Saturday, 3 August 2019

Conversations with taxi drivers: Six

This is the sixth in a series of posts relaying conversations I have had with taxi drivers. The first of these posts appeared on 6 June 2018.

16 July

Caught a cab from Harris Street, just up the road from my place, to Newtown. The cabbie was an Anglo, for a change, and he wanted to talk. Naturally I sat in the front passenger seat. We talked about the poor rainfall in rural areas and he said that Sydney’s desalination plant can only satisfy about 12 percent of the city’s demand for fresh water. Then he wanted to talk about climate change but I wasn’t going to be drawn on it, so we talked instead about population figures. I told him my theory and he said that if country population figures are wrong they are likely to be underestimates. I said that I thought countries try to look bigger and scarier than they are, and so probably overcompensate.

After exhausting that subject I told him some stories from the Middle East. He said he’d never had an inclination to go there. He said that cab drivers are usually honest in Sydney but that sometimes for women, especially late at night, cabbies sometimes overcharge. Women in that situation won’t normally argue, he said. He said that he had been told stories like that. He dropped me off at the train station and I paid using EFTPOS.

19 July

Caught a cab home from Newtown. After I got in the car the driver, a young man with a faint accent and imperfect grammar, asked me how my day was. I said I was glad to be going home, and that being out in the evening on a Friday night in Newtown was not my idea of a good time. He said, “Fair enough,” and then I asked him what he had asked me. In his quiet voice he complained that he had queued for 90 minutes at the airport that afternoon and then had got a fare to Enmore, “A $20 fare,” he said, which had put him in a bad mood.

We talked about the economics of driving a cab and he said that it costs $150 on a Friday or Saturday night to rent a new Toyota Camry (as his car on this day was). It is much cheaper to rent an old Falcon, he said. Driving five nights a week (starting at 4pm and finishing his shift at 4am) if he rents a new Camry it costs him $700, but if he does the same with an old Falcon it costs $600 or even $580. But it’s much nicer to drive a new car, he said. It is easier to drive a new car and, he added, “You don’t break down on the highway or something.”

I told him my car at the time was a 12-year-old Toyota Aurion and that I get it serviced every year so although I was thinking of buying a hybrid Camry I wasn’t in a rush to get one. He said Aurions are good cars and in general he had nothing bad to say about Toyotas, or Camrys. “They are the strongest car, in my opinion,” he said. I suggested that the Camry, which has a 2.5-litre petrol engine, is not very powerful but he said he has never had a problem in that regard. I paid using EFTPOS when we got to my street.

20 July

Caught a cab to Newtown. The driver was Bangladeshi. He said my accent sounded American. I told him I had grown up in Sydney and I was 6th generation Australian. He said that the American accent was, for him, easier to understand than the Australian accent. I told him that a woman of Dutch heritage had recently told me that I sounded like a Dutchman. He dropped me off on King Street and I paid using EFTPOS.

27 July

The train was not running on this day so I caught a cab home from Newtown. The driver asked me if I’d had a good day and I said it had been quiet and that I’d walked then eaten lunch in a pub. I showed him the package that I was carrying that contained a book. He asked me if I read a lot and I said, “Yes.” He asked me what kinds of books and I said I read different things: novels, journalism, poetry, history. I said there was so much variety available, with translations from foreign languages, books by Australian authors, and books imported from countries like the US and the UK.

He asked me if I had read ‘Mr Chips’ and I asked him if it was titled, ‘Goodbye, Mr Chips.’ He said it was and he went on to describe the book for me when I asked him questions about it. He said it was the story of a schoolteacher who had taught children in a UK school in WWII (it was actually published in 1934 in book form). He said it was nonfiction (it was a novella in actual fact). But he seemed to have liked it despite, at this time, being loose with the facts. He asked me if I write as well and I said I do. I asked him if he writes and he said he doesn’t. I said he should start a blog and said he must hear lots of interesting stories from passengers.

Later we talked about Japan as he had asked me if I was brought up in Sydney. I said that people tell me my accent is not typical of Australia. He didn’t say anything about this comment but after I said I had lived in Japan we spent the rest of the journey talking about that country.

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