Jobs 2

Taxi Driver

At the end of my second year at uni, continuing what might be thought of as a public transport sub-major, I obtained a taxi licence.  I was able to do this because you needed to have been driving 2 years, which by then I had been. 

I attended a “taxi school” run by a fellow called Alan Rusanow in a little room upstairs in the Combined Taxis then taxi base at the foot of Glenmore Road in Paddington (nowadays, requirements are much more elaborate). There was a knowledge test (for which we were well prepared) and a driving test. I failed the first test (I remember a terrifying three-point turn looking down to the cliffs at South Coogee where the examiner castigated me for driving into a driveway for the first “point”, but the real problem was that I went through a red light at Maroubra Junction) but passed the second.

In my first summer after that, I drove 6 nights a week for about 2 months straight.  Once uni started, I drove every Saturday night, except for vacations, when I would revert to week-night driving.  Most of this time I drove for a man who ran a distinctly dodgy fleet of taxis from a workshop in Artarmon. Sometimes I picked the car up from the day-driver’s place, relatively close to home.  If I was driving from Artarmon, at the end of the shift at 3 or 4 am, I would still have to ride my bike up to West Pymble as the bats overhead returned to their colony near Gordon in the lightening sky.  There was a long but gradual uphill along the Pacific Highway to the 3M building at Pymble followed by a dramatic swoop down Ryde Road and another short but steep ascent.  Because of that ascent, I would go down the hill from the Pacific Highway as fast as I could: once a police radar crew yelled out to me my limit-exceeding speed as I went past. 

As a taxi driver , you are essentially a free-lancer (nice concept) or a piece-worker (not-so-nice).  I liked this feeling of autonomy (to an extent illusory, since the one boss of a normal job was really replaced by a series of bosses and the vagaries of conditions on the night) and I can understand why the job appeals to many for this reason.  The worst part of it (where freedom reared its ugly head as idleness) was the endless waiting on ranks during quiet periods.  So I understand the annoyance of drivers who have sometimes waited for hours (more fool them, if they had a choice) at an airport holding rank only to be told my relatively close destination when I get into their cab, though I do not consider it very professional of them to express this to me.  Them’s the breaks, right?

Sometimes, and particularly when work was quiet in the early evening, I would drop in on friends.  Once I emerged from a friend’s flat in Blues Point Road to find the police clustered round my cab.  Having intended in the first place just to duck in briefly, I had neglected to turn off the radio.  The police had suspected some foul play, and told me off rather sternly.

Anecdote-wise, this is the tip of the iceberg.

Driving cabs was an education.  I saw a lot of places I would never otherwise have gone to (including driving in to premises to which private cars were not admitted), and met a lot of people I would never otherwise have met, although, once my driving was focussed on Saturday nights, this weighted the sample towards the night entertainment scene.

When I moved to Surry Hills in 1981, I started working from the Paddington base.  After I returned from Canberra in 1984, I again took up driving on Saturday nights, from variously the ABOV base, in Alexandria, and then for a fellow called Bob Burgess who operated from a service station on the corner of Bailey Street and King Street, Newtown.

I stopped driving regularly when I became a school teacher.  At first I used to do a little driving, to keep my licence, but I soon found that I was no longer hungry enough for the money to do it, and that my tolerance in particular for male adolescent bad behaviour (which inevitably emerges in adults when drunk) had much reduced.  I realised this one New Year’s Eve when, faced with some drunk and disorderly Irishmen, I just wanted them to leave the classroom (that is, get out of my cab) without any thought of seeking payment for the amount of the fare which they had already run up.  This coincided with more complicated certification requirements for taxi licences, and I let my licence lapse at this time.

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