A job I loved

I spent five years as a night cabbie in Canberra. Best job I ever had.
Sure, there’d be the odd rowdy drunk. And the occasional kangaroo. But I missed most of the roos, and the drunks were mostly happy.
I found that people were usually pretty good. After a while, I learnt how to give my passengers what they wanted, and it became common for the first words in a taxi conversation to be, “Wow, this is the cleanest cab I’ve ever been in!”
People hire a cab – often a fairly pricey business in Canberra, with its hefty flagfall, spread-out suburbs, and out of hours rates – because they need to get somewhere, they can’t drive, and the regular transport won’t serve. Tourists, drunks, housewives getting the shopping home, folk in wheelchairs, whatever. I never knew who would open the door and sit down beside me, but I knew they wanted one thing. To go somewhere in safety, comfort and convenience.
After a while the money stopped being so important. I aimed for every trip to end with a smile. I’d encourage passengers to plug in their music, I’d carry groceries up the steps for pensioners, I’d treat couples heading out for dinner like royalty, opening the door for the lady, touching my cap and observing that it wasn’t every day I got to drive a princess to the ball.
I tried to play music for the passenger. The cab had a six-stacker CD, and I had a selection of playlists on my phone. Mozart for businessmen racing to catch a flight, ABBA for women of a certain age, childrens songs if there were kids, Michael Jackson if they were teenagers. After the sun went down I’d play Miles Davis. Or The Grateful Dead.
Sometimes I’d worry a bit about picking up from the nightclub rank after midnight. A tall guy with tatts and a beard would get in and I’d kind of gulp a bit, but we might have the most amazing conversation about jazz, or human rights, or the merits of single malts.
I loved it. Felt I was doing something useful in the community. Getting drunks home, political staffers to their flights, old folk to the doctor’s.
Then the government put on more taxi licences and the good times dried up. Hundreds of Melbourne cabbies moved into the Canberra market and the business changed. I’d get a radio call to a hotel for a passenger, but there’d be nobody waiting, just the red tail lights of a cab heading off to the airport. Or I’d sit on a rank for hours while around the corner other taxis would park illegally in the street outside a nightclub, snaffling the fares as they came out.
After a while my wife would complain that I’d come home at three in the morning, wake her up and moan about how bad my shift had been. “Pete,” she said, “why don’t you give it away?”
So I did. I took out my public service pension, staid at home, did the laundry and cooked dinner. But I still longed for the good old days, when strangers would smile at me and pretty young things would sigh, “I’d love to ride around in your cab all night!”


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