It’s a drizzly Saturday night. I’m refreshed from my home-time dinner break but annoyed with myself for hastily accepting a multi-rider Uber Pool job. I reckon the multiple stops involved in Uber’s latest money making scheme are a pain in the ass for drivers – so I tend to avoid them. But in the excitement of being offered a job while at home watching the Blues Brothers, I accept it before I realise it’s a Pool job. Bugger. Oh well. I drive around the corner and, after some confusion, find my first passenger – a young Mongolian woman (another first). We drive through the drizzle to pick up rider number two – a Chilean dude (must be ‘Obscure Nationality Night’). After dropping off the Mongolian in Paddington, the Chilean informs me that the friend he was meeting has bailed and that he’s no longer going to his original destination. He wants to go to the Entertainment Quarter instead. As this is actually closer, I’m happy to drop him there. He’s grateful and says he’s going to a dance party, featuring world famous DJ Carl Cox. When I mention that I’ve heard of him, the Chilean asks me if I want to go – now that he has an extra ticket. I laugh. This is the third Saturday in a row I’ve had an offer like this. Two weeks earlier, a trio of very drunk Manly Beach boys ask if I want to drop some acid and go tripping with them. Short lived temptation is followed by boring but wise good sense. I decline. Seven days later, a coke fueled Cockney dude offers me two hundred dollars to come out partying with him and his mates. Tempting. But likely to be messy and awkward. Again good sense wins out. But now, as I turn into the Entertainment Quarter and see that I’m about to get stuck in traffic trying to get back out, I take the plunge. Yes – I will go to my first dance party in decades. After all – I am a Dancing Fool. I love to lose myself to the beat, not giving a toss how silly I might look. So I graciously accept the chilled Chilean’s offer and swing into the over priced car park, resigned that it’ll cost me twenty-five dollars for the privilege. The drizzle is ramping up to outright rain. As we hustle towards the gates – whoops – I slip and fall. That’s right – my shoes no longer have any traction, making wet surfaces especially dodgy. The Chilean asks if I’m alright as I scramble up. He possibly begins to regret taking a senior citizen to a dance party. I assure him I’m fine. At the gate we need to show photo ID to confirm we are over eighteen. The attendant doesn’t even bother to look at mine. We enter the foyer and hear the thumping boom boom boom from the main room. I offer to buy my benefactor a drink. “Thanks. I’ll have whatever you’re having.” I laugh. “Mate – I’m having water so I can still drive.” He decides a can of lime and soda is more appealing. Drinks in hand, we enter the auditorium. Blue lasers slice through the air. Shirtless peacocks strut and shuffle. Gaggles of girls in oversized glasses glide through the crowd with intent. On stage, a rotund black DJ pushes buttons. The double C emblem behind him confirms that he’s the event’s star – Carl Cox. The Chilean and I find some space and begin to move to the groove. I suddenly become aware of how slippery the alcohol coated floor is under my worn out soles. Bugger. Throw in hundreds of crushed cans and abandoned water bottles sliding about chaotically and the chances of me crashing to the concrete are as high as most of the dancers. I briefly wonder whether or not to cut my losses, thank the Chilean and head back to my Mazda where I belong. But I persist, focus on my feet and soon transform into a grey haired Dancing Fool. It feels fantastic to let loose, dissolve into the moment, not giving a hoot about the glances and stares directed my way. I eventually notice that the Chilean has disappeared, possibly embarrassed, possibly on the hunt for younger companions. Oh well. Whatever. I dance on. Careful of the floor. Always careful of the floor. I become distracted by a twenty something guy smiling at me. “Hey – good on you! You’re my inspiration. The party never ends!” I smile, resisting the urge to tell him to get fucked. He asks why I’m there. Stupidly, I tell him the truth. He laughs and turns to his girlfriend. “Hey – this guy is an Uber driver whose rider had a spare ticket.” I close my eyes and dance, wishing I had lied. I should have told him that I was Carl Cox’s manager. I decide that if I were the DJ’s manager, I’d tell him to lift his game a bit. The music’s not bad but has too many lulls. A little later, there’s a tap on my shoulder. I turn to see a girl, probably the teen side of twenty. I have been taking care not to let my loose hands flail about too much, terrified they may cop an unintentional feel. I’d be instantly set upon as a lecherous old groper. Why else would an old man be at a dance party? “Excuse me – do you have any gear? We’ll buy some off you.” I crack up. Ah – so there is another reason why an old codger would be mixing it with the kids – to sell drugs. “Sorry, all I’ve got is water.” I turn and dance on. Until I fall. Crash. Ouch! I scramble up, imagining the sniggers around me – laughing at the geriatric who succumbed to the inevitable. I decide to find another spot and luckily discover a seam in the concrete that offers a bit more grip. This coincides with a change of DJs. The new guy, Paco someone or other, is good and the vibe lifts. I get back into my groove – stomping away like a madman. Until, finally, a couple of hours after arriving, I decide I’ve had enough. With a smile on my dial, I head back outside. Where I slip and fall. But I’m well practiced at this now and am soon on my feet. “Nice recovery” says the bemused security guard as I walk out the gate. I hop in the Mazda and instantly get a job. I pick up three Northern Beach Boys heading forty kilometres north to Avalon. Yes! I ask them if they’ve just been at the party. “Yep.” As casually as I can manage, I say, “Yeah – me too.” “What? No way!” And for the next hour, as my Mazda crawls up the coast, I am a Legend.
I am discovering different ways of being invisible. There’s ‘Occupational Invisibility’. As an Uber driver, I can disappear – no longer a human being but merely an extension of my Mazda (does that make it a self driving vehicle?). This is the only explanation for why a beautiful young Instagram Queen would tell her friend over the phone all about her impending period (at least she hopes it’s her period and not – you know – the other thing). Surely this is not something you would discuss in front of a man – unless he were invisible. Then there’s ‘Retail Invisibility’. This is an increasingly common state that is achieved by people over forty while in a shop. The staff can’t see you but have no trouble seeing the younger shoppers standing behind you. This can only mean that one has achieved true translucence. Finally, my favourite – ‘Spiritual Invisibility’. This is the state I enter while meditating in public. I’ll be at Bondi Beach, sitting on my yoga mat, eyes closed yet fully aware of all around me: crashing waves, screaming kids, squawking seagulls and snippets of passing conversation. I feel like a floating spirit, adrift amongst Bondi’s busy bodies. The Invisible Man.
It’s after midnight on what’s been a busy Saturday night. I get notified of a job in Bondi and wait outside the building for five minutes. Just as I decide to phone my Uber rider, a dark skinned woman comes running up to my Mazda. “Thanks for waiting. I’m hopping out of one bed and straight into another.” This throws me – being a statement I’ve never encountered. “Fair enough” is all I can come up with. But of course my curiosity is aroused. What’s her story? Is she a prostitute? I want to check her out in the rear view mirror but decide it’s too creepy. Oh well – whatever. As I drive I notice she has a strong, musky yet sweet scent. We sit in silence, except for my music mix which, thankfully, doesn’t play anything I feel compelled to skip. As we come down the hill into Coogee, a heavy mist hangs over the beach and surrounding streets. “Can I roll down my window?” I’m surprised by the request. “Sure. Here – I’ll roll down the others.” The windows slide open and suddenly our cool cocoon is breached, warm humid sea air rushing in. I drive out of the valley and up the other steep incline. Soon we arrive at a South Coogee cul-de-sac. “Thanks. Have a good night.” “No worries. You too.” It’s as she walks in front of my headlights that I get my first good look at what she’s wearing – a flimsy nightie, bare feet and only her phone in her hand. Wow – she really is hopping out of one bed and into another. I decide that she’s probably not a call girl but more likely a booty call girl. Is she returning to her own bed or will she be hopping back out and into another Uber later tonight? Either way, she won’t be hopping into my Mazda. Time to call it a night.
There are buses up my bum. So I crawl further up the road, hoping my Uber rider is close enough to see me. Just in time a tall olive skinned young man opens the door, a plastic bag of bottles clinking in his hand. “Sorry mate, couldn’t pick you up from where you were – bus lane.” He beams with bravado. “No worries bro – thanks for slowing down.” And we’re off – the Uber app (which I find increasingly dodgy) directing me towards Kensington. As many passengers do, this one soon has his head over his phone. Not a problem. Will probably be one of those quiet trips. Except for my music. I become aware that country swing king Lyle Lovett is singing a warped gospel song about a hungry congregation wanting their babbling preacher to shut up so they can all get fed: “Now to the Lord, praises be, it’s time for dinner now let’s go eat. Got some beans and some good corn bread, listen now to what the preacher said.” Suddenly, I feel a bit self conscious. Given that this young dude is probably a rap fan and wouldn’t have a clue as to the quirks of Julia Robert’s ex-husband (how weird was that?), I worry that he’ll think I’m some sort of God Botherer intent on saving his soul. Or not. He puts his device away and actually starts tapping along to the beat. I take this as a good sign and ask him about his day. Turns out he’s moving out of the city to Parramatta. This doesn’t really explain why he’s in an Uber to Kensington. I ask where he works. The city. “Right. So you’ll have a bit of commuting ahead of you.” Yes – he will. But how he’ll do it depends upon the outcome of this trip. “I have my appeal against my drink driving licence suspension tomorrow. I’m on my way to church to get a blessing that the decision will go my way.” I smile. So much for him worrying that I’m a God Botherer. I soon drop him off at a Coptic Church and wish him luck with his appeal. Perhaps he’ll have God on his side. Later that same night I pick up another young man. He tumbles into the car, reeking of alcohol. I look at the app and see that we have a long trip ahead of us. My passenger put his head back and closes his eyes. Probably not much of a conversationalist. As we make our way down a little street in Surry Hills I actually lived on decades ago, his head rises. “Stop the car.” I do. He opens the door and lets loose. I’m thankful he managed to get the door open. Once done, he thanks me. I find a tissue and hand it too him. “Better out than in. You right now?” He assures me he is and we continue on our way. Out of no where, he asks, “How much of the Bible do you believe in?” Whoa – didn’t see that coming! I give it some thought, thinking that he may in fact be a God Botherer and I should be diplomatic. “Well, I guess there’s a few things – but probably not a lot of it.” He nods. ‘From the music you’re playing, I figured you believed in most of it.” Again – whoa! Had this been the guy I drove earlier – then that would be a fair comment. But from the couple of mellow jazzy sort of tracks that have been playing since Mr. Spewy got in, I have no idea how he connected them to me being a Bible basher. I figure that he must be. So I ask, “How much of the Bible do you believe in?” He scoffs. “My job is to defend pedophile priests. They’re scum.” Okaaay then – I take that to mean he’s not such a fan of the Good Book. He then opens up (fortunately not the contents of his stomach – though we do pull over for one more puke stop). He tells me he’s a twenty three year old barrister – pushed to such an early high achievement by his parents. But he’s not very happy about it – seeing his life mapped out in front of him. I feel sorry for him and suggest he travels – especially somewhere where he might experience a bit of culture shock. He shrugs, not optimistic he’ll ever get to do so. I drop him off at a brand new gated community. He looks up at his building. “I’ll now go up to my penthouse apartment where my wife will tell me I’m an arsehole.” Bloody hell – this is not a happy chappy. I wish him luck and drive off, contemplating the wonderful (though extremely unlikely) possibility of this down in the dumps atheist lawyer representing the freshly blessed drink driving Coptic Christian.
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.