06 March 2009

Kapooka cruising

Long Fares

Just when you start thinking that you’ve seen it all, along comes a shift like the last one.

Pat the day driver turned up early. I was fresh out of the shower and only partially uniformed, but I heard the dog give a bark, so I went out to chat. Once upon a time my little skittish terrier dog would have yelped herself into a frenzy, but nowadays someone can come along in the middle of the afternoon, park a limousine in my carport, get out and begin polishing the windows, and she barely mentions the fact.

We chatted for a while, and at one point I opened the car door to check something inside, and then we said goodbye. He was off to home and an early night, me to finish getting my stuff together to begin my shift.

Took me about five minutes to pack up my gear, put my shoes on, etc. I came down, logged onto the despatch system, got out a fresh envelope, jotted down the start of shift figures, stowed my bits and pieces away.

“Warm in here,” I thought, and reached down to start the engine and get the aircon working. Oooops. No key. Felt into my pocket, checked all the usual places, went and looked inside the house. No key.

“Errr,” I messaged Pat, “do you have the key in your pocket?”

He didn’t exactly reply that he did, but his response, that he had swearwords on his tongue, suggested to me that he was leadfooting it back.

So I began my shift a little late.

I got a lovely job early on, collecting some members of the Australian Academy of Science building from their distinctive meeting place, officially known as the Shine Dome, but shown off to bemused tourists as the Eskimo Embassy. Got a great picture of the cab outside, but that will have to wait for another day.

Later on, I got a call to a major government building for a ComCar offload job. ComCar is the Commonwealth limousine service, and they generally shuttle members of parliament around, taking up all the good slots at the airport, idling the evenings away outside restaurants etc. Usually they only work when parliament is sitting, which it isn’t at the moment, so occasionally they call on Silver Service for an odd job.

I won’t say who my passenger was, but he was a senior government minister, and I waited half an hour for him.

It wasn’t quite the same as a Washington DC cabbie giving Hillary Clinton a lift, but it was still an experience I don’t get every day. No photograph from this trip, neither.

I went back to the airport to meet the last flight, the one from the Gold Coast getting in half an hour before midnight. Normally this is a bit of a gamble. You don’t want to drive out to the airport, have nine passengers get off the plane heading for the cab rank, and be taxi number ten. On the other hand, jobs from the airport are usually a lot more pleasant and better paying than picking up folk from the nightclubs in town. I’ll often get some very cheerful drunks and we’ll have a wonderful time, but you never know.

On this occasion, I was taxi number eleven, and when it became obvious that the airport was clear for the night, there were a few swearwords on my tongue as I drove off.

Drove past the service station, accelerating away into the night, into town, when I got a job offer. “Canberra International Airport”, it said. The passengers from the Queensland flight were all gone, but every now and then I’ll get a job from a late worker at the business park, or the VIP squadron, or the private aviation hangars.

So I took the job. Better than lining up in Civic with a bazillion other cabs for the eight dollar fifty fares getting carloads of woozy students back to their colleges.

Well, blow me down and sweep me up! My job was to Wagga Wagga, for a five hundred and fifty dollar fare!

My pickup was outside the Qantas doors, and there they were, a few young folk chatting to a policeman. The cop approached as I drew up. “Looks like you’re going to Wagga!” he said.

We loaded the bags into the boot. A bit of a squeeze, but we filled up all the corners. Likewise my passengers.

Money up front - that’s the rule for long fares. I didn’t think that these youngsters were going to run off into the night when we got to Wagga Wagga, but best to get things sorted out before heading off several hours into regional New South Wales.

We got the fare settled - a bunch of pineapples and a card, for which I had to get authorisation, and then we headed off.

Oddly enough, it was the cab’s second long trip of the week. A day earlier Pat had taken a gentleman up to Sydney, and almost continued on to Brisbane with a thousand dollar tip in his pocket. His blog tells the story far better than I could have, but I’d had to drive a spare taxi that night, and my backside was still wincing after a shift spent sitting in the most uncomfortable car seat in the world.

I could tell there was a story to this trip, and with laughter and embarrassed sighs, it all came out.

My four passengers had a friend who was graduating from the Army recruit training centre at Kapooka, just outside Wagga Wagga. They had flown down, intending to hire a car for the two to three hour trip out. But when the only driver in the group went to the rental desk, he discovered that he’d left his drivers licence back in Queensland, and not surprisingly, the rental firm wasn’t going to hand over one of their cars to a group of teenagers without a drivers licence between them.

Midnight, and there are no trains, no buses out to Wagga. In a strange city, their options were either to camp in the terminal, or hire a taxi.

Five hundred and fifty dollars is a lot of money for a cab ride, but they scraped it up - probably their spending money for the trip - and luckily they drew a Silver Service car, with the leather seats, the legroom in the rear cabin, the driver who was polite enough not to laugh at their story...

No, seriously, I was thinking that these things happen to anyone. Even the most organised man in the world - my day driver - had forgotten a car key that very day.

Midnight, and a long drive ahead. But I swung around Parliament House for these late night tourists to have a look at the building and to get a photograph.

Then we headed up Anzac Parade, that glorious ceremonial avenue leading to the Australian War Memorial, and after that the buildings became ever more sparse.

They were tired after a big day, and gradually the chatter ceased, and the young lady who had been given the front seat cranked it back and began sleeping. I turned the music down and the heat up as we flew down the empty highway. It would have been a great trip in daytime, but at night it was just distant lights, roadsigns and a great darkness hiding the beautiful rolling golden hills of southern New South Wales.

We joined the Hume Highway, a stream of double-length semi trailers improving the midnight hours between Melbourne and Sydney, but after a few minutes of cruising with these monsters, I pulled in at the Yass services. The car needed gas, and I needed coffee for the long drive there and back.

I also took the opportunity to text Pat, letting him know that I wouldn’t be back until dawn. Just in case he got dressed and turned up at my place at three in the morning to wait for a taxi that was halfway across the next State.

It was a quiet ride down the Hume, apart from trying to share the road with people whose professional careers consist of steering mighty trucks through the night. They know every twist of the road, every speed sign, every lane change the same way I know the road out to the airport, and when we hit roadworks five miles from Gundagai, I had an impatient semitrailer not just filling all three rear-view mirrors, but illuminating the cab’s interior with blazing searchlights telling me to hurry up.

I hurried, sipping my coffee and anxiously looking out for wildlife on the road. At 120 kilometres an hour, I’d make a fine mess of any kangaroo. And vice versa.

The GPS display tightened up and eventually we were at a scale where street names made sense. Wagga Wagga, here we are!

Wagga Wagga was not interested, and the motel was dark and deserted. We found an all-night service station, unloaded the bags, posed for photographs, and parted ways. I had to get the car back for the day driver’s shift and there was a lot of driving to do before I could sleep.

I loaded up some junk food, put “The Long Tail” on the iPhone, and hit the road, enduring a series of horrible punning text messages from my waiting day driver.

Luckily, no wombats were injured in the making of this voyage and I delivered a car that was full of gas, if not sparkling clean, just as the sky began to pale.

And there’s one brand new soldier today, who has the best friends in the world. They were four lovable, engaging young folk, and it was my privilege to be of service to them.

1 comment:

Woosang said...

when I got your tweet about being in Wagga, I thought WOW a HUGE fare...At least they got you and not some awful driver who does 60km/hr on the freeway. Grrr been there!