This begged two questions: one, you're actually not meant to drop off on taxi stands, they're solely for picking up; two, the Chinese journo's were in the process of heaving themselves and their gear out of the cab, plus paying the fare, as we spoke. And they wanted a receipt. Was multi-tasking, change, receipt etc, with this cop whining in my ear: Are you listening to me? Listen to me. If I see you again, I'll write out a ticket. I'm thinking of writing out a ticket now. A bus had pulled up behind me, I knew the guy wasn't going to write out a ticket. I was empty, I could go ... except for him. I looked at him. He looked at me. With hatred. And defeat. He tapped again on the door and I scarpered.
Later on in Double Bay, some guy in a four wheel drive, thinking I was responsible for a delay in his very important life (I wasn't, it was an old lady illegally parking her Mercedes) called me a shit-box cabbie. Well, I was driving a shit-box, it was 1660, the worst cab, bar one, in Bob's little fleet.
Much later, about nine o'clock, I was hailed in King Street, Newtown by a rather svelte, handsome chap who might have been a bit Asian. He opened the back door then stood in the street, calling to someone across the road: Get in the car, Joanne. Get in the fucking car. I craned my neck, looking for Joanne. There was a girl in the door of the hardware store wearing trainers and a checked flannel shirt. Probably not Joanne. And then, further down, standing on the curb, an elegant woman dressed all in black. That was Joanne. And she wasn't getting into the cab.
The bloke told me to start the meter (I already had), then yelled out at her a few more times. She ignored him. He said: Ok, goodbye Joanne, and got in the cab. Chuck a uee, mate, he said. Waited for a break in the traffic and did. We pulled up next to the Joanne, he opened the door. A slight hesitation, then she got it. Tall, very thin, almost anorexically so. Blonde. American. She had a low voice and she was furious. With him. They were going to Merrylands. Where their marriage would end, either tonight or tomorrow morning, by the sound of it.
Mostly they sat in stony silence. There was Weird Folk on the radio, I turned it up. A bit of Karen Dalton. Blues on the Ceiling, kinda perfect in its way: I'll never get out of these blues alive / I'll never get out of this crazy blues alive ... Karen croaked. Joanne was delivering a few home truths: You treat your family like shit, she said. You have to learn to be truthful with yourself. Otherwise it's over. He was defensive, embarrassed, yet still brutal. Shut the fuck up, I heard him say. I wondered if she was afraid of him. Wondered if he was, or could become violent. The answers seemed to be no, no, and maybe.
It was a horrible ride. I couldn't help thinking of the last time I did it, with a drunk Montenegrin with no money, shadow boxing and shouting obscenities. What is it about Merrylands? We got there at last, pulled up outside the marital nest. She said: Would you mind waiting for a few moments while I get a couple of things? He said: Well, you pay him, then. She said: No, you pay him. And went. There was a beat. Alright I'll pay him, the guy muttered. How much is it? The meter had just turned over to fifty. Fifty bucks, I said, forgetting about the tolls. He gave me a fifty. Do me a favour, mate, he said. Just go, will you? Then he got out as well.
I waited. The meter was still running. Should I reset it or what? What was the right thing to do? I wasn't sure. After a while I turned the car around, switched the engine off and waited on the other side of the road. There was a better view of the house from there. A brick villa, recently built. Lights on in all the windows. Thought they were probably arguing but couldn't hear anything. No blows, or cries. Thought that if she'd really wanted me to stay, she wouldn't have got the guy to pay me. Thought I could wait out there for a long time, and nothing would happen. Thought ... it's none of my business anyway.
In the end I just drove away.