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Today marks the closing of the CanberraCabbie blog. It's not that I've stopped blogging - far from it! No, I've decided to put more effort into my own website, which includes the more recent CanberraCabbie posts. I'll keep this blog as an archive, unless I decide to import all the old posts into Skyring.com.au which, given my time constraints, seems unlikely.

Writing a taxi blog entry and copying it to two other places seems like too much fuss and effort nowadays. As I have to log out of my regular Skyring LJ and log back in as CanberraCabbie to make each post, and then reverse the process to get back to Skyring, I'm going to streamline it all, cutting back to two blog sites.

The bonus with Skyring.com.au is that you also get my travel blog, the "Ask Skyring" column, my taxi and travel photographs, and a whole lot more. I'm intending to expand and add more features.

Another change is that my blog entries will be shorter and more focussed. Instead of writing a long entry covering several days, I'm covering the same material in smaller chunks. Much better to dash off a few paragraphs as soon as possible than to rack the memory for details a few days later. I've been making posts from the cab, including photographs, in this new format, and they can be seen at Skyring.com.au.

My site incorporates RSS feeds, so my regular readers here may subscribe and not miss anything. So I won't say goodbye to my regular readers. I hope I'll see you (and read your always appreciated comments) on my main site.

Thanks for your interest and kind words over the past couple of years, and I look forward to entertaining you in future with more of the same!

Happy Face


Happy Face
Originally uploaded by skyring
There was a function on at the new National Portrait Gallery. A year under construction, the building is finally complete, site office and construction clutter cleared away, landscaping in, and signs up.

A lady waiting outside. I pulled in, admiring the floodlit exterior. First time I've seen it lit up at night. Other than as a construction site, that is.

It's a handsome building. Post brutalist, maybe. Or New Age concrete. Not sure how you'd describe it, but it's a looker.

The lady got in, named a suburb in Woden, guided me on my first circuit of the access area across the forecourt of the High Court, and asked, "Have you seen the Smiley Face?"

She pointed off out my window, and I glanced that way, wondering what she was talking about. A sign? Graffiti? Some new piece of public artwork?

But no. It was a happy conjunction of moon and planets creating a smiling face, a happy omen for the opening of a building chiefly devoted to faces.

Later on, at the airport, I stopped and snapped the face of God, pointing it out to other drivers, my passengers, anybody who looked like they needed a smile.

That was the week

Wednesday night I took off. I wasn't going to spend my silver anniversary driving a cab. Instead we went to Ottoman restaurant, where we enjoyed the degustation. I had mine with wine, Kerri without, and we shared sips. Absolutely yummy all the way through. Oddly enough, I enjoyed the mushroom most of all.

For an old public service cafe, the place is grand. We were seated beside a window looking out onto a small Turkish style garden, water feature and tiled columns in the greenery. About half full of leisurely top feeders, senior public servants, lobbyists and the like. There were a couple of private rooms with heavy hitters. Security guys browsing up and down with tubes in their ears.

But it would take a lot to match the football team we had at the adjoining table in Rags in Brisbane, twenty-five years back, when we had a private dinner before our nuptials the next day. We sipped champagne and they swilled beer.

Friday night, I picked a passenger up at the airport. "Carwoola," he said. I looked blank. "It's about ten minutes past Queanbeyan," he informed me, and off we went.

Leaving the airport, I got a call from Ken, my regular wheelchair Friday passenger. He wanted an immediate pickup from Manuka, and though he's usually happy to wait ten or fifteen minutes for me, it would be the best part of an hour before I could pick him up and I regretfully advised him to take another cab.

Carwoola and back through kangaroo territory and the remnants of torrential rains that had put creeks over the road here and there. I swung back into the airport cabyard, joining the line.

Phone rings, and it's Ken. He needs a pickup from a motel in Narrabundah. I peel out, glad to avoid being tagged for a Silver Service job at the airport, narrowly missing my brother cabbie Dragan who is leaving the cabyard from the opposite side. He lives for these jobs, and I'm ever happy to let him have them.

Pulling up at the motel, I find Ken propping up the bar as best he can in his wheelchair. He's telling his story to the barman and the motel manager, and he orders me a Coke - "You can't drink, you're driving me home." - while he finishes his tale,

It seems that he got a taxi on Manuka rank, but the cabbie didn't want a disabled person in his cab. Ken's wheelchair folds up and the wheels come off, so it's only a matter of moments to pull it apart and stow it in the boot. Eventually Ken talked his way in - he's one of the most charming men I've ever met - and they set off for Narrabundah to collect his laundry from the motel. When they got there and Ken said that he wanted to continue on to his home in Queanbeyan, the cabbie jacked up and would go no further. There was a conversation with the base over the radio, but the end result was that Ken was left stranded at the motel.

Some cabbies must be idiots. Especially the Friday night driver in Taxi 481. But the bottom line was that I had the pleasure of Ken's company for another half hour or so.

I normally have weekends off, but the owner gave me the chance to drive a Sunday shift, which I jumpt at, and I cleaned up, as the night was full of Parliamentary staffers getting into Canberra early for the sitting week, and I shuttled people to and from the airport. Had more work than I could handle, despite a flat tyre, and was late getting the cab home after cleaning up.

Lincoln smiles


Presidential Portrait
Originally uploaded by skyring
Paul, my day driver, brought the cab home before three, and I began work almost immediately with a call from Ken Haley the famous wheelchair author, to come pick him up from the Press Club, where he had been watching the election count with the aid of Krug and the US Embassy.

Found him chatting to the Swiss ambassador, G'day, I said, and he smiled back.

I helped Ken into the car, dismantled his wheelchair, and we set off, to the sound of McCain's concession speech. I thought he was very gracious in defeat. I can't say that I've been paying much attention to what they have to say, but over the past few days, McCain was sounding very much like a loser, and this really just underlined the campaign.

But a good speech, nonetheless.

I dropped Ken off at The Canberra Times and he hurried inside to hear Obama's speech. You ever see a wheelchairman go through a revolving door? Ken did it with style and grace.

Which doesn't come close to summing up Obama's victory speech. Man, if he can govern the way he can orate, the USA is in for some good times!

It was electrifying. Even the parts that were pretty much mandatory were great. Thanks to my running mate, my wife etc.... That puppy's going to go down in history.

History was woven into the speech. You could almost see Lincoln looking on with an approving eye, the triumph of democracy manifest after two centuries of struggle and division, an example to the world.

I had a call to Parliament House, and my passenger was a little late. I sat outside and listened to the final minutes of the speech, and when it was over, my man came hurrying up. He'd been inside listening. Palaces and Parliaments.

We talked about Obama and his speech. "Everything changes, and everything stays the same," he said.

I thought about this. Really, all the USA has done is elect a young, articulate, charismatic President. Shades of John Kennedy. His racial background is as unimportant as Kennedy's Catholicism. The promise has long been that any American could be elected President, and the theory is proven to be reality. Big deal.

But I cannot help but think, what an inspiration! What a splendid example to set. How many young people, wondering at the unfairness and inequality of the world must now be rubbing out a part of the old way of seeing things? How many girls are dreaming of glories to come? And come they will.

Bless you, America. May fortune smile and may the present difficulties melt away. And may other nations, other cultures, other dreams take heart.

And may my American friends sleep well, dream of glories to come, and wake full of spirit and hope.

For me, I'm going to make sure that I have an hour of leisure to watch his inauguration in January. There will be a speech for the ages, something to remember.

After that, the rest of the day was an anticlimax. On the airport rank, two other cabbies discussed Obama's win. They were conscious of history being made.

The passengers talked of their affairs, of weather and travel and local politics. And I dreamed of my brief moments in the USA. Chicago, where Obama made his speech. Harlem in New York, where every face must be smiling today. And Washington DC, where the future face of the presidency in the National Portrait Gallery will surely be reflecting happy, hopeful, thoughtful and thankful Americans.

Glance


Glance
Originally uploaded by skyring
The girls were gorgeous. And, for a pleasant change, so were the guys.

Melbourne Cup day in Canberra, and the racecourse is the place to see and be seen, to drink and get drunk.

Outfits were chosen and bought days, weeks, months ahead, to turn heads.

I barely knew where to look when waiting for a fare. It was full on all night, a pleasant change from the usual slow Tuesday PM shift. I ferried people from the races to clubs, I ferried them home, I took a break by picking up passengers at the airport, and towards the end I was counting the dickheads.

By midnight, the drunks who had been grogging on since noon were getting very ratty indeed. I had one young lady who commandeered my cab to collect her boyfriend from where he had been playing the pokies. She was upset that he'd stolen money from her handbag, mislaid her house keys, spent the holiday with his mates instead of her, failed to inform her of what he was doing, and asked her to buy him a meal and then not shown up for it. He appeared out of the darkness, very drunk, clutching a fresh Big Mac, which he proceeded to eat in my cab, whilst proclaiming he had done nothing wrong and was the perfect boyfriend.

"Just shut up and go to sleep," she ordered, but no, he kept on shoving his foot fair in his mouth.

And, when we reached home, he made her pay for the cab ride.

I gave her a few words of comfort when I wished her goodnight, before picking the scraps of lettuce off the backseat, and turfing the hamburger container.

From then on, every time I got near a rank, I looked to see if the next passengers were carrying a sack of fast food. If they were, they didn't get to ride with me.

A little later I picked up two footballers, well in their cups, who asked me to drive through McDonalds and were miffed when I refused. One chap was totally lost, though that didn't stop him giving me directions, and couldn't remember which of the women who had given him their phone numbers he was seeing. "She's got big bazongas," he said, "but I can't remember her name."

She was waiting for him when we reached the address, leapt into the back seat with him and gave every sign of not wanting to wait until she got to his house.

Thank goodness youthful hormones can overcome common sense, eh? Otherwise the planet would belong to the horses.

Me, I'd had two of the three dickheads that would end my night early, and I didn't bother trying too hard for the third. The main rank was full of young men, full of beer and empty of pocket, but too many of them were munching slices of pizza to interest me. So I called it a two dickhead night and spent some productive time polishing my wheels instead of carting ratty drunks home.

Final fares


Waiting for a cab
Originally uploaded by skyring
I'm back in my cab, on the night shift. Glory globetrotting days are over now, at least for this year.

Some mixed blessings.

Paul, fellow Silver Service driver, has moved to the day shift. That means that I'll miss his company in the idle times. We'd climb into each other's cab at the airport or on a lonely city rank at two in the morning and just chatter away happily, swapping cabbie yarns, listening to Mark Knopfler.

There's nobody on the night shift half as entertaining. Maybe I shall concentrate on the job now.

The flip side is that I've got a new night driver. Paul.

It's been a long while since I had a really good day driver. One who was more than just driving the cab when I wasn't.

Of course, the down side of the flip side is that we'll be ships in the night from now on. When I start work at three in the arvo, I'm fresh and happy to chat. At three in the morning it's a different matter, and I'm ready for sleep. Often I'll fail to make the full twelve hours, especially when the last passenger of the shift is a bit "iffy".

I've had three of these. One night, I was second on the main rank, about two in the morning, keen for someone, anyone to walk up and get in my cab.

A chap leaned into the passenger window of the cab ahead and conversed with the driver. Obviously without satisfaction, as he gave up and came back to me. Now, while I'm always wary of the passengers other cabbies reject, sometimes I've had some positive experiences. They might not always have the money for the full fare, but they are rewarding in other ways.

This bloke didn't look too bad. The fact that he spoke through clenched teeth, making it hard to understand what he was saying, was a drawback. But he didn't look too bad, and I allowed him in.

"Where to?'

In the meantime another drunk had walked up to the cab in front, and he was pulling away.

"Where he's going."

This was a bit odd, but I figured maybe the other fellow was someone staying at the same hotel.

So we tailed the other cab until they pulled up at a private house, the passenger paid the cabbie and got out, and my passenger sat in the back seat and went to sleep.

I woke him up and asked for a destination, but I could get no sense out of him. A locality in Queensland was the most specific direction, and that was out of the question. Some of my passengers, I'll happily drive across the country with them, but not this guy.

I headed back into the city, aiming for the police station. I knew the police wouldn't be much immediate help, but my passenger didn't know that.

He "talked me into" dropping him back at the main cab rank, and I was happy to oblige. Of course he didn't pay me, but I was glad to gas up and go home without any further trouble.

Next night I got an earful from the other cabbie, who had been worried for both of us.

This was the Thursday night, what they call "Uni night" for all the university students coming in for the cheap drinks. Not my favorite night, because although students are generally fine and entertaining folk, uni night is always less predictable than other nights. Thursday night drunks might be ordinary people who have had twice as much to drink as they should, due to the half price drinks. Or they might be cheapskates who are drunk in the regular fashion.

I made my way to the head of the rank, and this chap leans in the window. Young fellow, he was.

"Can you take me around to Mooseheads, collect my friend, and take us to ANU?"

Mooseheads is a nearby bar, and ANU is the Australian National University, a ten dollar cab fare away. Now, we're not supposed to pick up or drop off outside Mooseheads, and occasionally the Gestapo rouse at us.

But if I had one passenger in the car and another ready to jump in, I figured that was good enough to flummox the nazis.

'Your mate's ready to go?" I asked.

"Standing outside," he agreed.

So we went around the block to Mooseheads. My passenger sees his friend on the pavement, we pull up, he gets out, opens the back door, and goes to get her, leaving me empty in the forbidden zone, two passenger side doors standing open. Great.

Three drunks approach. A vacant cab, ready to go - jut what they need. They climb in, and I have to shoo them out, "Sorry, I'm booked."

Then I see my passenger's friend. She's drunk to the point of needing to be supported, and arguing about leaving the party. It's a continuous entertainment outside Mooseheads after midnight, almost as much of an event as inside the bar.

Double great. An unwilling, staggering drunk throwing up on my back seat. But, I'm vacant, there's no traffic...

I hit the gas and pull out into the street, the speed of my departure snapping the doors shut to the sounds of outrage and dismay behind me.

Monday night was another interesting final fare. About two in the morning, and it was dead quiet. I’d actually given up and gassed up. Vacuumed out the car, moving my money bag from its position hanging from the indicator stalk into the centre console so I wouldn’t inadvertently vacuum up my earnings for the night.

Nice clean car, full of gas for Paul, and I headed home, taking one last swing through the main rank, just in case. No cabs waiting on this lonely night, but to my surprise a couple of middle aged gents flagged me down.

“Statesman Hotel in Curtin,” said the one who hopped into the front seat. There is the Statesman, the Embassy in Deakin and the Diplomat in Kingston, and I have to be careful not to get them confused in my mind.

He was a cabbie from Sydney, it turned out, and we chatted all the way to his hotel. “I drive the Eastern Suburbs,” he said, and I said that I was very sorry to hear it. I’d hate to be a cabbie in Sydney. No kangaroos, but rougher clients, heavier traffic and more competition.

We pulled into the hotel reception, and the fare was twenty-one dollars. “Can you make me a receipt for twenty-five? The boss is paying for this trip.” he said.

“Thanks!” I said “You’re as bad as I am - I always tip cabbies when I’m travelling.”

I put the notes in the empty beverage holder and bent down to print him up his receipt, then waved him off with a smile. I always like having a brother cabby for a passenger.

Got home and remembered that twenty-five dollars as I was tidying away my gear. Hmmm. Where did I put it? Not in my shirt pocket, not in my money bag because that was in the console, not in the side pocket...

And it wasn’t in the beverage holder. My chatty passenger must have lifted it when I wasn’t looking. Not only had he scored a free ride off me, he’d be reimbursed by “the boss”.

And last night, bloody bloody bloody. First time I've ever hit my panic button for real.

Sitting on the main rank, 0ne thirty in the morning, maybe a dozen cabs left on the road. Not much business that hour, but enough to keep me going. This bloke hops in and says "Gowrie".

That's all. Not a word out of him otherwise, no chat, no nothing. He's about my size, covered in tattoos, shaven head, shorts and t-shirt. I'm feeling very nervous. This is not my normal passenger. At one stage I glance over at him and he's looking directly at me. I return my eyes to the road, but I'm feeling grateful for the presence of my panic button, mounted in a convenient location.

If I press it, base gets an alert, the security camera and microphone go live broadcasting back to the control centre, and other taxis are steered to my location if base thinks the situation needs it.

I'm very nervous about my passenger. Every move he makes, I wonder if he's reaching for a weapon. His attitude is totally alien and I'm wondering if this is the one. By rights, I should be making excuses to stop the car in a well-lit area and get him out, but realistically, he's done nothing wrong. He doesn't even seem overly drunk.

We get to Gowrie, a suburb in the middle of Tuggeranong in Canberra's south, and he directs me into a cul de sac, just "left" and "right" in a whisper.

"I've just got to get out here," he says, getting out. I give him a look. I've heard this before. He'll be off and running.

But he gets out and walks to a nearby house, a darkened house, going into the backyard and poking about. I wait a few minutes on the off-chance he's going to come back with some money.

To my surprise, he comes back, but instead of pulling out some money, he sits down again, closes the door, and says "Chisholm", directing me a few suburbs further south, where we go through the same performance. This is just weird.

He then says, "home, now" and off we go, further south, right to the very bottom of Canberra. I'm sweating now, and when he directs me off into a side street and we go around in a circle, I jack up, stopping the car, pointing out that he's given me no final address, he obviously doesn't have a clue where he's going, he's racked up seventy odd dollars and I need some firm directions.

He directs me onwards, but by this stage, I'm ignoring him, and follow his directions to the point where they diverge from the best way to the all night police station in Tuggeranong.

He questions me when I go left instead of right, and says he needs to go to the hospital for an injection. By this stage I am completely freaked out, ready to leap out of the cab if he makes a quick move, and I've had enough of this rubbish.

We pull up outside the police station and I explain the situation again, saying that he's directed me all over Canberra, he's racked up eighty four dollars, and I'm not going any further without payment.

He slowly brings out a wallet, empty of everything except a couple of cards, and offers me a bank card, which is old and battered and rejected by the bank when the handset makes contact.

I tell him this, and there we are. I'm on the edge of my seat and his attitude seems threatening, so my finger finally pushes the panic button. Maybe I could have tried to gain the attention of the police inside, but I didn't want to leave the cab and its security cameras without a direct attack, and I was totally wound up from an hour of driving around with this guy.

There was no change in the cameras or computer, but I knew they were live and I explained the situation again for the benefit of base. They must have spread the alarm, because within a few minutes there were cabs all around me, and Dragan was looming in the window. Big beefy bald-headed Dragan! I was so glad to see him. I heard later that as soon as the message had gone out that I was in trouble, he'd gone flying down the parkway, lights on high beam, passing everything. If he got a ticket from that, I'd gladly pay it.

He fetched the police and they took us all inside, where it was all sorted out. My passenger was well known to them, and was a registered mental patient - the other card in his wallet explained this. They promised they'd get him to the hospital, and that he would pay the fare when he could. I wasn't really too fussed about the fare, just glad that it had ended happily.

I drove home, full of adrenaline, gassed the car up and passed it onto Paul, waiting patiently at three in the morning. I apologised for the delay, and then went to bed, sleep to follow.

Hard to describe my feelings in words, but it had been the most tense hour of my taxidriving career. Anger and threats wouldn't have rattled me as much. It was the tension, and the uncertainty as we drove around in the dark deserted hours, looking out of the corners of my eyes for the flash of a knife from a passenger who was really doing no more than acting weird.

Last rides


Waiting for a cab
Originally uploaded by skyring
I'm back in my cab, on the night shift. Glory globetrotting days are over now, at least for this year.

Some mixed blessings.

Paul, fellow Silver Service driver, has moved to the day shift. That means that I'll miss his company in the idle times. We'd climb into each other's cab at the airport or on a lonely city rank at two in the morning and just chatter away happily, swapping cabbie yarns, listening to Mark Knopfler.

There's nobody on the night shift half as entertaining. Maybe I shall concentrate on the job now.

The flip side is that I've got a new night driver. Paul.

It's been a long while since I had a really good day driver. One who was more than just driving the cab when I wasn't.

Of course, the down side of the flip side is that we'll be ships in the night from now on. When I start work at three in the arvo, I'm fresh and happy to chat. At three in the morning it's a different matter, and I'm ready for sleep. Often I'll fail to make the full twelve hours, especially when the last passenger of the shift is a bit "iffy".

I've had three of these. One night, I was second on the main rank, about two in the morning, keen for someone, anyone to walk up and get in my cab.

A chap leaned into the passenger window of the cab ahead and conversed with the driver. Obviously without satisfaction, as he gave up and came back to me. Now, while I'm always wary of the passengers other cabbies reject, sometimes I've had some positive experiences. They might not always have the money for the full fare, but they are rewarding in other ways.

This bloke didn't look too bad. The fact that he spoke through clenched teeth, making it hard to understand what he was saying, was a drawback. But he didn't look too bad, and I allowed him in.

"Where to?'

In the meantime another drunk had walked up to the cab in front, and he was pulling away.

"Where he's going."

This was a bit odd, but I figured maybe the other fellow was someone staying at the same hotel.

So we tailed the other cab until they pulled up at a private house, the passenger paid the cabbie and got out, and my passenger sat in the back seat and went to sleep.

I woke him up and asked for a destination, but I could get no sense out of him. A locality in Queensland was the most specific direction, and that was out of the question. Some of my passengers, I'll happily drive across the country with them, but not this guy.

I headed back into the city, aiming for the police station. I knew the police wouldn't be much immediate help, but my passenger didn't know that.

He "talked me into" dropping him back at the main cab rank, and I was happy to oblige. Of course he didn't pay me, but I was glad to gas up and go home without any further trouble.

Next night I got an earful from the other cabbie, who had been worried for both of us.

This was the Thursday night, what they call "Uni night" for all the university students coming in for the cheap drinks. Not my favorite night, because although students are generally fine and entertaining folk, uni night is always less predictable than other nights. Thursday night drunks might be ordinary people who have had twice as much to drink as they should, due to the half price drinks. Or they might be cheapskates who are drunk in the regular fashion.

I made my way to the head of the rank, and this chap leans in the window. Young fellow, he was.

"Can you take me around to Mooseheads, collect my friend, and take us to ANU?"

Mooseheads is a nearby bar, and ANU is the Australian National University, a ten dollar cab fare away. Now, we're not supposed to pick up or drop off outside Mooseheads, and occasionally the Gestapo rouse at us.

But if I had one passenger in the car and another ready to jump in, I figured that was good enough to flummox the nazis.

'Your mate's ready to go?" I asked.

"Standing outside," he agreed.

So we went around the block to Mooseheads. My passenger sees his friend on the pavement, we pull up, he gets out, opens the back door, and goes to get her, leaving me empty in the forbidden zone, two passenger side doors standing open. Great.

Three drunks approach. A vacant cab, ready to go - jut what they need. They climb in, and I have to shoo them out, "Sorry, I'm booked."

Then I see my passenger's friend. She's drunk to the point of needing to be supported, and arguing about leaving the party. It's a continuous entertainment outside Mooseheads after midnight, almost as much of an event as inside the bar.

Double great. An unwilling, staggering drunk throwing up on my back seat. But, I'm vacant, there's no traffic...

I hit the gas and pull out into the street, the speed of my departure snapping the doors shut to the sounds of outrage and dismay behind me.

And last night, bloody bloody bloody. First time I've ever hit my panic button for real.

Sitting on the main rank, 0ne thirty in the morning, maybe a dozen cabs left on the road. Not much business that hour, but enough to keep me going. This bloke hops in and says "Gowrie".

That's all. Not a word out of him otherwise, no chat, no nothing. He's about my size, covered in tattoos, shaven head, shorts and t-shirt. I'm feeling very nervous. This is not my normal passenger. At one stage I glance over at him and he's looking directly at me. I return my eyes to the road, but I'm feeling grateful for the presence of my panic button, mounted in a convenient location.

If I press it, base gets an alert, the security camera and microphone go live broadcasting back to the control centre, and other taxis are steered to my location if base thinks the situation needs it.

I'm very nervous about my passenger. Every move he makes, I wonder if he's reaching for a weapon. His attitude is totally alien and I'm wondering if this is the one. By rights, I should be making excuses to stop the car in a well-lit area and get him out, but realistically, he's done nothing wrong. He doesn't even seem overly drunk.

We get to Gowrie, a suburb in the middle of Tuggeranong in Canberra's south, and he directs me into a cul de sac, just "left" and "right" in a whisper.

"I've just got to get out here," he says, getting out. I give him a look. I've heard this before. He'll be off and running.

But he gets out and walks to a nearby house, a darkened house, going into the backyard and poking about. I wait a few minutes on the off-chance he's going to come back with some money.

To my surprise, he comes back, but instead of pulling out some money, he sits down again, closes the door, and says "Chisholm", directing me a few suburbs further south, where we go through the same performance. This is just weird.

He then says, "home, now" and off we go, further south, right to the very bottom of Canberra. I'm sweating now, and when he directs me off into a side street and we go around in a circle, I jack up, stopping the car, pointing out that he's given me no final address, he obviously doesn't have a clue where he's going, he's racked up seventy odd dollars and I need some firm directions.

He directs me onwards, but by this stage, I'm ignoring him, and follow his directions to the point where they diverge from the best way to the all night police station in Tuggeranong.

He questions me when I go left instead of right, and says he needs to go to the hospital for an injection. By this stage I am completely freaked out, ready to leap out of the cab if he makes a quick move, and I've had enough of this rubbish.

We pull up outside the police station and I explain the situation again, saying that he's directed me all over Canberra, he's racked up eighty four dollars, and I'm not going any further without payment.

He slowly brings out a wallet, empty of everything except a couple of cards, and offers me a bank card, which is old and battered and rejected by the bank when the handset makes contact.

I tell him this, and there we are. I'm on the edge of my seat and his attitude seems threatening, so my finger finally pushes the panic button. Maybe I could have tried to gain the attention of the police inside, but I didn't want to leave the cab and its security cameras without a direct attack, and I was totally wound up from an hour of driving around with this guy.

There was no change in the cameras or computer, but I knew they were live and I explained the situation again for the benefit of base. They must have spread the alarm, because within a few minutes there were cabs all around me, and Dragan was looming in the window. Big beefy bald-headed Dragan! I was so glad to see him. I heard later that as soon as the message had gone out that I was in trouble, he'd gone flying down the parkway, lights on high beam, passing everything. If he got a ticket from that, I'd gladly pay it.

He fetched the police and they took us all inside, where it was all sorted out. My passenger was well known to them, and was a registered mental patient - the other card in his wallet explained this. They promised they'd get him to the hospital, and that he would pay the fare when he could. I wasn't really too fussed about the fare, just glad that it had ended happily.

I drove home, full of adrenaline, gassed the car up and passed it onto Paul, waiting patiently at three in the morning. I apologised for the delay, and then went to bed, sleep to follow.

Hard to describe my feelings in words, but it had been the most tense hour of my taxidriving career. Anger and threats wouldn't have rattled me as much. It was the tension, and the uncertainty as we drove around in the dark deserted hours, looking out of the corners of my eyes for the flash of a knife from a passenger who was really doing no more than acting weird.

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