Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Scenes from a taxi

  • 17 December 2008

I'm not a supporter of the view that cab drivers are sources of homespun wisdom and arcane knowledge about issues of the day. My own experience of them over many years does not bear this out.

The cabbies I encountered in The Big Apple, for example, where the stereotype surely was born, were aggressive (towards other cabs, road users in general, pedestrians, tourists, the world) or sullen — except for one who talked in shouted announcements, as if we were travelling in a tractor and he had to overcome the engine noise.

His message, bellowed over his shoulder, was that pretty well the entire rest of the human race were fuckin' lowlifes, but he differed from his lugubrious colleagues in that he had one, much-repeated piece of good news.

Many times, he told me, he had picked up in his cab the writer, Kurt Vonnegut. The truth was, he said during perhaps his sixth or seventh reference to this famous passenger, that he — the cabbie — had actually given Vonnegut the idea for his novel, Slaughterhouse Five, and provided him with much of the story.

The slightest suggestion on my part of a failure to swallow this outlandish claim would, I could see clearly, enrol me among the lowlifes. So, what the hell, I just nodded and went through a revolting charade of being massively impressed until I could pay my fare and escape his mobile shrine to contemporary American literature.

I briefly considered yelling at him, from a safe distance, 'When Dresden was bombed, you weren't even thought of, you fuckin' lowlife liar, so how could you give Vonnegut his plot?' but anyway I didn't, partly because, well, that's not me, and partly because he would have driven straight up on to the sidewalk and crashed me through the steamy window of the bagel joint we just happened to be alongside at the time. This was New York, after all.

Australian cabbies are in general an amiable, diverse lot. They are not given to philosophy, though I encountered one spectacular exception who, once I was settled and we were on our way, said, 'If God is perfect and free from defect then he must exist because not existing would be a defect. Whaddya reckon?'

And when it comes to politics, their attitude is one of generalised complaint in the ironic Australian manner — or, even more attractive, in the blunt multiculturally Australian manner. As one