Australia journal - June 1999

Taxi rides in Brisbane

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The taxi drivers of Brisbane are a trip!

The guy who brought us back from Cirque du Soleil was a nonstop talker.  A bald guy in his 50s, he just started talking and never stopped.  I was in the back seat and the radio was on (speakers on the rear deck), so I had a hard time hearing it all, but Rita did her best to interact with him.  He talked about flying airplanes, about some sort of assignment he had in the far north that would have kept him away from home through Christmas, etc.  All in a rich, twangy Oz accent that was as charming in its melodiousness as it was hard to comprehend.  I heard the music of his rant, if not the individual notes, and gave him $10 on an $8 fare -- which seemed a great and pleasant surprise.  Taxi drivers and other service people don't expect to receive tips for routine work, according to the guidebooks, and every cabbie we tipped was visibly pleased when we said, "Keep the change."  They all tend to round down on the fare, too, which is downright unamerican (!) but very nice indeed.

Friday (June 26) was Red Nose Day in Australia -- a national fund-raiser for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. People all over the country purchase red noses, with the proceeds going to the charity, and wear them throughout the day.  A radio station was broadcasting live from Post Office Square in honor of the occasion, and lots of people were wearing their noses.  (I bought a nose and also a Red Nose Day pin, but did not wear them.)

Anyway, the cabbie who took us to the rehearsal dinner Friday night was wearing his Red Nose around his neck when we got in the cab.  "It causes me to fog my glasses," he explained, and then he put it on for the duration of our five-minute ride.  He also mentioned that he was just abut to drive off in search of a place to piss when we hailed him outside the Marriott; fortunately, ur destination was only a short distance away.

The driver who brought us back to the hotel that night was a droll chap in a "maxi-taxi," an 11-passenger van.  As he lowered the folding step so we could get into the van, he apologized that the red carpet was being cleaned.  His speech was much easier to understand, and I appreciated that because he was very forthcoming with suggestions for us.  He suggested we get up one morning and visit Breakfast Creek, a district with many fine breakfast places a few metres apart.  "If you hear someone say, 'I'm going to Brekkie Creek to get some splinters in my mouth,'" the driver said, "That means he's going to drink beer from wooden barrels."  The driver had some other good sites to recommend - the Botanic Gardens, the riverside cliffs -- but the only suggestion that was practical given our schedule was Brekkie Creek, which we thought we might hit on the morning of the wedding.

The guy who took us to the airport the morning we left for Heron Island was a tall and talkative gent, folded into that smallish sedan cockpit with his knees up in the air.  When we passed a meter reader on a suburban Brisbane street, the driver launched into a highly entertaining rant about the likelihood that the reader would be attacked by a dog.  He told us with dead certainty that a meter reader in New York was bitten savagely by a Rottweiler who came right through a plate glass window.  "They'll do that, you know." It was our Dangerous Dogs Update for June 28, 1999.

The cabbie informed us he had been to all fifty of those United States.  I said I hoped to be able to say the same about Australia some day, and he replied, "There are only seven."

"But they're very large," I countered.

"They are indeed," intoned the driver.  The small talk that ensued worked its way around to the weather and the size of the airplane we'd be taking to Gladstone, just a short hop up the coast.  "It might be a Stutz," ventured the driver.  "Isn't that a make of car?" I asked, assuming there was a punch line in the offing.  "I wonder if there are any Stutz Bearcats remaining in the world," he said, wistfully.

Without clarifying the question of whether there is a Stutz airplane, the driver proceeded to speculate as to what craft we might be boarding.  I remarked on the dice weather and wondered about our safety, where upon the cabbie allowed as how the fall ain't so bad  "It's the sudden stop that gets you."  He admitted it was an old one, but it stll gets laughs.  Then he told us that when he was instructing young servicemen in the art of parachute jumping he always told them, "If your chute doesn't open, bring it back to me for a full refund."

He was a charming bullshitter, and he got a fat tip.

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