If there’s one thing you get used to when jet setting round the world leading the glamorous life of a consultant, it’s taxi drivers. Taxi drivers are very much like consultants. They squabble over your custom, take you round the world for a shortcut, talk crap for the entire journey and then charge you too much at the other end. Seriously though, a taxi driver can make or break your day. It’s the taxi driver who tells you where the good restaurants and bars are – or not, as the case may be, if you have a project based in Bexhill On Sea. Yes. It has happened. A taxi driver knows where your office is, your hotel is and (hopefully) gets you to the airport on time to get your flight. Most importantly, a taxi driver takes you home when you land and gives you blank receipts for expenses if you’ve been having a hard week and/or they fancy you.
My first taxi of the day is from my home to the airport to catch the first flight to wherever I need to be. Let me set the scene. I am wearing a suit. I am carrying a laptop bag. I have a generic corporate briefcase. I am carrying the highest scoring frequent flyer’s card that you can get and yet every time, EVERY TIME
“You off somewhere nice on holiday?” the driver asks me.
My answer is always standard and incorporates the fact that I’m dressed to go to work and carrying a work bag and you guys drive me to the airport every Monday morning to get to work. The question doubly riles me because I’d flippin’ love a holiday. Having it waved in my face by my taxi-driver whilst on my way to another week to Beelzebub Pleasure Park doesn’t set me up for the morning.
The next journey I have to make is usually when I get off the plane. In this instance, myself and a colleague had been in the airport from 0530h for a 0700 flight which was delayed 2 hours. We landed, angry and irritated and with our manager bawling us off down the phone to have “foreseen this” and come over the night before. We clambered into the cab, trolley cases akimbo, my comrade dropped his wallet and I think I poked a hole in my new coat lining with my watch hand turner knob thing.
The driver ripped forth with a broad “yo-ho there, where you two suits off to then?” before flooring the accelerator and narrowly missing a postbox. I swallowed my breakfast which had came up.
“I got this cab in 1992,” he announced, before we had informed him of our destination. “I have to clean it every day, drunks, bloody drunks”
“Er, can we go to the High St?” (obviously not, just being elusive) I interrupted.
“Yes, and it’s awful, right were you’re sitting now some kid was heaving over it. All cleaned up now though, it’s a pain at 5am but it needs doing.”
At this point it clicked that we had nabbed this driver from the nightshift – the vomit had been right there just hours before and all it had seen was a sponge and soapy water. I wondered just how much amphetamines he’d consumed to keep him going. He continued in earnest whilst I dried to concentrate on antiseptic thoughts. How he got the vehicle, how he fixed it up – even how often he replaced the handles. By the time I arrived at my destination I was throughly exhausted and an SME in taxi repair. My colleague got the cab fare and I noted that he didn’t tip too generously.
It was bad enough first thing but even worse last thing. In the morning, you are just tired. In the evening, you’re tired, hungry, overworked and in pain from lugging your life in a wheely-bag so unsuspecting taxi drivers have been known to find the sharper side of my tongue. After a two hour train commute to client site, a ten hour day then another two hour train commute back to the hotel and then (yes, there is more) a 4h train commute to my next client site for the next day I was not in the most gracious of moods. The taxi driver who found me at 0130h wrestling with my trench coat stuck in my bag zip landed himself in it when he proceeded to talk about the weather for the duration of our 45minute commute.
“Having a degree in science, I consider myself reasonably well informed about rain…” “…and the hydrological cycle,” I added. Just to be doubly obnoxious.
Up to that point I had managed to get by with those strange groans and grunts that sound like they come from a chronically ill calf but I wanted to mitigate the chance that he would want more interaction.
The next day I was making the reverse journey. My flight left in exactly eighty minutes. It was rush hour. I hopped into a cab and requested the airport ASAP, but in a nice and jovial way. I’d cut things this fine before. He trundled off in third gear. And stayed there. After half an hour, I asked how much longer the journey was going to take. I knew it was about forty five minutes total from my taxi journey with Michael Fish the night before and I had allowed a bit for rush hour. Note – the airport was beside the train station. Just for those curious as to why these buildings seemed to be the same thing.
“Oh, er, you’re taking about another half hour minimum. It is rush hour you know.”
I did know, but I also knew that the road was empty for the foreseeable several hundred meters.
“I know, I appreciate it. I don’t mean to put pressure on you…it’s just, well, can’t get go even a little faster, I have a flight to catch and I know you guys can get me there in no time, it’s why I don’t use prebooks.”
He said nothing and continued on at his usual place. More nervous now, I interrupted his peaceful driving.
“Look, If you can get me to the airport in half an hour, that leaves me ten minutes to get to the gate. I can do it in ten minutes – I just need to get there. I’ll give you £50 if you can do it.”
Fourth gear. Better, better.
So, anyway, I made it to the airport. I even got one of the special boarding passes that are given to particularly late people. My bank account was also a good bit lighter after that expedition. I have since developed a series of the most uninteresting topics in the world which with whom I wax lyrical at taxi drivers in order to discourage them from conversation. They include: “The harvest pattern of spring wheat” “how tarmac is made” and “the bones in the hand.”
Sometimes I just pretend not to speak English. It’s that exciting.