25 December 2008

Christmas Cabbies

My days are about forty-eight hours long. It’s not that the night shifts stretch out interminably - on the contrary, the hours flash by - but that I’m always conscious of the hours before and after Canberra’s day.

About the same time as I flip the meter onto the night-time rate, it’s midnight in New Zealand, where so many of my friends live. I drive through the dark, wash the car and crawl into bed on Thursday morning, but it’s still Wednesday for another six hours in Europe. And in the USA, where so many of my Internet friends live, it’s just about always yesterday. They must think I’m a being from the future sometimes.

And occasionally, I have a very long day indeed when I’m travelling with the sun. Typically Hong- Kong to Heathrow, but the longest Friday of my life had two dawns and two dusks, from waking up in Canberra to falling asleep in Washington DC, with a midnight pass over a glowing Hawaiian lava field somewhere in the middle.

For me, Christmas Day was yesterday, spent on the road up to Gosford, having lunch and a lazy afternoon, and then driving home again. But it’s still Christmas in other parts of the world.

We passed through the centre of Sydney on the way up, and, waking from sleep in the back seat whilst my wife and daughter shared the driving, I took a picture of two Sydney Silver Service taxis returning from the airport. My day driver later reported in, saying that he was having a profitable shift.

One cabbie was doing very well, I noticed. We were stuck in a creeping traffic jam from North Sydney to Pymble where the north coast freeway begins, and amongst all the grim-faced drivers was a happy cabbie crawling along beside us. And a couple of grim-faced passengers in the back seat.

We had a delightful lunch with my sister’s family, including my mother down from Rockhampton, played with the toys scattered about in various stages of assembly, experimented with Skypevision with other family members and just had a grand time before it came to an end too soon and we had to be back on the road.

Christmas is a special time in the Western world. My day driver and I exchanged presents, he dressed up in a Santa cap for his Christmas shift, and every single passenger I had on Christmas Eve wished me a Merry Christmas, often with a nice little tip.

Good humour, fellowship and smiles are the order of the day.

It’s been a great year for me. Sometimes I feel that it’s Christmas every day. Sometimes I just have to stop and savour my delight. Driving around the Arc de Triomphe was a highlight, as was kissing my wife on top of the Eiffel Tower. Looking out for giant gorillas on top of the Empire State Building, walking through the entrance to the National Building Museum in Washington, watching the incredible light show on Hong Kong Harbour.

Giving a helping hand to a lady in need, swapping travel stories with tourists picked up at the airport, singing along to Abba with some party-goers, laughing at the wicked wordplay of one of my regulars, hanging out with other cabbies - it’s been a blast.

Or just driving along a deserted freeway in Canberra, a favourite song playing as I pass some floodlit monument in between passengers. A happy cabbie.

But one moment sticks in my mind. Yesterday morning Paul and I wished each other a Merry Christmas as we sat in the front seat of the cab parked in my driveway. I’d finished my Christmas Eve shift, he was starting his Christmas Day, and we just sat and chatted for a few minutes.

Another cab passed by, stopped, reversed, and the driver got out. It was Geoff, who happens to be Paul’s father-in-law. We swapped more greetings, shook hands and then he was gone, Paul fired up the car and drove off, and I went back inside, very very happy with my job, my life, my family, my friends and the world in general.

It all comes back to what I answered on my taxi driver course two years ago, when we were asked, “What do you expect to get out of being a taxi driver”.

I thought for a moment and wrote down, “A lot of company for a short time, and a few good friends for a long time.”

The instructor looked at this and said, “You’ll have no troubles.”

And he was right.

Merry Christmas, everybody!