By JR on Monday, December 26, 2011
Ten years ago, I drove cabs for a living. I’m pretty much done telling taxi stories, but there’s one I’ll share today, as it’s more or less in the spirit of Christmas.
It was the Friday before Christmas and I was working the area around Coogee/Maroubra on Sydney’s eastern suburbs beaches. It was a favourite spot to work as the fares were regular, and I stayed out of the city traffic.
So in the early evening, I pick up three young guys in South Coogee. They’re 18, maybe 19, and they get in the cab carrying brown paper bags filled with booze. They say “hey driver, can we drink this in here?”
Technically, the answer is no, no way, absolutely not. But I go sure, why not? Just don’t spill any. An accommodating driver is a driver who gets good tips.
The boys are stoked. You’re an awesome driver, they say. And you speak English too! That used to happen a lot. Like it was a compliment or something.
We’re heading to a local RSL club, where the boys are attending some kind of function. It’s only a short fare, but the mood is jovial and the smell of beer permeates the cab. The odour is strong. A little too strong.
When they get out, I see why. They have left their empty bottles on the back seat of the cab. The bottles were half full and there are puddles of beer below the seats. The boys walk off high-fiving and join the queue of young people on the steps of the RSL.
As a cabbie, you learn to put up with crap. Vomit, beer, bodily fluids, you name it. Once or twice a week, you lose half an hour to go and clean the cab mid-shift. It’s part of the game. So are runners. You can kick up a stink or you can get back on the road as soon as possible and make your money for the night. That’s normally how I played it.
But not this night. On this summery Friday evening, I am tired and frustrated and I want to make a point. So I park the cab. I ascend the RSL steps and approach the huge, muscular bouncer. The boys see me but think nothing of it.
I point the guys out to the bouncer. I tell him they’ve just trashed the back seat of my cab and I’d prefer he doesn’t let them in till they come and clean up their mess. He becomes an instant ally. Says he’ll look after me. There is an unspoken code between men and women with menial jobs. The public screws us, we screw ’em right back.
I retreat to the cab and wait, leaning against the door. When the boys reach the bouncer, I see him shaking his head. Then he marches them down my way. The boys are joking at first. But the smiles soon retreat.
The bouncer says he’s not letting them in the club till they’ve cleaned the car to my satisfaction. I ask the bouncer to bring me some bar towels and sponges or whatever he can get his hands on. This he does.
The boys clean. And clean some more until the beer puddles are soaked up and the car is cleaner than when I started the shift. The bouncer asks if I’m happy. Not yet, I say. So I make them clean where they’ve already cleaned, and then some.
By this stage, the boys are silent. All traces of bravado are gone, replaced by sullen resignation. When I finally decide I’m done, two of them look genuinely chastised. One remains defiant, and gives me a giant raised middle finger from the steps.
I couldn’t care less. My battle has been won, and even with the needless gratuitous extra wiping, I have been off the road for less time than if I’d done it myself.
There’s probably not a chance in a million that the bouncer is reading this piece. But if he is, I’d like to thank him. He didn’t just facilitate my revenge that night, he gave me dignity.
More importantly, he bestowed upon the boys the belittling emotion of indignity. I think too often nowadays people think they can get away with any kind of behaviour, any time. At the risk of sounding old and crusty, respect is on the wane. I reckon the boys would have benefited from that little episode.
What does this have to do with Christmas? Well, nothing directly, apart from the fact it happened in the Christmas week.
That said, I think the Christmas break is about more than religion. For churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike, I believe it’s a time of recharging and reflection. It’s a priceless few days to ponder our values, and how we might enact them in the year to come.
There’s a little of the vengeful cabbie and a little of the bouncer, a little of the chastised drunk boys and a little of the defiant kid in all of us. Our lives are busy, messy and often compromised. But they’re always better when we take time to slow down and refocus.