Before I start, I will acknowledge that being a city taxi driver must be a really shit job most of the time. If you work during the week, you could be cruising around for hours before some rude bloke in a suit demands to be taken on a two minute drive and then pays with his corporate card. If you work at the weekend, the chances are you’ll get verbally abused and maybe even vomited on by that same rude bloke, this time he’s got three of his mates in tow but at least they’re going on a good half hour trip, it’s after midnight and they’re paying in cash.
In most cities, for most drivers, taxi driving is a stop-gap on the way to bigger and better things. But that’s still no excuse for being a total and utter weirdo.
All of the following taxi journeys took place in central Sydney:
1) The Church Recruiter
The Church Recruiter drove me home from Bondi Junction one Saturday afternoon. I’d bought some oversized items from Kmart and didn’t fancy my chances on the bus. He immediately picked my accent as English and then asked me to guess where he was from. I had absolutely no clue so spent a couple of minutes trying to carefully pick countries so that I could guess without causing any accidental offence. Eventually he got bored of the game and told me he was from South Africa.
He moved straight on to his next question: “Why do you dye your hair?”
Me: “Because I don’t like my natural colour”
Driver: “What is your natural colour?”
Me: “Umm..light grey-ish brown”
Driver: “Sounds like a lovely colour to me”
I smiled politely, hoping for every traffic light on Oxford Street to be green. Meanwhile, he was just getting started.
Driver: “And you wear the make up, you don’t need to do this.”
Ah fuck, he’s gone down Moore Park Road and there’s football on today. This is not going to be quick.
Driver: “It is the fault of your parents you know, they did not teach you morals and self worth. Do you go to church?”
Driver: “You see that is your parents fault again, they should have taken you to the church then you would not end up like this.”
Yes, I know, at this point I should have verbally defended my family’s honour but I’m never quick enough at these things and more than anything I just wanted to get my shopping home, so I ignored him and started to point out the required side road to actually get me somewhere near to my destination.
The next excruciating few minutes were taken up with the story of some holy warrior or prophet, or someone. It seems the warrior / prophet bloke’s mother was not a good person in her earlier life, but after her son started spreading the gospel she converted, cleaned up her life and prayed several times every day. But despite this conversion and devotion, eventually her son came back and cast a thunderbolt upon her because she didn’t keep the house clean enough when he was a boy, or something.
The take home message I got from the story was, you can convert and be as good a little Christian as you can possibly be, but one day your past sins will catch up with you and you’ll go to hell anyway. Which I didn’t think was really the best advert for his church, but that didn’t stop him giving me a little booklet from the handy stash in his glovebox and carefully writing the name of my nearest house of worship on the back.
2) The Caffeine Addict
Why do I always get the worst drivers when I’m really not in the mood to cope with them? I had the misfortune of getting into The Caffeine Addict’s taxi one Saturday morning to travel home from Crows Nest. I had the hangover from hell, the sun was beating through the car window and I just wanted to get home to my sofa.
He gave me a choice of three or four different routes to my destination, to which my stock reply is “whichever you think is quickest mate”. I’ve learnt over the years, if I don’t let the driver choose, he will spend the entire journey telling me why his way would have been better, and so it is partly my own fault that this early morning trip from Crows Nest to Paddington went via Darling Harbour and Chinatown.
As we approach the Harbour Bridge the driver is clutching at a coffee, taking desperate, thirsty sips. He’s also mopping his brow with a beige handkerchief every few seconds, but not from the heat of the sun, rather he seems to be shivering, with a cold sweat pouring down his face.
I notice a couple of energy drink cans on the centre console. No sooner has he put down the coffee, he’s starting on an energy drink.
Driver: “So where did you go last night, eh, eh?”
Looks at me in the rear view mirror with a creepy grin.
Me: “Just went to the pub with my friends”
Driver: “Did you go out late, in Kings Cross, eh, eh?”
Creepy grin gets wider.
Me: “No. The pub. In Crows Nest”.
Driver: “These are very good for going out, eh, eh.”
Waves energy drink can at me and takes another swig.
Suddenly he starts driving with only one hand while rummaging in his shirt pocket and producing a little bottle of pills, throws a couple in his mouth and swallows them down with another swig of energy drink. Then he produces a pair of glasses from the same pocket, puts them on, looks around, puts them down in the centre console.
Driver: “I put my coffee, my glass, everything here, you see, everything here”
Gesticulates towards centre console. Starts to swerve across the road a little.
Driver: “I only start at 3am but the driver does not bring the taxi until 4am. I lose a lot of money like that”
His eyes are rolling now, head jerking slightly. Is he trying to stay awake? Did a punter earlier this morning give him something a bit stronger than a coffee by way of a tip?
We’re somewhere in the Haymarket area now and he decides it’s time to start quizzing me.
Driver: “You know where we are now?”
Me: “Yes. Goulburn Street.”
Driver: “You know where we go next, eh, eh?
Me: “Oxford Street I hope”
Driver: “No we go this way, you know where you are now, eh, eh?”
And so we do the Commonwealth Street detour, which all taxi drivers like to do to demonstrate their nifty knowledge of the back streets.
Finally the journey is over.
I realise I’ve got no cash and hand him a card to pay.
Driver: “It says $32.50, how much you want me to put in eh?”
He’s sweating more than ever, grinning more than ever, eyes glittering as he thinks for some strange reason that he might be getting a tip.
Me: “$32.50 will be fine thank you”
Driver: “$32.50, nothing else eh, eh?”
Me: “Nothing else! Goodbye!”
3) The Creepy Conversationalist
My best friend and I has been to an all night event at the Horden Pavilion and needed to take a train back to Parramatta afterwards. It was a bit dark and cold, so we decided to get a taxi instead of walking to Central station.
Me: “Central station please.”
Driver: “Where are you going to after that?”
Me: “Umm we’re getting the train home.”
Driver: “Where you live?”
Driver: “I’ll take you to Parramatta”
Me: “No thank you, just to Central”
Meanwhile my friend is on the phone to her boyfriend.
Friend: “…ah yeah so you’ll be a bit late, fair enough”
Driver looks at us in the rear view mirror.
Driver: “Yes he is going to be late, yes”
Did I just hear that right?!
Friend: “… well we’ll see you about 8.30 then. Yeah, see you then.”
Driver: ‘Oh it will be later than 8.30 you’ll see, yes”
Now maybe this taxi driver was just being friendly. Maybe he was trying to tell us that the train journey to Parramatta would take a very long time and we should let him drive us instead. Or maybe he was a potential kidnapper. We didn’t hang around to find out.
4) The Alarmingly Overexcited One
I had to pop home from work at lunchtime recently, so I got a taxi to save time. The freaks only come out at night, right? The driver seemed fairly normal until he stopped outside my building and turned round to ask for the fare.
Driver: “$13.60 please”
OMG! He’s sitting there rubbing his crotch in a circular motion, looking at me with excited beady little eyes!
I remove a $20 note from my purse.
Driver: “I don’t have the $5 change money”
Like hell you don’t you cheeky fucking weirdo. As much as I want to get out of this taxi, I am determined not to give him an extra $5, so I open the door nice and wide on to the pavement and spend the next couple of minutes rummaging around in the depths of my handbag for lost coins. Finally I produce $13.60 in exact change. His face falls, but he keeps on rubbing. I run away, quickly.
5) The Delusional Post-Graduate
Sometimes when I work late, I am entitled to use a Cabcharge to travel home. The idea of providing an employee with a free taxi home is to save them from the stress and delay of public transport, or in my case from a long walk late at night.
It was 9pm, I was feeling a bit tired and didn’t really fancy the walk.
I found a Silver Service taxi and really thought my luck was in. Silver Service taxis have comfy leather seats and, crucially, it has always seemed to me that the drivers have been trained not to talk unless necessary. Of course, there is an exception to every rule.
Driver: “So have you just finished work then?”
Driver: “What do you do then?”
Driver: “What sort of IT? Cos I used to work for IBM you see.”
Me: “Business analyst, financial services”
I’m yawning, looking out the window and trying to pull the most disinterested face possible.
Driver: “What degree did you need for that then?”
Me: “Actually a lot of business analysts don’t have degrees”
He’s quite a jumpy, excitable type of bloke, which I’ll put down to the caffeine required for a twelve hour driving shift, but I do wish he wouldn’t keep turning round to look at me every time he feels he has a particularly important point to make.
Driver: “You see I actually studied law to start with and finished my masters but I became very disillusioned with the process so I switched to studying IT in 2004. In 2008 I graduated but the recruitment consultants were telling me, ‘companies are laying off men with twenty years experience, there’re not about to go hiring graduates’. So I’d timed it all wrong you see, so I was still stuck driving the cabs”
Me: “I see”
Driver: “So I never even worked in IT after all that studying, I applied to IBM but they wouldn’t take me, I must’ve applied for over 800 jobs you know in that year, but still I couldn’t get off the cabs.”
Me: “Hmm, bad timing I suppose”
Driver: “Of course it was all John Howard’s fault, you know who he is?”
I don’t know what John Howard had to do with it, but this is good stereotypical taxi driver conversation; blame the politicians and all that.
Driver: “So now I’m studying philosophy. It’s amazing you know, the insights you get into people and the way it teaches you to think. My wife’s still studying law so she thinks in a different way so we have very interesting debates I can tell you.”
Me: “And what sort of work do you want to do after your degree?”
Driver: “Didn’t you know there are so many jobs where philosophy can be employed, amazing skill set, I could be a journalist or even go into government advisory work, philosophy gives you the ability to read people, incredibly valuable.”
Driver: “$17.50 please. By the way, that blouse looks really nice on you, really brings out your eyes.”
Just a talkative cabbie who’d had a few too many coffees? Or a pathological liar? Did you spot the inconsistency in his story?
Nicki Ranger is a freelance writer currently based in Perth, Western Australia.
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