So I was offered a computer-generated job, and took it. It was a wee-hours train station pick up, nothing to be excited nor worried about. I'd done that job a hundred times, without incident. When I arrived, however, I immediately had a sense of "disquiet". Three young (possibly drunk or on drugs) "customers" (two males and one female), and after all it was "Uni night" in the Gong, and even though all aren't Uni students, it can also be called a "Uni age night".
The young girl sits in the front, then mumbles a destination. "Railway something" is what I heard, and there's a Railway Pde., Railway St, Railway Station Square, so I ask for clarification. They seem to think I'm dense, but a lack of clarification can lead to embarrassment. How many Smith streets are there again in the region? But through ESP the driver is expected to know which Smith Street you live in? So I finally, densely, work out they want to go to Railway St.
"Can we have some tunes?" (or, "turn on the fucking radio"), says the young lady. She then turns the volume up near peak. Fortunately, I have a hearing problem. No problem, I say. On the way it's actually going okay, without any snarky comments. Maybe they're not so bad, I thought. It's an okay fare too, just when I need it. Two minutes from the destination the "young lady" looks at the meter. She can see it's past $15.00, and will probably be about $19.00.
"Can ya do it for fifteen?", she asks. If I turn down the $15.00 request, it's possible they'll bolt, and I get nothing. So I reluctantly say, "Yeah I can do that" (better $15.00 than nothing). When the cab stops, the two guys in the back jump out, and I look for signs of her opening the door to leave without paying. With foot on the accelerator and ready to go with her hanging out the front door, I'm actually surprised she doesn't. I was prepared to burn tires to keep her in the cab until I got paid, or we ended up at a police station. I could just see the scenario, with 60 year old me shouting, "where's the fucking money!?" It's happened before.
She doesn't even grab the door latch (which I'm keeping an eye on), but instead rummages through her jeans pockets and pulls out $50 notes to what I estimated to be about $300.00. And she wants a $19.00 fare discounted to $15.00. She's tempting me, but I decided to play the game and not get visibly angry. She finally finds a $20 note among the $50s, and hands it to me. I calmly give her $5 change for the $20. "Thanks", she says, and leaves the cab. I do a U-Turn on double lines, and really don't care if a Highway patrol car sees, and books me. I just don't give a rat's.
I'm angry, very angry, but I don't want to show it, because that would only be playing her game. The truth too is I was just glad to be rid of them. All the way back into town, though, it's eating me, badly. I ask myself why do cab drivers have to compromise so much? If she was five cents short of buying a McDonald's meal, she would never get it. Yet she wants to "do a deal you can't refuse", because if you refuse, they might just run and not pay.
Ruminating on this all the way back to town, I try to look on the positive side - she's young. In 50 years time, with her walker and in need of physical assistance, she may look back on this moment and wish she wasn't so stubborn and arrogant, basically a thief, an unconscionable human rotten and corrupted to the core, with no sense of fairness and honesty to a man working his guts out to earn a living.
I try to seek a sense of forgiveness for the rest of the night, telling myself that it really doesn't matter, but it's not the money that matters, it's the callousness, and the total disregard for other human beings working hard for a living, and only just managing to get by. I have to admit that I went home almost inconsolable. Depressed.
I decide to call to quits earlier than usual, not because it's the loss of a measly $3 or so that's eating me - it was the inhumanity of one human being to another.
This was never about money, because three or four dollars would never make a difference to my existence. It was always about callousness and inhumanity, and nothing else.
To this "young girl", I would pose a $64,000 question:
What if it was your Dad driving the cab to sustain and support you?