4 days ago
27 September 2009
Last night was a fresh start and a storm.
I've driven TX58 for the last time. A short shift, because I was so very tired. I collected my wife from the airport - it's been a long day, she warned me, I need some TLC! - and instead of taking her the short drive home, I headed for Belco, where the car is living at the moment.
I turned the meter on, which is something I do when running family and friends around in the cab. It means I have to pay the owner for half the metered fare, but it's his car, his investment, his gas.
Gassed up, vacuumed out, drove the few blocks to the day driver's house, where I cleaned out my gear, and drove home in my own car.
TX58 has been a mixed bag. I've crashed it a few times, run into a kangaroo (well, vice versa, actually), learnt to live with its engine quirks, and just driven it about a bazillion kilometres listening to some great music and chatting with some amazing passengers. But the car was getting ever more shabbier and rattlier, like all of the remaining Silver Service Fairlanes. Ford hasn't made a Fairlane for years.
On Friday my new owner let me know that the car would be on the road later today. He spent the day at the Dickson Motor Registry, battling bureaucracy to get the car registered, have all the boxes ticked, gas conversion approved and so on. It was about five when he swung past to pick me up.
"I've had the apprentice run it through the car wash and give it a good chamois," he said. And Taxi 18 was gleaming, pristine, pure and fresh when he gave me the keys and said "Have a great shift!"
It's a Holden (General Motors Australian arm, for my overseas friends) Statesman. A year or so old already, but in lovely condition, as Alfie said of Ruby. Pretty much all the same features as the Fairlane - and more, including a direct auxiliary input from our iPhones, which will finally see the end of the clunky radio transmitter - though this car doesn't have the Ford's leather seats.
So many buttons to press!
The controls are all slightly different, and it's going to take a few days for the muscle memory to kick out and in again. The window controls are on the centre console rather than the door, for example, and the audio and cruise controls are slightly different. So I'm fumbling a bit.
The drivetrain rumbles and roars under acceleration a bit more than it should for a car at this price level, but the power is there when I need it. Turning circle for this big car is workable. Front and rear park assist, always a handy feature in a cab. And a nice big back seat. "You could hold an aerobics class in here!" said one of my passengers.
First passenger was a charmer. A student from a boarding school, I picked him up at his gate to go into Civic to meet his girlfriend for a movie. We talked about movies and themes and novels and plots and music all the way in, and I gave him a card with my Monash Drive serial novel URL hand-scrawled on it. "Good night, First Passenger!"
Friday evening. A few airport jobs, a few people going home from work or dinner, and at the end of the shift, it was the regular drive the young people home from the nightclubs routine on Alinga. Despite my late start I was well over budget, and it was a good night.
The only problem was the drizzle of mud. The huge dust storms that have swept across Australia over the past few days have left fine red dust in the air, and the slightest rain is full of it. Light mud from the sky adding to that thrown up by the wheels on the road. By midnight the car was filthy.
My last passengers were a mixed bunch. I got one young man, who turned to ask the lengthening queue if anybody else was going to Belconnen. Three folk did, and climbed into the back seat together. They had aluminium foil packages in their hands, and my heart sank when I realised it. I wouldn't have unlocked the doors for them, but the first passenger had invited the, in to share his ride, and it would have been very awkward to refuse.
My misgivings were justified. They unwrapped their burritos and the cab filled with savoury smells - most unsettling for a man on a severe diet - and I knew the back seat would be littered with bits of dropped food, grease on the seats, wrappings in the footwells. Not a happy cabbie.
I dropped the young man in Bruce, and when he asked the others to share the $22 fare, they refused him. They wanted me to start the meter again. "So you've just had a free ride most of the way home?" the young man exclaimed angrily. And yes, they had.
I didn't restart the meter, pointing out that it would be an extra $4.00 flagfall and that I'd subtract the money already paid from the final bill. Bruce to Macgregor to drop off one passenger, and onto Ngunnawall to finish the trip. It was about $80 all up.
Past three in the morning - oh how the hours whizz past when you are having fun! I turned Sister Hazel up and headed for the servo. Gassed up, and went inside to get a taxi wash voucher.
"No use!" said the chap behind the counter. "Five minutes and it will be just as dirty."
Well, it had stopped raining, and I was hoping the short ride home wouldn't get too much road dirt on it, and there was no way I could return the car in that condition.
Ran the car through the wash, vacuumed it out - sure enough my bastard passengers had left flecks of onion and burrito all over - and drove home.
A lovely car, a good night, and I'm looking forward to many more happy shifts in Silver 18!
14 September 2009
She was waiting for me outside Accident and Emergency. A cold night and she had a hospital blanket draped over her shoulders. I cranked up the heat as she got in, but she said, “No, I’m warm as toast. These things are great!”
I had Chet Baker blowing a golden trumpet on the CD. Mournful he wailed into the early morning. He’d been matching my mood, but my passenger grimaced and asked if we could change the station.
I looked at her. Female. My age. There was only one choice. I reached over to the iPhone, turning on the ABBA golden hits video.
That brightened her up. In fact, after a bit it was a battle to keep her from getting up and dancing. The Fairlane’s a big car, but not that big!
It was a long fare out to a far western suburb and in between songs, her story emerged.
A week back, she had driven home drunk and crashed her car. Some minor injuries, but only to herself. “Rooted me car, but.”
She’d been looked after in hospital, come home and some days later had had a bad day with the depression and concern over upcoming court appearance, the expense of fixing her car and repairing relationships. She’d said a few things she probably shouldn’t have, gone for an afternoon nap and woken to find a couple of policemen, who escorted her to hospital, where she was locked away in a room bare but for a bed and a bucket and placed on suicide watch.
She’d gotten loud and cranky to begin with, but after several hours managed to convince a doctor that she wasn’t going to harm herself and they’d let her go, giving her a blanket and a Cabcharge card good for a ride home.
She and I and ABBA had a party on the drive home and she was anything but depressed when I dropped her off. Outside, her car was indeed rooted, crumpled bonnet and half the front end missing.
But she was alive. Alive and vibrant, and as I smiled goodnight to her at two in the morning, I hoped she’d stay that way.
There’s no future in driving drunk. Let a stranger drive you home in a silver cab.