Long Silences In White Falcons

Are you polite to taxi drivers? A bit surly sometimes, maybe? That’s ok - there’s worse than you out there. Ordinary talked to some cabbies to find out what it’s like to spend 12 hours worried about vomit on the vinyl.

Taxi Driver

“The best Led Zeppelin impersonator in Sydney…”

Marty is a father of three and ex-Led Zeppelin impersonator

What’s the hardest thing about being a taxi driver?

People, because they can be unpredictable. Some shifts are great and others really test your strength. Some nights kids throw eggs at my car, cocky passengers try and steal my head-rests and once someone even stole my taxi driver’s licence, which meant I couldn’t work until I got another one. Luckily I worked out when it happened and who did it so I went back to the drop-off address and got the little jerk to return it. He was just a smartarse kid trying to impress his girlfriend.

As a taxi driver you have to be really good at reading people, their moods and their behaviour. Particularly with drunk men who can get aggressive and try and pick fights.

But it’s not all bad. I recently drove a young guy who had been out on his bucks’ night and when he got in my taxi and heard Zeppelin playing, we got talking about music and I told him about how I used to be the best Zeppelin impersonator in Sydney. He told me he was a huge Zeppelin fan and got me to sing for him. We passed this pub out west, where it’s hard to get a taxi and he decided he wanted to stop for another drink. He said that if I came in and let him shout me a beer, I could leave the meter running and he would pay. I told him I couldn’t drink because I was driving, but that I would have lemonade. So we went in and talked about music and he offered to make me a mixed CD. I gave him my postal address and we finished our drinks and I drove him home. A few weeks later, I got a CD in the mail. Now I see him around at gigs and things and I’ve got a new mate. So it’s a funny old job sometimes, you can meet some good people when you least expect it.

Why did you give up being a Led Zeppelin impersonator?

It seems the ladies don’t love it. Maybe I’d do better if I knew some Jeff Buckley.

* * *

“Don’t ever fall asleep in a taxi…”

Even though Leo’s been driving taxis for five years, he says he’s not a real taxi driver but an unemployed accountant who drives people around for money

What do you do if a fare falls asleep or passes out in your taxi?

My advice is don’t ever fall asleep in a taxi. Having a passenger that passes out or falls asleep is a taxi driver’s nightmare. If I think someone is about to nod off, I make sure I get them to confirm their address and I do everything I can to keep them awake - I turn the music up and try to keep them talking. But every now and then, you get one that just can’t fight it, and I wind up at the police station, dropping them off and filling out forms and let the cops work it out. That can take a couple of hours though. That means two hours that I’m not earning any money. Once a drunk guy, about 50 years old, passed out in my cab, so I drove into a service station, pulled him out of the cab and propped him up against the shop and called the police. I felt bad, but I didn’t have his address and I couldn’t afford to waste half of my shift in the cop shop filling out papers.

Then you’ve got the vomiters: if I think someone is going to throw up in my cab, I pull over straight away and warn them that if they spew in my cab, they’ll be paying for carpet cleaning! It is the absolute worst when someone vomits in your cab, because it takes a week for the smell to leave. The least they could do is warn me.

Do you remember your first fare?

Yes, very clearly! It was mid week and I was really nervous. I had been driving a car for years, but it feels different when you don’t have any real destination. At first you feel like you’re just kind of driving around. Plus, I was new to Sydney and I had no idea where anything was - I was totally reliant on my street directory. I pulled over to pick up a lady in business clothes, and a big three drunken bodybuilders pushed in front of her and jumped in. They were loud and drunk and while we were sitting at traffic lights they all decided to take their shirts off and compare their muscles. Of course I thought it was funny, until one of them saw me smiling and asked me to take of my shirt and show them my muscles. I’m a skinny little white guy, so I they were just taking the piss. I just told them I’m not allowed to take my uniform of while I am driving (although it’d be nice in summer). They wanted me to take them from the city to Annandale. But I got confused and took them to Alexandria and they didn’t even notice, because they were so drunk. I just made out I was taking a detour.

* * *

“Scared and alone in a car park in La Perouse…”

After 32 years driving taxis, Geo has seen too much to get involved in any heroics if someone decides not to pay for their ride

What’s the most memorable trip you have ever had in your cab?

I’ve seen a lot of things, the bad and the good. At the beginning of a night, you never know what you’re going to get.

Once, Bert Newton came in my taxi. I’ll admit Bert Newton is a funny guy, but he wasn’t funny in my taxi. I took him to have a bet at the TAB and I asked him to give me a tip and he flatly said, No, the stubborn bugger. He wasn’t the guy you expect him to be when you see him on TV. So serious.

The nicest Australian celebrity I’ve ever driven would have to be Angry Anderson. He’s a really nice guy - ask all the cab drivers and they’ll tell you the same. He used to live in Surry Hills and took cabs to the airport quite a bit. He always had time to chat to me and would always offer a tip.

Have you ever felt unsafe in you taxi?

One Saturday night I was parked at the rank and one man jumped on the front of my car and said, “Take me to La Perouse.” It was 9.30 at night and there was no one around. Three other big blokes came up behind him and they all got in my taxi and threatened me and told me to drive them, and that they would not pay. They were drinking beer and smoking in the cab. They put their feet up on everything, put their arms out the windows and played music loudly.

But what can you do? You just have to say Yes, because they’re the boss for the time being. When I got to La Perouse I knew it was their territory, so I just said, “Thank you, have a good night, gentlemen”. I dropped them in the carpark of the club there and one of them looked at me and said, “We’re not going to pay you, taxi driver.”

I said, “So what? That’s okay.”

And he said, “You’re a bloody wog - here’s twenty dollars,” and laughed. You have to laugh, take the jokes, and even if they don’t pay – who cares? I didn’t care.

I was scared, alone in a car park in La Perouse, but I got off easy. You just have to know how to cope with it.

But my wife doesn’t see it that way. When I told her about that night, she said, “That’s it! No more night work, no more driving! You’re too old.” But driving taxis is what I do, and that night in La Perouse was just one thing - it’s not always like that.