Peter Mackay lives in Canberra, Australia.
He’s a night cabbie in Canberra, Australia’s federal capital. After being a public servant, computer programmer, second-hand bookseller and political journalist, he likes cabbing most of all. It beats working! He runs blogs at http://skyring.com.au,http://onemorefare.com, http://helloitsme.us, http://hogjowls.com and http://flygrub.com – among others.
My day begins about six AM, when my wife rises. I get up to make coffee, share the breakfast papers, and check my emails before tumbling back into bed. Somewhere around ten, I rise properly, bumble around the house, maybe write a blog entry, do the laundry, have a light lunch, and if I’m lucky I get an afternoon nap before waking at two for shower and shave and the night’s work ahead.
Crisp white shirt, blue tie, grey trousers, all adorned with the logo of the limousine taxi company I work for. The day driver arrives with the cab about half-two and we spend a while catching up, as he winds down from his eleven hour shift, and I prepare for my notional thirteen hours.
Three PM, and I’m in the cab, fresh coffee in the beverage holder, iPad playing a restrained playlist, the despatch screen over my right knuckles lighting up with jobs. City to Airport, School to Home, Office to Office...
It’s a busy few hours to begin with, people hailing me down on the street, moving quickly along cab ranks, a flow of radio jobs to pick up fares from homes and offices. A typical afternoon fare will be from a city office to the airport – a gent in a suit with a briefcase and rollaboard bag, cellphone clamped to his ear, anxious to make his flight after a meeting that has gone on longer than planned. I hit the Mozart piano concertos and the gentle tinkling notes sooth down his stress.
“I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve driven along here!” I say as I curve past the roundabouts on the drive to the airport. There’s a stream of cabs on the ten minute ride, and we know the patterns of the traffic lights, the best line for the bends, the depth of every pothole. Jockey for a space on the dropoff zone, swipe the card through the reader, check the signature on the docket, hit the boot release and lift the bags out, extending the handle and looping the small case over. Off he strides for his plane and I’m sliding down the ramp, looking for the next job.
I’ll check the news radio between fares, listening for breaking stories, traffic news, weather forecasts. I’m an infojunkie and I slurp up news like the coffee cooling in the console. If there’s an accident or roadworks causing delays, I want to avoid the area. The latest political scandals will be good conversation starters, and sometimes my passenger will have an inside line.
Parliament House is a flowing source of work. The rank is in the underground carpark, stiff with security gates and bollards, but home to a public toilet useful for getting rid of used coffee. A couple of tourists heading back to their hotel, asking me about good restaurants. I give them a quick run-down on some of Canberra’s grand buildings as we cruise past, and wish them the best for the rest of their vacation. I love tourists – they are cheerful company and we swap travel tales of places we’ve been.
I’ll pause on the Manuka shopping centre rank. A pleasant place of footpath cafes, Canberra’s best music store, a cinema and a supermarket; who knows who will climb into my cab. A diplomatic staffer, musical accent and a colourful hat on the five minute trip to one of the grand embassies in Yarralumla. Schoolgirls returning to their boarding school, paying with a Cabcharge voucher and giggling as I find some Michael Jackson tracks for them. A pensioner with a trolley full of groceries. “Just a short fare, love!” she says as I help her put the bags in the boot, but I live for a sweet smile and a chat from an old lady on her big day out. The money’s nice, but it’s these little jobs that really make me feel I’m a useful cog in the great machine.
Somewhere after six, I’ll head out to the airport to wait for passengers from incoming flights. Every day is a new adventure in the roadworks and bollards and confusing signs of the new terminal construction. I might have half an hour to pull out the iPad, log on and maybe blog a bit. A piece of fruit and a gulp of cold coffee, and then I’m through the cabyard boomgate, opening up the boot and stowing away luggage.
“Where are we off to?” I’ll ask, hoping for a long fare to a distant suburb. It can be fifty dollars to the far end of Tuggeranong, most of it easy driving along wide motorways. I put on my roadtrip playlist, playing songs of San Francisco and Route 66 as we cruise along, and if the passenger doesn’t want to talk, my thoughts drift away overseas. The cabbing pays for my travel, and I make a round the world flight at least once a year.
On the way back to the airport, I’ll put on an audiobook. I’m a great reader, and I generally have several books on the go and never enough free time to read them all.
The last planes come in late in the evening, and then I’ll wait on a city rank for the people from bars and nightclubs. They can’t drive home, the public transport is spotty at the best of times and vanishes entirely at midnight, and they are good tippers, happy for a clean cab, a smooth ride and some gentle jazz. Miles Davis and St Germain, depending on age. Sometimes we’ll have a philosophical talk, conversation ranging over life, love, politics and people. Sometimes we’ll sing along to Dire Straights or Abba. Driving tipsy folk late at night through Canberra is no hassle on the wide, deserted roads, and I rarely have any trouble, apart from the odd passenger falling asleep to the jazz.
Sometimes a pair of lovers will kiss and cuddle in the back seat, and I’ll play the discreet chauffeur under my driving cap, taking it easy on the curves and opening the door with a flourish as we reach some darkened apartment.
The worst part of the job? Kangaroos. They come in from the surrounding bush to graze on the abundant parklands of the national capital. No road sense at all, and when you get a big ‘roo bounding along at speed, up around windscreen height, they can make a mess of a cab. And the cabbie.
I quit before the drunks get too ratty. Mellow, happy, glowing passengers are a pleasure, but drunks with bellies full of alcohol and pockets empty are a worry. They might throw up in my beautiful taxi, they might take a swing at me, they might run off without paying. After years on the job, I can spot trouble, and I avoid it if I can.
And then it’s home to bed. But first I have to gas up, run the cab through the carwash, vacuum out the interior to deliver a clean vehicle ready to go for the day driver. I tally up the meter totals, jot down the mileage, retrieve my empty coffee cup and junk food wrappers, and climb in beside my wife, who murmurs a sleepy greeting before we both drift off again, the glow of dawn rising outside.