Snap Shot #23: The Passenger

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I go to pick up my cab from the depot but am told that it is undergoing its annual safety check. I’m annoyed – it’s a Friday night shift and there is money to be made. But what can I do but wait. Eventually I’m told it’s all good to go and negotiate a lesser rental fee. Driving cabs has proven to be a good back up income when my freelance work ebbs. To drive on a Friday night is a rare privilege and I aim to make the most of it. I hit the city in time for the post work exodus. I am soon traveling to suburbs near and far. People are usually in a good mood on Friday evenings – the working week behind them. It’s not long before they gradually grow drunker, often downing drinks on empty stomachs. By midnight it can get messy. It’s never fun to clean puke out of the back of a cab. But so far my night has been vomit free. I can feel fatigue starting to take hold but am determined to make it to three o’clock. I am driving through the middle of the city when a large swaying figure lifts up an arm. I slow down. My ‘Spidey Senses’ tingle, telling me that something’s not right. But I ignore this instinctual warning and pull over. A huge man folds himself into the seat next to me. The reek of alcohol is strong – as is the man. He seems to be some sort of Islander and is hard to understand. Eventually I work out that he wants to go to Pyrmont but the exact location remains a mystery. Pyrmont is not the urbane collection of high rises it will become but still an under used dockland deemed for development. These are also the days before GPS tracking of cabs, when jobs are not allocated by a computer screen but by a voice via a radio console. If a driver is in danger, the procedure is to use his foot to activate a button that sends a distress signal to the radio operator. A hidden microphone in the cab then allows the driver to reveal his location. He can no longer hear his radio – a sign that the operator is now listening to what is happening in the cab, hoping that the driver is able to reveal his whereabouts. Once known, the operator then calls out a ‘M13’ over the radio. All nearby cab drivers are expected to make their way to the driver in distress and help him out. So the theory goes. It’s as I’m directed to an under lit and unfamiliar area of Pyrmont that I start to think that my own ‘M13’ situation may be fast approaching. As I’m unsure of my exact location – this is a worry. Even more so when the drunk Islander tells me to drive over a set of raised railway tracks. I’m uneasy but give it a go. The front tyres get across but the cab then lurches to a stop. It is suspended on the tracks. I try the accelerator but go nowhere. “Sorry mate. Can’t go any further. You’ll have to get out here.” This does not go down well. “NO! Never say never!” He begins to manically wave his fists in front of him. All he needs to do is turn in my direction and he will be hitting me – hard. My foot searches for the secret button on the floor, finds it and presses. Nothing. The radio operator continues to casually call out jobs. The ‘M13’ emergency button is not working – failing in a cab that had its safety inspection only hours earlier. The mad man stops his fist flaying. “If you won’t do it – I will.” He then opens his door and stumbles out. His mission: to come around to my side, throw me out and attempt to drive my suspended cab over several sets of raised railway tracks. I shift into reverse, pray to whoever is listening and hit the accelerator. The cab lurches backwards, over the tracks. I continue reversing, the open passenger door swinging. When I’m far enough away, I stop, close the door and lock everything I can. I watch as the angry Islander negotiates his way through the maze of tracks. I turn the cab around, heart pounding, adrenaline pumping. When I am calm enough to do so, I pick up my radio microphone. “Car 197 to base.” “Yes 197 – what can I do for you this evening.” “I just had a M13 situation with an aggressive passenger.” “Why didn’t you activate your button?” “I did. It didn’t work.” “Oh. You’ll need to get that checked.” “It was – this afternoon. Had it’s annual inspection.” “Really? Are you alright 197?” “Shaken but ok.” “Good. Maybe take a break and get yourself… a coffee.” We both know he doesn’t mean coffee. But he can hardly recommend that I get a drink over a radio being listened to in hundreds of cabs.” “Ok – thanks base. 197 out.” There are still more than two hours left before the end of the shift. But not for me. I flick on the ‘No Vacancy’ light and head back to the depot. Though my future holds many more taxi shifts, this will be my last one on a Friday night.

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Snap Shot #22: Giving Thanks

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Almost exactly six years ago my family and I were lucky enough to travel to America and experience Thanksgiving with some of the most wonderful people on the planet. It is not a holiday celebrated in Australia so it was a unique experience for my wife and son. Having been born in the U.S., I had seven Thanksgivings before we moved to Canada. While there I had about nine more – but as it is a Canadian custom to copy American rituals and then change them slightly in an attempt to make them uniquely Canadian, these ‘Thanksgivings’ were celebrated in late October and always felt a bit bogus. So I’ve always seen it as a uniquely American celebration and was excited to experience my first one in four decades. It took place at the home of my Aunt and her husband and included all my Californian cousins and their families. Collectively, they are my favourite Americans – so welcoming, open minded, affable and generous of spirit. Of course there was turkey and all the trimmings. But this gathering also included a frightening number of martinis to kick it off, which floored me (almost literally). I don’t recall any formal grace being said but do remember an inspired little moment where we all wrote something we were thankful for on our own little piece of paper. The idea was to then to open and read them the following year (tricky for us but my Aunt thoughtfully sent ours to us that next Thanksgiving). It was wonderful to be encouraged to consciously count your blessings and give thanks to God, Allah, Buddha, The Universe or just Lady Luck – whoever or whatever you wished to attribute your good fortune to. I think it is a fantastic exercise to do at least once a year and commend America for dedicating a day to so. Definitely one of the high points of American culture. However, as another Thanksgiving fast approaches, I fear that this time it may be more of a challenge for my favourite Americans to count their blessings as they brace themselves for the brash rude world of President Trump and his Deplorables. My Aunt sent me a brief email after the election saying that she felt more despair for her country now than she did when Kennedy was shot. I tried to allay her fears by saying that now he had won, it was unlikely that he’d actually do most of the crazy shit he ranted about. But then, I’m on the other side of the world enjoying free health care. So I very much feel for her and her family. But perhaps that’s the true value of Thanksgiving – while it’s easy to be thankful when all is relatively well, the real challenge is to do so when your world has been turned upside down. And that’s when the truly important things shine through –  like the love and well being of one’s family and friends. I’ve no doubt that for my favourite Americans, and many like them throughout their country, this will be a Thanksgiving marred by trepidation. Yet I also have faith that their values are so good and true, that these will shine through to give them all the strength and resilience they’ll need to get through the Trump years. Having said that, I will take the time this Thanksgiving to count my own blessings – which will include the fact that Donald J. Trump will not be not my president.

Snap Shot #21: Sniffing Butts and Pissing on Poles

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“It’s a dog’s life”, so the saying goes. Until a couple of years ago, I’d always assumed that this was a negative analogy – that living “a dog’s life” was not a desirable thing. Then Nitro the two-toned Cavoodle came into my world. Having closely observed his life over the past two years, I’m beginning to re-assess my position. Sure, some dog’s lives are miserable. I’m especially happy that I don’t live a Thai dog’s life – scruffy, scabby and scavenging crap off the street. And there is no doubt that Nitro sits comfortably on the spoiled side of the scale: fresh meat twice a day, constant company, at least a couple of kilometres worth of daily walks and hours upon hours of nap time. That’s a dog’s life I’d gladly swap for. Then there’s all those weird doggie rituals like pissing on poles (or in Nitro’s case: poles, shrubs, steps, sand castles, sea weed and the occasional unguarded garment or handbag). Our outings are punctuated by piss stops, all following the same pattern. First, Nitro stops at a previously sprayed pole (or whatever else). Then his nose hovers about it, nostrils all a twitter. In fact, I think these piss poles are the canine equivalent of Twitter or Facebook – leaving each other messages about where they’ve been, what they’ve been eating or drinking and who still has balls dangling between his legs. I’m sure Nitro can distinguish the scents of a good number of different dogs who have all graced a particular pole. Once he’s worked out who’s recently visited the site, Nitro lifts his leg and leaves his own message, careful to ration his precious piss. Then off to the next one. If we are venturing outside his usual territory, these stops become more frequent, until he is spraying nothing but vapour. Should we come across an actual living, breathing, dog, then a whole new set of rituals kick in. First there is the stand off – both dogs facing off at a distance proportional to their mutual suspicion. Any sign of tail wagging is good. They then come together, almost touching noses. They can either rotate around each other for a bit, until one of them goes in for a butt sniff, or a bolder dog can cut to the chase and stick its nose straight in with no invitation. Usually this is accepted but on occasion it is not and there may be a snarl or a snap to warn off an over familiar approach. Once the initial sniffer has worked out what the other dog has had for breakfast, then their bits will be offered up for a receptacle sniff. After each dog is satisfied, it may be time for a game of chasy or some doggie wrestling (when Nitro does this with a fellow Cavoodle, I call it ‘Cavoodling’). Or sometimes, one of the dogs will then simply ignore the other and go about its business. All up – it’s strange behaviour. Imagine what it would be like if our species had the same sort of social rituals. I’m walking along and I see this guy approaching me. We both stop, sussing each other out. I see that he’s younger than me, muscular with bristle-like short hair. A couple of tatts are poking out from under his sleeves. I do not want to piss this guy off. He slowly starts to approach me and I cautiously follow suit. As we get close we both start sniffing and slowly rotate around each other. He smells of tobacco and sweat. I stop. He walks behind me, bends down and puts his head under my butt. I can hear him inhaling deeply, taking it all in. After a few moments he slowly straightens up and walks in front of me, his backside turned in my direction. I carefully lower my head until I can see nothing but his butt. He is wearing faded jeans. I breathe in and am overwhelmed by the bouquet. This guy is obviously a huge curry fan. I can smell at least three different flavours, including a particularly pungent beef vindaloo. Wow. He starts moving away. I stay put. He goes over to a nearby pole. He unzips his fly, hauls out his hose and has a spray. Nice stream. Once he’s done, he packs away his junk, zips his jeans and wanders off. I wait a moment and then head straight for the pole. His piss is still sliding down, forming a little yellow pool at the pole’s base. I take a good whiff. Ah – a VB man. Makes sense – some beer to wash down all that spice. And it would seem he’s still in possession of his balls – no de-sexing for this dude. Ok – my turn. Out comes my somewhat smaller hose. Now to wash away all that cheap crap beer with the fragrance of some high end Belgian stuff. Right – that’ll do. Need to save some for later. Who knows what awaits. Oh! There’s a pack of drunk chicks across the road. Better head over and give them a sniff.

Snap Shot #20: Boring Snippet

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I am walking to the bus stop – a rare event for someone whose wife accuses of being public transport-phobic. I see a man in the distance on his phone. As I approach, the volume of his voice fades up. “….called the other day for a quote – it’s Martin Gordon….that’s right – about the fencing. I was wondering if you could…” and Martin’s voice is lost as the symphony of Bondi Road traffic swells around me. It’s as I step onto the 333 that something occurs to me. Martin Gordon may or may not have a reversible jacket somewhere in his wardrobe but he most definitely has a reversible name: Martin Gordon or…Gordon Martin. Interesting. Vaguely. It’s later in the evening and I have been publicly transported to the city. I am walking along George street on my way to meet a mate for some Belgian beer. A middle-aged man and woman are walking towards me. They are smartly dressed and most likely living quite comfortably above the poverty line. It’s only as I pass them that I hear the man speak: “Mr. and Mrs. Boring.” And that’s it. Nothing else. They’re gone – on their way to wherever. What the? Who the hell are these people? Who are they talking about? Themselves? If so, then what makes them so boring? Do they have friends who are, by comparison, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Exciting’? Are their friends swingers? Arms dealers? Spies? Or even swinging arms dealing spies? Or is it the other way around – and it’s this couple that are the thrill seekers, having a go at ‘Mr. and Mrs. Boring’? Or perhaps, just maybe, they spotted me walking towards them, wearing my leather jacket, looking unusually cool for a man my age and then the husband said to his wife: “Wow – check this guy out. Compared to him, we’re just… Mr. and Mrs. Boring.” Yes – that’s got to be it. Of course – it’s all about me.