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Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Words exchanged with taxi drivers

Up to this point in time I have avoided registering my details with Uber. The idea of having another login to worry about, and the trouble involved in updating your credit card details every three or four years when the bank changes the expiration date, repel me. I dislike also the notion of enriching an entitled coterie of businesspeople located offshore who won’t pay the local taxes they are obliged to. We rely on taxes to fund such necessities as schools, hospitals, the police and public transport.

Making some random geek from Silicon Valley rich is not my idea of a positive outcome for anyone but the entrepreneur. But more immediately, I have always had good experiences with taxi drivers. It is my custom, when getting into a taxi, to use the front passenger seat. Australia’s democratic ethos demands it. And you get to have a short, meaningful conversation with someone from a different walk of life. Most taxi drivers in Sydney were born overseas, furthermore, so it vivifies your experience to hear what they have to say about the world.

This morning I went to Target with the object of buying a doona and a cover for it. At the front door of the store in the shopping centre I asked a mature woman waiting for customers where to go to get what I needed. She pointed out the sector in the large space where I would find the things on my list, and I picked up a doona in its plastic packing from the stand that was located next to the front door where we were standing. In the distant aisle she had directed me to I found a doona cover. I also picked up a new pillow. I am having guests staying in my apartment at the end of the month. I paid using EFTPOS and exchanged a few words with the woman who had helped me, then went down in the lift to the ground floor, where I exited onto Bay Street and headed to where the taxis always wait for passengers.

There was a taxi there and I went to the front window and looked in. The driver was already motioning through the glass as I approached indicating that I should get in, so I opened the back door and put my purchases on the seat there. Then I got into the front seat and told the driver where I wanted to go. He eased the car into the traffic and we went along Broadway before turning north into Wattle Street.

To start off the conversation, I suggested that rain is good for his business but he demurred, saying that people are reluctant to go out when it rains. I don’t know how we got onto the topic but we were soon talking about online purchases. I told him that I buy almost nothing online, and he said he was the same. He added that his children buy things online all the time. They had, he went on, bought things they didn’t need from China. We drove past the Fish Market, heading along Bank Street. When we arrived outside my building I gave him my card so that he could use it in the EFTPOS machine in the cab but it didn’t work, so I paid him with a banknote instead.

It’s always like this with cab drivers. I had a conversation once with a cab driver who told me the name of the best Lebanese restaurant in Lakemba. Another cab driver told me that Urdu and Hindi are almost identical, and that if you are an Urdu speaker you can understand what someone says in Hindi. Taxi drivers are reliable participants in the wider conversation that we are always having about ourselves, and they bring different points of view to the table. Every trip I have had with a taxi driver has given me something to think about and enabled me to live a more meaningful life.

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