My destination is set towards my Bondi home when I get a job offer in Bondi Junction. I wonder if it’s worth the bother, knowing it’s likely to only be a $6 trip. I decide I may as well take it – especially as my current motto is: “Something’s better than nothing.” Allie, a young woman in her twenties, hops in the front. Sure enough, her destination is ‘Pepe’s’, a restaurant not even two k’s down Bondi Road. It’s also near my flat – so I’m glad I took the job. I turn to her. “My wife’s been to Pepe’s. She said it was fantastic.” Allie matter of factly states, “It’s vegan.” I nod, confirming I’m aware of this. I then slow down as a wispy bearded hipster ambles across the road. Allie shouts: “Kill him!” Whoa – that’s a first – no passenger has ever ordered me to run anyone over. “Uh – yeah – I think I’ll pass on that.” Allie sighs. “That’s why I can’t drive anywhere.” I laugh. “Good. I don’t think I want you driving on the road, especially if I’m crossing it.” She shrugs. “I’d never actually do it. But it’s good to shout it out and release some positive energy into the universe.” I’m unsure if I’ve heard her properly. How in the hell is shouting out, “Kill him!” releasing positive energy? She’s seriously kooky. We pass another hipster on a bicycle. Allie turns to keep her eye on him. “That guy’s off with the pixies.” I wonder if that’s worthy of a death sentence in the eyes of Allie the Blood Thirsty Vegan. Or if saying that he’s off with pixies is just releasing more of her positive energy into the universe. I turn the corner and drop her off. “Okay – here you go.” She looks down the street. “So it’s just there?” I nod. “Yep.” She hops out and says, “Have a good night.” “Yes – you too.” I watch her walk down the footpath, hoping she never gets behind the wheel anywhere near me.
It’s five thirty on a Friday. Rush hour. I drop someone off at the Rocks and immediately get a job further up the road at a five-star hotel. Two women climb in the back. I swipe my phone and Homebush appears as our destination. “Whoa – we’ve got a bit of a trip ahead of us – especially in this traffic.” “Yes,” replies one of the women, “we’re off to the Harry Styles concert. But no hurry. We’ve got plenty of time.” “Great. It’s saying it’ll take the good part of an hour. So, you’re fans of Harry then?” The woman nods. “Yes. My daughter and I have flown over from Auckland to see him tonight. It’s her eighteenth birthday present.” For the first time I notice the age difference between the two. “Wow – that’s quite the pressie – flying here just to see Harry.” The daughter pipes up. “Oh – we’ve already seen three of his shows in New Zealand. And after this we fly to Adelaide and then Perth for his concerts there.” Say what now? “Really – you guys are following his whole tour?” “Yep – most of it.” Then the mother adds, “And shopping too – lots and lots of shopping. After all, you only turn eighteen once.” I smile and start to wonder who this is really for – the daughter or maybe mum? I’m reminded of my trip to the US years ago around my twenty-ninth birthday. My dad had moved back to Albuquerque and offered to fly me over and take us on a road trip from New Mexico, through Texas, to New Orleans for New Years Eve and up to Memphis for my birthday. I wanted to dip down into Mexico but dad was determined that we go via Austin to see some blues. After all, he had already dubbed the trip: ‘The Blues Cruise.’ I remember being especially surprised when we got to our hotel room in New Orleans to discover that there was only one bed. Dad looked down and said, “Oh yeah, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell ya.” (I bet this mother and daughter aren’t even sharing rooms – let alone a bed). But maybe my strongest memory of that trip was from what normally would have been a fairly innocuous moment. We were on our way back, driving through the cotton fields of Mississippi. Looking out the window, I suddenly thought, “This trip will probably be the most special time I’ll ever share with my dad.” As I drop off the two Harry fans, I wonder if the daughter will have a similar moment of realisation. I hope so.
As an Uber driver, you get used to passengers talking to each other and ignoring you. At times, I enjoy being a fly on the wheel and eavesdropping on their conversations. But when these chats occur in another language, then I really feel like an outsider. What are they talking about? Me? Are they saying how crap the music is? Or wondering how old their grey haired driver might be? On one trip, my Chinese passengers actually started whispering to each other. What the? Why? Still, it was mildly amusing to have a literal ‘Chinese Whispers’ situation going on in the back. But on another occasion, my two Chinese passengers – a couple of international students I picked up near the University of NSW, weren’t bothering to whisper, happily yabbering away. As it was an Uber Pool trip, I had another pick up on the other side of the uni. I pulled over and a pale, big bodied woman in her early thirties got in the front. After the usual greeting, I drove off. She sat in silence, something a bit intense about her. The students continued their Chinese chit chat in the back until I dropped them off. Expecting the woman to remain intensely silent, I was surprised when she piped up. “Those two have no idea about women.” I turned to her. “Oh – is that right?” She shook her head. “No. One was saying that women only like you if you’re cool. The other agreed but then said that if you had money, it didn’t matter if you were cool or not – they’d still want to be with you.” I laughed. “So you understood them?” “Yes,” she replied, “I majored in Mandarin and lived in China for four years.” Ah – fantastic. I briefly consider asking if she’s available to accompany me on more trips. But in the end, decide such a request is way too creepy.
It’s my first fare on a weekday morning – just up the road in Bondi. A tall good looking guy in his early thirties hops in the front. I immediately notice that his right wrist is in a black brace. I think about asking him what the story is but decide against it. Poor guy is probably sick of answering questions about it. No doubt it’s something boring anyway – slipped and hurt his wrist while bracing his fall. So instead we end up talking about his work in Fiji – managing various construction projects. I ask if that’s challenging over there, given the local laid back lifestyle. “Oh yeah – sure is.” For some reason this seems to be the time to ask the unasked question. “So did you hurt your wrist over there?” He nods. “Yep.” “What happened, slipped and fell?” He shakes his head. “Nope. Shark got me.” What – the – fuck? “Really?” “Yep. Here – have a look.” He takes advantage of the car being stopped at a set of lights and undoes his brace. This reveals a knot of gnarled scarred flesh. Yuck. “Wow – he got you good. Are you ever going to have full use of it again?” He shakes his head. “No. But it’s amazing what they’ve been able to do so far.” “Right. And did they airlift you to hospital?” “Yes – then flew me to Australia. But when we landed, I had a heart attack so they had to give me CPR while lying in the aisle.” Bloody hell – this guy had been through it. “Wow. And I guess that’s the first time you’ve been attacked by a shark?” Another head shake. “Nah – probably about the third or fourth time.” “What? Really?” He nods. “Yep. But this time there were three at once. I was fighting two of them when their mate got me.” Oh my God – this dude is a bloody legend! “So how come you keep getting attacked? You do lots of diving?” “Yes – I’m a competitive spear fisherman.” Say what now? “Really – that’s a thing?” “Yep – been doing it for years. I used to live in the States and started getting into it there. Then I saw all these amazing huge fish people were spearing in Australia. Since my dad’s actually an Aussie, I had citizenship so I came here and have been spearing fish ever since.” Suddenly, the dude’s legendary status has been sullied. Sure, if he was a surfer and been attacked by three sharks and managed to fight two of them off Mick Fanning style, then good on him – instant Legend. But this guy went into the ocean armed with a weapon and shot lots of unsuspecting fish. So of course he’s going to attract sharks. Comes with the territory – their territory. Still, sullied legend or not, I feel pretty boring by comparison. Not likely to encounter many sharks driving an Uber.
Christmas eve, 2017, around six. So far the vibe has been upbeat – passengers in high spirits, a few perhaps full of spirits. I get a job in Ultimo. When I see an Asian dude in his thirties overloaded with gear, I jump out. One bag is especially challenging to get into the back of my Mazda – gotta be skis. Once we manage to fit everything in, I ask if he’s headed for the snow. “Yes,” he replies in an Aussie accent, “I’m off to Canada.” This of course sets me off on my much told spiel: how I was born in the Rocky Mountains, lived nine years in Canada but had my first downhill skiing experience in Australia in my mid thirties. My passenger nods, not seeming to give a shit. In fact, there’s something a bit off about his whole manner. I ask why he decided to leave now, destined to spend Christmas in the sky. “I only booked the trip yesterday.” “Really?” He nods lazily. “Yep. One-way ticket.” “Ah – not planning on coming back?” He shakes his head. “Nothing to come back to.” Oh-oh – sounds ominous. He continues. “I’ve worked non-stop for the last ten years. No holidays. No breaks. Had a little bar in George Street. But then the bastards start building the light rail. No one can get to my bar. So I have to lay off loyal staff who’ve been with me for years.” “Ah, sorry to hear that mate.” He shrugs. “Yeah, well, then my fiancé tells me it’s over and leaves me.” I grip the steering wheel. “Bloody hell!” He sighs. “So there’s nothing to keep me here. I’ll go to Canada, ski myself silly and then… who knows. Might volunteer in some developing country for awhile. Not coming back here though. Fuck the place.” We get to the airport and unload his gear. I wish him luck. Driving away, I can’t help but admire someone who’s willing to completely reboot his life. I hope it works.
I pull into the driveway of the Intercontinental in Double Bay. I think, as I do every time I pick someone up from this ritzy hotel, “This is where Michael Hutchence hung himself.” A long limbed woman climbs into the back. I turn to greet her. Wow. She’s gorgeous. Probably in her forties but mostly wrinkle free, her well nourished skin stretching over immaculately sculpted cheek bones. I ask her where she’s from. “California,” she replies in an odd, un-placeable accent. “I no longer consider myself American – for obvious reasons.” I laugh and we discuss what it’s like living in a country run by an orange faced toddler. I mention that she doesn’t sound very Californian and she confesses to originally being from Norway. Ah – this explains a face that’s possibly graced many a magazine cover – she’s a Viking Goddess. I ask her what she’s doing in Sydney. “I’m out here with my boyfriend – he’s a musician in a band.” I think for moment, double checking that we’re heading to Ultimo – not far from the ICC Theatre where a certain legend happens to be playing later that night. “Uh – your boyfriend – he doesn’t play with Bob Dylan by any chance?” The Goddess nods nonchalantly. “Yes. He’s his steel guitar player.” I do my best to play it cool. “Whoa – that’s fucking awesome!” I fail. She smiles. “So your boyfriend gets to play ‘Lay Lady Lay’ – maybe the best steel guitar song ever?” Again she nods. “Yes he does”. Feeling blessed at having access to someone from Planet Rock, I start yabbering away about recently seeing the ‘George Harrison: All Things Must Pass’ documentary. She agrees that it was amazing. I then mention ‘Rumble: Indians Who Rocked the World’ and she has not only seen it, but knows a number of the native Americans who were featured. We continue to chat until, far too soon, I drop her off at an Ultimo pub. “Thanks for the lift. Nice talking to you.” “Yes – you too. Oh – and say g’day to Bob for me.”
2019 is not quite half an hour old when I get my first Uber fare of the year. I am relatively refreshed after a break spent watching Sydney’s impressive fireworks on TV (though my teenage son was underwhelmed – “So overdone”). I’ve already had a busy and profitable night getting people to their respective NYE locations. But now, the other side of midnight, I expect things to kick up a gear or two. My first pick up is only a matter of blocks away from our place in Bondi. After a brief wait, two women clamour into the back. I smell them more than see them, alcohol fumes filling my Mazda. “Hello driver! Happy New Year!” I wish them both a happy new year and head off towards Chippendale. My passengers are loud, animated and, one of them, a bit touchy-feely. She repeatedly puts her hand on my shoulder to emphasise a point. I consider asking her not to but remain silent. She claims to have a boyfriend whose twenty years younger. “Really? What – is he still in school?” She chortles. “Oh – stop!” Her hand thumps my shoulder. I ask the other one – “What about you? Your boyfriend also a lot younger?” Before she can reply, Touchy-Feely jumps in: “Her – she’s dating the Chocolate Prince!” “Say what now?” The friend replies: “Dated – not dating. One date. And yes – he calls himself the Chocolate Prince.” “Really? Is he American?” I imagine a swaggering black yank – thinking he’s God’s gift to the ladies. “Nah – he’s African.” Touchy-Feely adds, “And he’s actually a real prince!” “What – no way?” My image now changes to a brightly dressed, tunic clad Ghanaian – perhaps one whose family has actually made a fortune from chocolate. TF asks her friend, “So are you going to see him again?” “No way!” “Why not? Anyone who calls himself the Chocolate Prince must have a pretty big dick. Does he?” “I don’t know! I haven’t seen it. I’m not going to bed with any loser who calls himself the Chocolate Bloody Prince!” I smile. An amusing start to a new year.