Snap Shot #23: The Passenger

ABCcar

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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