Thursday, 21 March 2019

More conversations with taxi drivers

On 9 February I caught a cab to Enmore. The driver told me that the taxi industry is not doing well. I said I never use Uber, that I'm not interested in making a rich dude in Silicon Valley who won't pay income tax even richer. He told me he never uses social media. "If I want to read a news story I use the internet," he said. I said I use social media a lot but that to me it was an indictment of the education system. He told me he wanted to go away. Where? I asked. He had plans to go to the Philippines to live. He reckoned he would be able to use a tourist visa and just renew it every few months. If you take out a retirement visa, he explained, you have to deposit a large amount of money into a bank account and he wasn't hopeful the money would stay there. He told me that you can rent a studio apartment in a security building in Cebu for $200 a week. In other areas, not so close to population centres, the cost is even lower. He told me how much it cost to buy a bottle of rum and a packet of cigarettes. He told me how much he had paid for a recent holiday there, including airfares and accommodation. He was three years older than me, 59. I don't know where he had migrated from but he wasn't a local. It seemed as though his life was just beginning.

Another taxi driver on 9 February, who took me home from Enmore, told me about how he had lost his entire wages on the pokies in the days after he had migrated to Australia from Chile. In those days, the machines had handles that you pulled to make the barrels turn. After he had left the Spanish club, where he had been playing a machine, he had had to beg for money to get the bus fare so that he could return to his home in Leichhardt. A woman on the street gave him 20 cents. When he got back home he had to go to see his landlady, an Italian migrant, and explain that he would be unable to pay the rent because he had lost his wages. She verbally berated him but allowed him to continue to live in the apartment until his next pay came through and he was able to pay her what he owed. So, he said to me, "Two women helped me when I had nothing."

On 4 March I caught a taxi with a friend and the driver had a heavy foot, causing me to begin to get sick. I told him as we were on the Princes Highway that we weren’t in a hurry. He had been checking compulsively to see if there would be a slightly faster trip achieved in the alternative lane. It was like a nervous tic. Added to his tendency to accelerate constantly, and to break seemingly at random, I had to speak up. We dropped my companion off at her house and I caught the same cab home. This time we went through Alexandria but he was still doing the overtaking thing all the time. And I was sneezing. My companion on the outward leg had asked him to turn off the aircon and he had done so, then when I got in the cab again for the trip back to my place he turned it on again. When we were on Wattle Street he asked me which way I wanted to take to get back home. I said that it would make no difference at that time of day, so either Fig Street and Harris Street would be fine or else the other way, around past the Fish Market. He asked me how long I had lived in the area and I said four years. He said that I had worked out which routes were fastest by this time, and I agreed with him.

On 17 March I was in a taxi coming home from a dinner in Newtown and the driver was Chinese. He had asked me if I was going to the casino and I said “No.” I said that the only time I went there was to go to the food court to have a meal. He said the only time he goes to the casino is to go to the theatre. I mentioned that there would be a Chinese performance on soon and he said he knew about it. It would be put on by the Falun Gong religion, he said, in order to raise money for their cause. The dancing would be very good, he added. I mentioned that I had read a bit of Chinese poetry from the Tang era and he made an appreciative comment. I said that what struck me about this kind of poetry was the focus on the natural world. He agreed, and added that the poets of that era didn’t talk about their own feelings. I said that what he said was true. He said that this was the case because their lives were not very good, and they didn’t want to complain. I agreed that the poets whose work I had read from that era never talked about themselves, and instead mainly took inspiration from the world around them.

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