Strange Ride One
I'm taking a Korean English language student to the Botany shops ... only in Oz two months, he speaks grammatically but laboriously, with a heavy accent, as we practise conversation all the way down Botany Road. I really need to pee so, after letting him out, do an illegal U turn and go up to the end of the block where there's a pub on the corner. Another cab has just picked up outside and, as I slide into the bus stop, I see an old gent apparently leaning against the pole there. He raises his hand and then, bereft of the support of the pole, gives a slight stagger. Uh oh, I think, he's pissed. Never mind. He's dapper and well-spoken and smells of sweet wine - port perhaps, or sherry. Sporting a black eye that looks maybe two or three days old. Take me to Taylor Square, he enunciates carefully. I think for a moment - and for several other moments during the ride - that he might put his hand on my knee, but he does not. Instead we speak of trivialities, cars and roads, the glare of the early morning sun over Southern Cross Drive as a traffic hazard, the perfidy of governments, as I sweep him up towards what I'm sure, by the time we part, is a hoped-for rendezvous with some as yet nameless and unknown young man whom he will find on Oxford Street. Several times, incongruously, he interpolates swearwords into his otherwise decorous sentences, as if thereby laying claim to a kind of credibility he might otherwise lack; but it just sounds odd. There's a convenient red light at the junction of Flinders and Oxford Streets, he extracts from his wallet a couple of notes, a 20 and a 10, and gives them to me before lurching off happily towards the Courthouse Hotel, where I trust he will find what he is looking for ... and not another shiner.
Strange Ride Two
I've just taken two girls all the way out to Hammondville, by the Holsworthy Military Base near Liverpool ($80.00) and I'm making my long weary way back to town. On Canterbury Road I get a call on my mobile and while we're talking another vacant cab overtakes me and then picks up the hail I'd almost sensed was waiting somewhere up ahead for me. This pisses me off but not for long. The next ride always banishes the disappointment of a missed opportunity and outside the Enmore Theatre a couple is waiting ... rock 'n' rollers, she's a bit Goth, with piercings, and he looks like a refugee from the 1980s, leather jacket, long hair swept back, some kind of hat? She gets in the back and he in the front and says: Take the next left. Station Street? I ask to be sure, because that's a grim little deserted street with nothing much down it. Yes, he says, we're going to Leichhardt. And mentions a street name I don't catch. But I do remember there's a shortcut, a rat run as they're known, down this way. Well, he calls every turn. Every turn! With his winey breath and a sense of ... what, exactly? Satisfaction? Pride might say it better. There's no other conversation but as we cross Parramatta Road he hands her in the back what looks like a packet and she takes it and starts doing something with it. The fare's 10, which brings an exclamation of pleasure from him - he probably does this ride a lot and likes to keep it under a tenner. Anyway, what she in the back was doing is filling out one of those yellow vouchers from a book that people with a disability get - they only pay half the fare, the government pays the rest. She hands the form over to him, and a pen, then he puts it right up to his face and scribbles hectically across the space where the signature goes. I'm tired, I'm a bit slow, it's not until she's got the door open and is helping him out that I realise what it is: he's blind. And he called every turn.