13 August 2009

Punch drunk


Two things before I begin.

If and when this bloke gets charged, and it becomes sub judice, then I’ll pull this, or at least make it restricted.

Second, this isn’t “alleged”. This is my story, and this is how it happened.

I’m a firm believer in the “three dickhead rule”. If I get stuffed around by three people, I give the night up as a loss and I go home and get some sleep. Or blog about it. This was one of those nights. This was a four dickhead night.

Parliament is sitting this week, and it’s been a mixed blessing. Parliamentary staffers, media folk and lobbyists are trouble-free passengers. Usually intelligent, well-read and well-informed. I like driving them around, the only drawbacks being that fares from Parliament House tend to be short and paid with cards, rather than cash.

Recently I’ve been noticing that other cabbies have been stealing these fares. I’ll get a call to one of the pick-up zones and be unable to find my passenger, no matter how quickly I get there or how long I wait. Some other cabbie has been illegally waiting and pretending that they have the booking when the passenger walks out. I’ll round the corner to see a cab’s tail-lights vanishing in the distance.


I got a call for a Silver Service job this afternoon. Parliament House, Ministerial Wing going to the airport. This was a job where I can charge an eleven dollar booking fee, and better yet, it was an immediate booking, meaning that I wouldn’t have to wait. I pulled up, and no passenger was waiting. Ten minutes later and he hadn’t shown, so I guessed he’d taken another cab. Base attempted to ring him, but no answer on his mobile.

Then and there I decided that I wouldn’t bother with Parliament House jobs again. It’s just not worth me losing my position on the Manuka rank to go hunting passengers who haven’t the decency to make sure they take the correct cab.

So I drove back to Manuka, worked my way up the rank, and got a radio booking for the Rydges Capital Hill hotel. I drove down Canberra Avenue, made the turn into the pick-up point, and there were three middle-aged men and a young lady, all busy making their farewells, hugging each other and so on.

The lady leaned in my window. “It’s alright,” she said, “he’s not dangerous, just drunk.”

They looked like happy drunks to me. Smiles and hugs. None of them seemed to be falling down drunk, and while throwing up drunk could be a worry, I’m fairly well prepared for that.

The lady got into the back seat, slid across to the other side, and one of the men followed her. A chunky guy, about my age, at a guess, wearing a jacket.

Then the lady opened the door on my side and got out. She wasn’t going anywhere with this bloke. Laughter and waves as I moved off.

I stopped ten metres later, still in the hotel forecourt, before heading out on the road where I’d have to make a choice, according to destination.

“Uh, where are we going?”

“Drive on!” he said.

I stayed put, debating with myself as to whether I should drive on, or just cut my losses. I’ve found that if a drunk stuffs me around right at the beginning of a trip, it’s unlikely that they are going to become sober and serious later on.

I could have refused to carry him, and been justified within the law as he was well under the influence of alcohol. But he would have been embarrassed in front of his friends, and ultimately it would have been another cabbie who had to drive him home anyway. I look on getting drunks home safely as an important part of the job, but still...

He muttered and swore a bit, but eventually said “Kambah.”

I asked him for an address. Two reasons for this. First, Kambah is a big suburb, and there are a couple of different ways of getting there, depending on the exact destination. Second, I’ve known drunks to fall asleep on the trip, and then when we get to the specified suburb and I want further direction, I have to wake up someone who doesn’t want to be woken, and isn’t all that coherent anyway.

“Kambah,” he said, more distinctly.

I made my decision and drove off. A u-turn at the lights, around Parliament House onto Adelaide Avenue heading south. Decision time coming up. For east and south Kambah, driving through Woden and onto Athlon Drive is the go. For west and north Kambah, ducking across to the Tuggeranong Parkway is quicker and cheaper.

“Go left here,” he mumbled as we came to the turn-off. I was glad of the direction. He was paying attention, and like as not would continue to give directions all the way home.

But then, as we headed west along Cotter Road, I was getting disturbed by the activities in the back seat. Judging by the sounds - and the smell - dinner hadn’t agreed with him. He also looked to be lying down on the back seat for a while. Never a good sign. But with several kilometres of empty road ahead, I couldn’t realistically drop him off on a cold night, so I drove on, hoping for the best and ready for a sudden stop if need be. Usually I get a few seconds’ warning, and so long as they spew outside the cab, I’m not going to worry. I’ll pull up, let them stagger out onto the verge, turn the meter off and let them empty themselves properly.

Approaching Kambah, I asked him again for a destination. At some point I’d have to go east or west - there are no houses fronting onto the main road - and I’d have to get into the correct lane well ahead of time. Drakeford Drive is six lanes wide going through Kambah, and I was glued to the left hand lane, just in case I had to stop in a hurry.

He wasn’t being helpful. “Take me home,” he said.

“What address is that?” I asked.

“Fuck you.”

“Could you give me directions?”

“Fuck you. Take me home. Take me to my beautiful house and two lovely kids!” he said.

“Where’s that?”

“Fuck you. Drive straight.”

I continued straight. We drove straight until we approached the last intersection in Kambah. Final choice.

“Look, we’re about to run out of Kambah. If you don’t tell me where to go, I’ll take you to the police station in Tuggeranong and we’ll let the police sort it out, okay?”

He didn’t want that. He didn’t want to tell me where to go either. He wanted to argue about some point I didn’t care about. Cripes. Why do people do this? They can see the meter’s running, they need to get home, and instead they play silly buggers with the poor cabbie. All I want to do is get people home safely, make a few more pitiful dollars to share with the cab owner and the tax man, and drive off to repeat the process. Twelve hours, ending at three on a winter morning. Heaven knows why I like the job so much.

As we drove on, I ignored the abuse from the back seat, called up base and told them what I was doing. They got back to me, saying that they’d get someone from the Tuggeranong police station to come out.

“Look, we’re going to the police station. If you don’t tell me where to take you, we’ll get the police to sort it out.”

“I’m getting out.”

“So long as you pay the fare, that’s fine by me.” We were amongst housing and buildings now. Tuggeranong Town Centre, with shops and service stations and cafes, bus and taxi zones, just a short walk away. He’d be okay.

“Fuck you,” he snarled.

We stopped for the lights and he fiddled with the door handle. The lights changed and I drove around the corner, stopping outside the police station.

“We’ll wait here for the police.”

“Fuck you.”

“Look the fare’s forty-eight dollars. Do you have the money?”

“Fuck you.” He began to open the door.

I drove off again. There’s no parking outside the police station on Anketell Street, and it isn’t really safe to stop in the traffic flow. We went into the car park. He opened the door. I put the car into reverse and moved slowly back. He stayed inside. I stopped and he began to get out. I moved the car forwards.

He looked at me. “We just going to go up and down all night?”

“When the policeman arrives, we’ll sort things out.”

“Fuck you. I’m going to knock your block off.”

I was really needing a tall figure in a blue uniform to appear about now. Lacking any outside assistance, I pressed the panic button. This immediately starts transmitting live video and audio back to the taxi base, and stores the stream to the hard disk in the boot. The infrared cameras work in the dark and it’s a useful tool for the protection of cabbie and passengers.

I guess I should have let him get out and go. I wasn’t going to run over him, for any number of really good reasons, the best one being that if I’d hurt him I’d really be in the poo. But he didn’t know this.

The point became moot anyway. The engine spluttered and stopped. This has been happening quite a bit recently, and the owner has promised to get it into the workshop, but so far the problem hasn’t been fixed, and I have to drive a car that runs rough every now and then.

He leaned forward and punched me in the face.

“Geez! Did you see that, base?”

As a punch it was a failure. He was in the back seat, the Fairlane’s a big car, and he was right at the end of his reach. He hit my glasses but they staid on.

I was far more astonished than injured. In three years, I’ve never had a passenger take a swing at me. I’ve had them shake my hand, give me an impromptu back rub, hug me, kiss me. Once a passenger laid a hand on my thigh, but I indicated that I wasn’t interested in his advances. But nobody’s ever done more than swear at me, and that’s been very bloody rare.

He hit me again. Same deal, weak and ineffective. And then he got out and ran away. Without paying.

I got out and watched him go down Anketell Street. He went straight past the door of the police station, crossed against the lights and headed on towards the taxi rank.

I went inside, and eventually hooked up with a policeman, who had gone out to the car park just in time to miss everything. We got an incident report started, and a call for patrols to keep a look out. I returned to the cab, let the base know what was going on, and a description and warning went out to the fleet.

I made a few notes while events were fresh in my memory, and then cruised around looking for him. With things like this, identification is key, and unless I could find him and direct the police onto him, he’d get away with it.

I figured that he’d try to walk home to Kambah, or look for a bus or cab. A quick patrol along the two main roads leading back to Kambah showed nothing but empty, so I hunted up and down Anketell Street.

Got him! There he was at the bus stop, mobile phone to his ear. I pulled out my phone and called up the constable who’d taken my details. Within a minute, there were police cars beside him and a police sergeant assured me that they were getting his name and details, and would I like to make a statement back at the station.

Too right I would. I’ve been known to give out free rides to get a drunk or a distressed young person home, and I don’t mind if they don’t have the money, so long as they are honest about it. I make enough in tips to cover an act of charity, and I feel good about helping someone in need. I tell them to be nice to somebody else tomorrow, and they smile. I’ll do a lot for a smile.

But I really hate it when someone tries to take advantage, or run off without paying. Or assault the driver. We had an incident a year or so back, where a driver was severely injured. Cabbies have been killed in Canberra. The last episode, there was an impromptu cab strike, and we heard all sorts of things from all sorts of people about cab safety. A few things were done, but not near enough.

So I sat down and made a statement, referring back to my notes. I’m sure that my passenger will tell his own story about a mad cabbie, but I’ve got the security footage to back me up. We’ll see what happens.


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