15 January 2009
Sleeping on the job
People ask me about the worst parts of the job. “Picking up the drunks on Fridays and Saturdays?” they suggest, but no, it’s the kangaroos that give me the most stress. They jump out in front of you without warning, and can do a great deal of damage. Occasionally they kill people, especially if they go through the windscreen.
“But don’t you have trouble with drunks?” they ask. Well, yes, but not in the way one might think. The chap above is a textbook example of the sort of drunk that gives me the most trouble.
I spotted him in the early hours of Thursday morning, dozing on one of the bus shelter benches at the main Civic rank. These benches are designed to deter sleepers, having low armrests which make it impossible to stretch out. This chap would doze off, wobble left and right until his head was dangling like a ripe plum, and then the discomfort would jerk him upright again. Amusing to watch, and as I had a moment to spare, I pulled out my camera to take a couple of photographs.
A couple of reasons why he wouldn’t make a good passenger. First, he was obviously very drunk. When people don’t feel comfortable staying upright, they are a good chance to throw up in the cab. Secondly, he was obviously sleepy, and when a passenger goes to sleep in the cab, it can be very hard work indeed to wake them up again. Thirdly, he was hanging around the cab rank on a quiet night. If he wanted to get home, why didn’t he just get in a cab and go home?
I moved up to the head of the rank and picked up a fare. Just a short one, but that’s the chance you take. Sometimes you get a fare to a distant suburb, sometimes to a hotel a few blocks away. It all evens out.
When I got back to the rank, it was after two in the morning and I was starting to think about getting the car gassed up, cleaned out and home for the day driver. One more fare would make my night.
A couple of young women headed towards me, but were intercepted just shy of the cab by a friend and after some discussion, they disappeared. Half past two and I was on the verge of giving up for the night when the door opened and the sleepy subject of my photograph above slipped in beside me.
He named a suburb near Woden, and then must have keyed off the expression on my face. “I’ve got money to pay,” he assured me.
I generally find that when passengers have the money to pay the fare they don’t bother to tell me up front. It’s just assumed.
Anyway, he was in my cab and the fare was a reasonable one, so I headed off.
“Bit cold in here.”
I cranked the heat up. Big mistake. A few minutes into the ride and he was nodding again. I asked him for his address, just to make sure.
A minute later he was fast asleep, but I figured that I could wake him up on arrival. Usually turning the airconditioning on full blast and putting the sound up to extreme is enough.
It wasn’t, not this time. He was out for the count. Shouting at him didn’t produce so much as the flicker of an eyelid.
At that point my chance of a good result dropped to zero. I’m not going to touch a sleeping passenger. Not if they are an attractive young lady, and not if they are a tattooed young man in football kit.
I put the car into gear and headed for the police station, luckily only a few minutes away. It took me a bit of time to stir the police on duty into action, but eventually they came out to me, pulling on gloves.
It took them a few minutes, pushing on my passenger’s chest and speaking very loudly to him, before he came around. They found his wallet - empty - and looked at me.
“I’ve got to be on the northside in five minutes,” I said. “He’s got no money, and he’ll just fall asleep again.”
“We’ll get him home,” they promised.
So they took him off my hands, and I cleared the meter of the thirty three dollar fare. That’s sixteen-fifty straight out of my pocket, not to mention half an hour of my time.
Luckily I’ve got an understanding day driver, who merely smiled at my story when I delivered the car late and unwashed.