When my freelance work flowed freely enough for me to stop driving cabs on weekends, I always felt that it was a temporary reprieve. Sooner or later, I knew I would be forced back into driving the people of Sydney around their busy city. Even as the years flew past, a family was started and work remained consistent, the driver’s wheel beckoned. And so, nearly twenty years after my last taxi shift, that time has finally arrived. But a revolution has since occurred: Uber. Knowing that my freelance work was finally reaching the stage of not being steady enough, I took comfort from the fact that Uber would be the preferable option to cabs. And after my first five shifts, I can confirm this. But before I rave about the many positive differences, here are a few similarities. One thing I always enjoyed about cab driving was conversing with a random range of strangers. This is also very much the case with Ubering – probably even more so as the situation seems more relaxed. Of course, passengers don’t always want to chat, no matter who’s driving them – and that’s cool. In fact, when they talk among themselves or on their phone, I enjoy being a fly on the wheel – getting a glimpse into foreign lives. Then there’s the late nights – having to drive drunks as well as dodge drunks walking on the road. But possibly the biggest similarity is that driving requires concentration and doing so for hours at a time is exhausting. Right – the differences. No uniform (though I decided I would wear a collared shirt – at least on weekdays). No having to fumble with cash at the end of each fare (though one of the few advantages of taxi driving is that you can get tips and you immediately have cash in your pocket – Uber pays weekly). No expensive cab rental (I am currently renting a Commodore but for a mere $25 a day). No fixed shifts (this is a BIG one – Uber allows the flexibility of driving whenever you want). GPS guidance (this now exists in cabs as well but is a HUGE improvement from the days when I would be fumbling with a street directory trying to find a pick up address). Listening to my music (from my phone – with the exception of when three drunk Indian dudes had Bollywood Dance music blaring from the speakers at one in the morning). You can’t pick up passengers hailing you from the street (this takes some getting used to, as my instinct is still to slow down when I see someone waiting by the side of the road). But here’s maybe the most significant difference: when I last drove cabs, I’d come home to my empty bachelor pad. Now, no matter how late, I’m greeted by an enthusiastic Cavoodle while my wife and son sleep soundly in their beds.
The tide is low. This allows me and Nitro the Two Toned Cavoodle to walk along the exposed rocks at Bondi Beach’s north end without getting swept out to sea. It also lets us do a loop up to the road and back down through the park. The park has a pair of swings. And though I can hear voices as we enter the area, they seem far enough away that, thanks to the night’s sheltering darkness, I feel comfortable in indulging one of my favourite sensations. I have a swing. Of course, I’m a swinger from way back. Like most kids, I was initially pushed by a parent or just someone bigger than me. But oh what a feeling to eventually master self propulsion. Then I could swing for as long as I liked. As it turned out – that was a long time. See, I was also a rocker from way back – silently rocking back and forth in my tiny little rocking chair. So swinging was really just rocking on a much grander scale. Gliding through the air as high as the chain allows. Then letting gravity take over to send my body flying back and up. Then using my arms and legs to continue the wonderful sensation ad-nauseam (and on occasion, nausea would be the end result of repeated swinging) . Obviously, as I grew older, the opportunity to swing waned, though I do recall still doing it as a teenager. So it was one of the fringe benefits of becoming a parent that I once again got swinging. Of course I was also on pushing duty but would eventually get bored with that and jump on the swing next to my son. He wasn’t always pleased with this but, on the upside, it forced him into self propulsion sooner than if I kept pushing. And so, at the rickety old age of fifty-five, here I am having a swing under the cover of darkness. But my bored dog beckons. My feet brush the ground enough for me to stop. I rise from the rubber seat. Until next time.
Myself, my son, two brother in-laws, four cousins and a Spoodle named Chicks wander down to the local footy field for a friendly game of Christmas cricket. It’s been years since my social cricket days but I soon enjoy having a bowl of the soft rubber ball – especially to my son. While he’s not really a cricketer (it’s the one sport he’s banned from participating in – I’m happy to drive and watch him play footy and basketball but I’ll be buggered if I’m wasting an entire day sitting around in the summer heat while he does very little on a cricket field), he of course has some natural ability and has proven impossible to get out. So I start to mix up some slow balls with some spin and the results look promising. Anything he does manage to hit is quickly chased down by our most enthusiastic fielder, who has the advantage of four legs and plenty of experience chasing and returning balls. I’m starting to get the spin happening so I flick one down to my son. He hits it high and about ten metres to my right. Focused on the floating piece of rubber, I sprint towards it, arms outstretched. Just as it’s about to drop into my hands, my feet hit something soft that yelps. I crash to the ground. “Fuck Chicks!” My left hand is sore, around where I broke a finger decades ago. But I suddenly realise that my brother in-laws might not be too impressed with my recent expletive, so I mumble ‘Sorry’ as I pick myself up. It turns out both brother in-laws and all the kids have their attention focused elsewhere – on a whimpering dog. It looks like Chicks came out of the collision worse than I did, which, given the laws of physics, makes sense. Her concerned owner takes her away from the playing area and, after ten minutes or so, I’m relieved to see our star fielder return. We had a little bond earlier in the day so I go over to give her a pat and an apology. She starts to shake and eyes me suspiciously. “Sorry Chicks. All forgiven?” She nips my hand. No, apparently all is not forgiven. Oh well. I’m sure that she’d be pleased to know that, ultimately, I pulled up worse than either of us that day. It turns out I badly strained a chest muscle, no doubt angry that it had been suddenly required to start bowling balls after years of rest. So I guess playing with balls really is for dogs.
It’s New Year’s Eve when I hear the news – a sea plane has crashed into the Hawkesbury River, killing all on board. A chill runs down my spine. That could have been me – twice. My first excursion to the Hawkesbury was a complete surprise. In fact, that was the point. As an end of year thank you for being one of their two most consistent clients, the husband and wife owners of Control Secret Agents Editing had something special in mind – a secret mission. I was given an envelope that told me to meet another ‘agent’ in Darling Harbour. I had to say some stupid code word to this total stranger – their other most consistent client. We both felt pretty stupid, sitting on a bench, waiting for who knew what. Then a white limousine rocks up. The back door opens and there’s Mark and Jane, the Chiefs of Control. They invite us in and immediately give us each a glass of champagne. We drive through the city and stop at Catalina’s restaurant at Rose Bay. Wow – a nice lunch by the harbour – sounds great. We get out of the limo and frozen Margaritas are ordered. Already feeling light headed from the champers, I attempt to take it slow – until I’m told to scull it. Not understanding why, I do so and immediately suffer a brain freeze. We all then race out of the restaurant and are led along the dock – to a sea plane! We are still having a waterside lunch but not here. Instead, the four of us cram into the small cabin, fly over the northern beaches and land on the Hawkesbury at Cottage Point. The little restaurant there serves us an amazing sea food lunch and wine – so much wine. It’s a top spot and a great afternoon. But by the time we cram back into the plane, I’m not feeling the best. We take off and my stomach does a lurch. Oh no – not now. Whatever you do – don’t throw up inside a tiny plane! So I do my best to keep my stomach contents contained. It’s decided that we’ll take a detour over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. No! But too embarrassed to admit that I’m about to lose my lunch, I keep my mouth shut – also my strategy for not puking in the plane. Finally, we land back at Rose Bay. I scramble out of the cabin, crawl to the edge of the dock and feed the fishes a seafood lunch marinated in plenty of wine, with a dash of frozen Margarita and champers. But the experience doesn’t stop me from deciding, years later, that this is how I want to celebrate my fortieth birthday – fly to Cottage Point and meet friends and family for lunch. I take it considerably easier and am able to enjoy the scenic detour on the way back. I take some pride in walking along Rose Bay dock without feeding the fishes. But my girlfriend (and eventual wife to be) decides that we need to continue to walk all the way back to our place at Bondi – in the scorching summer heat. I’m not keen, complaining all the way. So, as wonderful as they were, both my Sydney sea plane experiences did have their downsides. But at least I survived.