About Town – Of Cabs and Conversations

Sometime last week, I found myself waiting in what was wet, grey and windy weather – typical summer fare for this part of the world – waiting for a taxi I had requested.  As I had arrived downstairs a few minutes after 8.30 am when I had ordered the taxi for, I was a little uncertain as to if he had been and left or was yet to arrive. He turned up at 8.40 am, by which time I had come close to phoning the taxi company to confirm if I had missed my ride. The cab ride which followed – all 45 minutes of it – was spent in a gloomy silence, the tension in the taxi palpable. I’m sure he meant no ill, much as I didn’t either but something about the circumstances under which we met seemed to have soured our taxi driver-passenger relationship. That he had all sorts of weird tattoos on his arms, drove with only one hand on the steering wheel and stared straight ahead didn’t help break the ice either, I suspect.

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Due to a variety of reasons, I spend a significant amount of time in cabs these days. The main driver for this is having to support multiple projects and gather input from a number of vendors and suppliers across town. This allied to my ‘refusal’ to drive during the week means a lot of my work related travel during the week is by cabs. There isn’t a philosophical point behind not driving during the week; there is a practical one though. Not driving allows me avoid the hassles of trying to find city centre parking on a weekday as well as ticking the thirty minutes of exercise a day box. There is also the small matter of the extra cash my employer gives me in support of my ecological choices as an incentive. 🙂

In the main I find that cab drivers can be great talkers; keen to share their knowledge of the city and the ‘shire, and how those have changed over the years. More often than not, those conversations end up centred around the weather, football and past and future holidays. Politics, mainly the slagging off of politicians, makes an appearance on the odd occasion we decide we want to engage in less fluffy stuff. These make for an often congenial, if conspiratorial atmosphere with off colour jokes often excused. Swearing is almost a given in these conversations, particularly where football or other road users – deeply emotive subjects from the sounds of it – are involved.

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Thankfully, the two other occasions I needed to take cabs last week panned out much better. On one occasion, I got a boisterous Hungarian for company for the drive up the A96 to Blackburn. There was plenty to yak about – the fallout of the Brexit vote (he was worried about his fate as an EU National who had lived in the UK for less than 6 months), the weather (apparently it was in the high twenties in Hungary whilst the thermometer barely touched fifteen degrees out here), football (Ferenc Puskas perhaps the first true football great was Hungarian) and the global war on terror (his mate back in Hungary who is a military reservist had been called in for exercises). On a personal note, he recommended a holiday in Debrecen to me. The selling point? Hungarian women like foreign men..

The other occasion featured a once-retired IT Engineer who had built a business selling copiers in the early 90’s before selling up and retiring. Bored with the retired life, he had taken to taxi driving as a side gig to keep himself busy for when he wasn’t traveling to visit what sounded like a large extended family. It turned out he was headed to Bulgaria on holiday in a few weeks, which was the cue for more Brexit focused natter. The slow cab market, following the decline of oil did make an appearance. The decidedly pedestrian performance put up by the Aberdeen football club in Luxembourg the other day, resulting in a skin of the bum 3-2 aggregate win was a sore subject with taxi driver number two, particularly given the fact that last season seemed like a missed opportunity as Celtic limped to a title they seemed keener to throw away than wrap up. There’s nothing like good football based natter to lift the soul – everyone this side of the pond has an opinion on all things football related after all.

All told, by the time the week ended, my faith in the taxi driver as a source of information and great banter was restored. All’s well with the world again..  🙂

Cabbie Conversations

On a typical day, the scene that meets the eye at the head of the airport taxi rank is one of barely controlled chaos – the line of passengers snaking along into the distance, two or three cabs pulling up every few minutes to whittle away at the edgy crowd and the harried dispatcher somehow managing to maintain a semblance of sanity in the middle of it all defining the mad half hour immediately following the arrival of an inbound flight. Today there is a line of taxis and no passengers waiting. Two men – and a woman – stand at the head of the taxi rank, talking. Their conversation is deep and intense – there are hands flailing about, gesturing wildly and a few guffaws here and there – such that I have to clear my throat to attract their attention. At the second time of clearing my throat, I succeed. They split up like people surprised, maybe even a little guilty. The woman – who must be the dispatcher given her fluorescent yellow jacket – waves me  in the direction of  the car at the head of the line, a jet black Audi. One of the men standing and chatting turns out to be the driver, his keys remotely  popping the trunk as I dump my bags and as he makes his way to  the driver’s side of the car.

Traffic is light as we make our way off the taxi rank and join the road towards town. At first we ride in silence, me fiddling with my phone, he keeping his eyes trained on the road. When he speaks, his choice of ice breaker is to ask where I have come in from. He guesses London – I correct him  – Manchester. I add that it was boiling hot, almost summer-ish out there. He smiles – a neither here nor there version that reeks of resignation. Through the windscreen, the sight is one of grey clouds, overcast. The road itself has the slight sheen that can only have been from a light shower.

Hasn’t really been warm up here, he says, in response to my question as to how it has been up here. Not that I would know, he adds. He goes on to explain that he is the designated carer for his 86 year old mother. Taxi driving – this gig – is his diversion, his chance to escape he says, to get air and space. Feisty woman she is though. Between her and my wife, I get all the orders I need to obey.  I nod sagely through it all and laugh out loud at the gag about getting orders. We moan mutually about wives and being ordered about – my imagination standing me in good stead.

Weather gripe done, we move on to our next favourite subject – holidays. I explain Manchester wasn’t a holiday for me – exams, I add. Corrosion and Materials – when he probes further. That brings a glint to his eyes. His son works in the rust business too, or used to, before decamping to the subsea projects world. The bugger is well paid from the looks of it he says. One senses a slight element of resentment beneath the pride.

We talk a bit more as we inch forward through the traffic towards the Huadagain round about, Aberdeen’s best known traffic bottle neck. Over the course of the next ten minutes he muses about his early offshore career – pressure testing subsea modules for the Brents 30+ years ago, being involved in a few other commissioning projects before returning to the tried and tested fishing boat. I might have made a ton of money myself if I’d stayed working offshore, he says a hint of regret in his office.

I mention that the Brents are being prepared for decommissioning as we speak – end of life and such like. It’s a life time since his days. By now we are parked outside my flat. I thank him, pay the fare, £17.20 – he gives me change back unlike his compatroiot down south – and get out to grab my bags, life, death and re-birth taking centre stage in mind all over again.