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.
Head home or go to the pool? It’s almost ten on a Tuesday morning and the rush hour work is dwindling. To go to the pool would mean doubling back towards the city, possibly picking up a late inner city worker on the way. But as I’m already heading east towards Bondi, I decide to continue on. Good decision. The phone pings and there’s a job on offer a few minutes away in Darling Point. As I navigate my Mazda along roads winding this way and that, I’m eventually driving next the harbour. Wow – some major real estate around here. I pull up outside a stylish mansion or small apartment block – hard to tell which. As I wait, I wonder what sort of passenger will emerge. A corporate wanker? A lady who lunches? Nope – neither. Just two little kids, a boy and a girl. Then a woman. A young woman. Mum? Possibly but unlikely. Doors are opened, kids strapped in and the woman jumps in the front. I greet them and activate the job. Looks like we’re going to Darling Harbour – practically next door to the pool – yes! As we drive off the woman turns to the back. “Okay – so before we go to the Aquarium, here are the rules. We need to stay together. The Aquarium is in sections – so if you get lost, then stay where you are and I’ll find you, probably just in the next section. Also, quiet voices – no shouting.” I smile. Definitely not a mum – she’s a nanny. I ask why they’re not in school. “They live in Dubai so they’re on holidays, staying with their lovely Grandmother.” The little girl pipes up. “Aren’t all Grandmothers lovely?” The nanny shakes her head. “No, unfortunately, they’re not.” Now it’s the boy’s turn. “What about your Grandmothers – aren’t they nice?” The nanny shakes her head. “No, I’m afraid they’re not.” “Do you see them?” “No, I’ve never met them.” “Then how do you know they’re not nice?” “Because my parents told me so. Both my grandmothers treated my mum and dad very badly.” “Oh.” “There are all sorts of people in the world and some just aren’t nice. It doesn’t matter if they’re also a parent or a grandparent. People are people.” The kids quietly contemplate this piece of wisdom. Until I ask, “So – what’s Dubai like?” “Hot.”
It’s a drizzly Saturday night. I’m refreshed from my home-time dinner break but annoyed with myself for hastily accepting a multi-rider Uber Pool job. I reckon the multiple stops involved in Uber’s latest money making scheme are a pain in the ass for drivers – so I tend to avoid them. But in the excitement of being offered a job while at home watching the Blues Brothers, I accept it before I realise it’s a Pool job. Bugger. Oh well. I drive around the corner and, after some confusion, find my first passenger – a young Mongolian woman (another first). We drive through the drizzle to pick up rider number two – a Chilean dude (must be ‘Obscure Nationality Night’). After dropping off the Mongolian in Paddington, the Chilean informs me that the friend he was meeting has bailed and that he’s no longer going to his original destination. He wants to go to the Entertainment Quarter instead. As this is actually closer, I’m happy to drop him there. He’s grateful and says he’s going to a dance party, featuring world famous DJ Carl Cox. When I mention that I’ve heard of him, the Chilean asks me if I want to go – now that he has an extra ticket. I laugh. This is the third Saturday in a row I’ve had an offer like this. Two weeks earlier, a trio of very drunk Manly Beach boys ask if I want to drop some acid and go tripping with them. Short lived temptation is followed by boring but wise good sense. I decline. Seven days later, a coke fueled Cockney dude offers me two hundred dollars to come out partying with him and his mates. Tempting. But likely to be messy and awkward. Again good sense wins out. But now, as I turn into the Entertainment Quarter and see that I’m about to get stuck in traffic trying to get back out, I take the plunge. Yes – I will go to my first dance party in decades. After all – I am a Dancing Fool. I love to lose myself to the beat, not giving a toss how silly I might look. So I graciously accept the chilled Chilean’s offer and swing into the over priced car park, resigned that it’ll cost me twenty-five dollars for the privilege. The drizzle is ramping up to outright rain. As we hustle towards the gates – whoops – I slip and fall. That’s right – my shoes no longer have any traction, making wet surfaces especially dodgy. The Chilean asks if I’m alright as I scramble up. He possibly begins to regret taking a senior citizen to a dance party. I assure him I’m fine. At the gate we need to show photo ID to confirm we are over eighteen. The attendant doesn’t even bother to look at mine. We enter the foyer and hear the thumping boom boom boom from the main room. I offer to buy my benefactor a drink. “Thanks. I’ll have whatever you’re having.” I laugh. “Mate – I’m having water so I can still drive.” He decides a can of lime and soda is more appealing. Drinks in hand, we enter the auditorium. Blue lasers slice through the air. Shirtless peacocks strut and shuffle. Gaggles of girls in oversized glasses glide through the crowd with intent. On stage, a rotund black DJ pushes buttons. The double C emblem behind him confirms that he’s the event’s star – Carl Cox. The Chilean and I find some space and begin to move to the groove. I suddenly become aware of how slippery the alcohol coated floor is under my worn out soles. Bugger. Throw in hundreds of crushed cans and abandoned water bottles sliding about chaotically and the chances of me crashing to the concrete are as high as most of the dancers. I briefly wonder whether or not to cut my losses, thank the Chilean and head back to my Mazda where I belong. But I persist, focus on my feet and soon transform into a grey haired Dancing Fool. It feels fantastic to let loose, dissolve into the moment, not giving a hoot about the glances and stares directed my way. I eventually notice that the Chilean has disappeared, possibly embarrassed, possibly on the hunt for younger companions. Oh well. Whatever. I dance on. Careful of the floor. Always careful of the floor. I become distracted by a twenty something guy smiling at me. “Hey – good on you! You’re my inspiration. The party never ends!” I smile, resisting the urge to tell him to get fucked. He asks why I’m there. Stupidly, I tell him the truth. He laughs and turns to his girlfriend. “Hey – this guy is an Uber driver whose rider had a spare ticket.” I close my eyes and dance, wishing I had lied. I should have told him that I was Carl Cox’s manager. I decide that if I were the DJ’s manager, I’d tell him to lift his game a bit. The music’s not bad but has too many lulls. A little later, there’s a tap on my shoulder. I turn to see a girl, probably the teen side of twenty. I have been taking care not to let my loose hands flail about too much, terrified they may cop an unintentional feel. I’d be instantly set upon as a lecherous old groper. Why else would an old man be at a dance party? “Excuse me – do you have any gear? We’ll buy some off you.” I crack up. Ah – so there is another reason why an old codger would be mixing it with the kids – to sell drugs. “Sorry, all I’ve got is water.” I turn and dance on. Until I fall. Crash. Ouch! I scramble up, imagining the sniggers around me – laughing at the geriatric who succumbed to the inevitable. I decide to find another spot and luckily discover a seam in the concrete that offers a bit more grip. This coincides with a change of DJs. The new guy, Paco someone or other, is good and the vibe lifts. I get back into my groove – stomping away like a madman. Until, finally, a couple of hours after arriving, I decide I’ve had enough. With a smile on my dial, I head back outside. Where I slip and fall. But I’m well practiced at this now and am soon on my feet. “Nice recovery” says the bemused security guard as I walk out the gate. I hop in the Mazda and instantly get a job. I pick up three Northern Beach Boys heading forty kilometres north to Avalon. Yes! I ask them if they’ve just been at the party. “Yep.” As casually as I can manage, I say, “Yeah – me too.” “What? No way!” And for the next hour, as my Mazda crawls up the coast, I am a Legend.
It’s Friday early evening and I’m on a roll. I drop off a passenger in Potts Point and immediately get notice of another job just down the road, opposite the naval base. I pull over and an attractive long haired brunette hops in. She is heavily made up, her eyeliner stretching out to create a pair of cat’s eyes. She immediately starts babbling, excited and full of energy. She’s on her way to a bar in the city for a first date. “So it’s a blind date then?” No no no! She’s already been corresponding with this woman (ah – didn’t pick that…) on a dating site. So though they haven’t met – it’s not a blind date. They get on very well apparently – despite their differences. My passenger’s in the navy, her date studying her PHD. The sea chick is barely twenty, the academic approaching thirty. But turns out she likes sea chick’s tatts – of which I get a quick tour. “This one says ‘Carpe Diem – Nam Cras Mors’ – ‘Seize the Day for Tomorrow We Die’. And my latest one is a rainbow – because all the guys that hit on me don’t think I look gay. But I look pretty gay when my face is between another chick’s thighs.” I laugh. “Yeah – I guess you would. But to be fair – the guys don’t get to see you like that.” “No – but they’d like to!”. We get closer to her destination when she asks me for a mint. “Sorry – I don’t actually have any.” She frowns. “You sure you’re an Uber Driver?” We turn a corner and the sun blinds us. “Whoa – that’s brighter than my future!” Again I laugh. This girl’s a hoot. And she’s enjoying the audience. “And my hair’s longer than my life span.” I give a slight chuckle, realising that she’s now just throwing out pre-prepared quips. The last one’s slightly unsettling – and coupled with the ‘Carpe Diem’ tattoo makes me wonder if this is someone with a bit of a death wish (though perhaps this is common in the armed forces). We get to the bar ten minutes early for her not so blind date. She jumps out, nervous with anticipation. As I drive off, I can’t help but wonder where her face might end up later that night.