05 December 2008

Three smiles

I picked up a lady on the airport rank this evening. Smartly dressed, small carryon bag. She got into the back seat and said “High Court”.

Not the usual destination for an airport passenger in the early evening, so I guessed that she was a lawyer or senior staff, possibly delivering or collecting some important papers.

I headed out over the jumble of construction barriers and uneven pavement that marks the airport road system nowadays, glanced out at the main road, and swung round to go the back way along Nomad Road. It’s got a 40 km/h limit on it, and a trio of speed bumps to keep cabbies honest, but when the main road is choked at peak hours, it’s the way to go.

“Has it changed this much?” my passenger asked. “I don’t remember going along here before.”

I explained that no, the roadworks hadn’t turned this road into the main exit, just that it was a good way to bypass the congestion, and I gestured over at the main road a few metres away, where the cars were crawling along.

And that got us started on the subject of roadworks and how Canberra does a poor job of implementing and upgrading roads. I rattled on, a subject close to my heart, and she murmured in agreement now and then.

Had a grand old natter, the two of us, and as we pulled into the High Court, we talked about the new National Portrait Gallery, just opened next door. I nodded over at the new entrance, commenting that it didn’t feel right to drive across the High Court’s grand entrance ramp, just in front of the fountain. “It’s not fitting,” I said, and it isn’t.

We pulled up at the practitioner’s entrance, and she paid with a card. I glanced at the name on it, and my jaw dropped a little. I handed her a receipt, and made my usual joke, “I’ll just drive off with your baggage now.”

She smiled, and I leapt out, popped the boot up, hauled out her bag, extended the handle and opened her door in one fluid motion.

“Thank you very much,” she twinkled, “You’re a doll.”

And that made my day. Not every shift that a High Court Justice calls this cabbie a doll.

Next job from the airport was at the other end of the market. A young Asian lady, carrying two cloth bags, asking how much the fare to the city was. I picked her for a student.

“Oh, fifteen, twenty dollars,” I replied.

I packed her bags into the boot and she got into the front seat. I asked her for a destination, but she was a bit uncertain, asking if there were any backpackers hostels in town.

“Just one,” I said, “the YHA in the city centre.”

Had a quartet of cheery Christians from the hostel the previous day. They’d rated it highly. I’m a big consumer of hostels in my travels, though naturally I haven’t staid at the Canberra YHA, and I always find YHA or HI establishments very well kept, so I had no hesitation in recommending this one to her. Cheap and cheerful, excellent value, clean, tidy, comfortable and safe.

We made our way into the city centre. She’d been here before, and noted some landmarks as we got closer. I took the back way down the lane into Akuna Street, driving underneath an office building, and her eyes widened in alarm, but a few seconds later we were back in the open air, the hostel in front of us.

The meter read $17.60, but I stuck by my low estimate. “That’s exactly fifteen dollars,” I told her.

She pulled out a twenty and wanted to give me a tip, but I insisted on the five dollars change. Generally when people are anxious about the cab fare, they don’t have a real lot of money to splash around, and I wasn’t about to dig into the limited funds of a travelling student.

I pulled her bags out, and looking at the flight of steps up to the entrance, hoisted the heavier of the two. She wasn’t keen on this. “It’s too heavy!” she protested.

I laughed. She was a tiny thing, and if she thought the bag too heavy for me, it was definitely a load for her. We went up the steps, I set the bag down, and here she was, fumbling with her purse again. “Let me give you a tip,” she started, but I shushed her.

“I don’t need a tip, just a smile!”

And I got a smile from her. A big smile and a cheerful wave as I reversed the cab back into the evening traffic.

I love my job.

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