It is approaching one a.m. on a cold Monday morning. Thanks to an unusual evening nap, I’m feeling relatively awake and ready for two hours of grown men trying to kick a ball into a net. Like most of the world, I’m cheering for the underdog but resigned that the favourite is likely to win – as they did twenty years ago. I also watched that victory in the early hours of a cold Monday morning in Sydney. But I’d seen a number of the proceeding matches all over the globe. Although I’d been in France in the lead up to the tournament, I was in Italy by the time it started. Rome was a ghost city as I walked out of the train station. When its citizens finally emerged, their mood was muted thanks to their nation’s unlikely draw with Chile. But later in a Venetian piazza, the small café crowd were jubilant after a decisive win. The streets of Amsterdam were draped in orange tissue paper and balloons. I found a not too crowded pub to witness the Netherlands battle Yugoslavia. I was amused to see the team names abbreviated on the screen as ‘NED’ vs ‘JOE’ – like two rednecks playing checkers. By the time of the semi-finals I was in Thailand, cheering for France in a Phuket sports bar. So, for me at least, 1998 really was the year of the World Cup.
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.