Monday, 20 January 2014

Ego te absolvo.

"I'm basically a bartender on wheels."

 I don't know why, but the five to fifteen minutes the average person spends in a cab are often spent in confession. There's something about this job that compels people to open their hearts. Either that, or I've vastly underestimated people's need to keep things to themselves.

These confessions tend to come in two forms.
1. Out of the blue, triggered by small-talk (like a discussion about the weather leading to a fully fledged conversation about the horror of finding amphetamines in your daughter's bedroom).

2.  A conversation between two customers, who will either ignore the fact that the cabbie is a human being and can hear every word of their conversation (be it about drugs, taxes, or STDs), or suddenly decide that the cabbie's opinion on the subject is needed.

This brings me to a fare I had about a year ago. What started out as a pretty normal fare may have ended in me inadvertently ending a relationship. And I can't say I'm not proud of it.

It began like any other fare. I had just dropped off a customer on the east side of town when the radio burbled. What followed was standard (at least for my company) radio procedure:
HQ: "Seeking a car for Almond Street. Car Three to Almond Street."
Me: "Car Three, in five minutes."
HQ: "Car three, five."
Me: "Confirmed, Car Three."

The information for the fare -name, location, destination, remaining ETA- appeared on the screen and I headed out. With a minute to spare, I arrived at Almond street, turned off my engine and awaited my customers. And waited. The ETA came and went, and the waiting time started ticking down. Just about when I was about to request permission to drop the fare, two guys appeared by the open window.

"Hi, I'm Roger. I booked this cab."

"Welcome in, Roger," I said and unlocked the door, biting back various creative curse words reserved for late customers. Roger and his friend (let's call him Fred) got into the back seat and off we went.

It took me barely a minute to fully assess these guys. They were in their late thirties/early forties. Their address and manners suggested that they were moderately successful, ambitious guys. Their drunkeness, combined with their destination (a popular night club at the city's main drag) suggested that they were trying weren't entirelly comfortable with the fact that they were approaching middle age. Their conversation not only confirmed this; it shouted it to the high heavens.

See, Roger had gotten himself a girlfriend near fifteen years his junior. And he was pissed off at her, because she had  spent the night with one of her male friends. This, he felt, was grossly disrespectful. Fred concurred. At this point, I zoned out. Overt displays of indignant masculinity bore me at best and at worst infuriate me.

"But let's hear what the cabbie has to say about it!" said Fred.  "Hey cabbie!"


"We'd like your opinion on something."

"Let's hear it," I said.

"Well, I got a girlfriend. And she's such a great girl, you know? But she's younger than me and so she's pretty immature."


"Yeah, well here's the thing. She has this friend, a guy, who she hangs with a lot and the other night she had been hanging out at his place and she ended up sleeping there. And that pisses me off. I mean, it ain't right. I'm her boyfriend, and she should know better than to disrespect me like that."

"She cheated on you?"

"No, no, nothing like that. They're like brother and sister."

"So what's the problem?"

"It's disrespectful, is what it is."

"That she crashes at her friend's place?"

"He's a guy!"

"Would you say the same if her friend was a woman?"

"Bah," he snarled. "Don't give me that. You know as well as I that its not the same thing."

"So what you're saying is that you don't trust her?"

"Of course I trust her!"


The conversation went on. Roger, losing ground and fast, kept hammering home the point that 'it ain't right', while I suggested that trust might be a good ingredient to have in a relationship. Fred kept quiet. I glanced behind me at one point, caught him grinning. He was enjoying the hell out of this.

We were nearing our destination. Roger had  by now dropped the indignant-primate-male routine and was revealing what I can only describe as vulnerability, bordering on despair.

"She has told me how much her friend means to her and how much he has supported her since they were kids. I mean, what the hell can I offer her, when she has him?"

"Well," I said gently. "You're forgetting an important fact."

"What?" he said (I like to think he was on the verge of tears, but let's try to be honest here).

"You're the guy she's chosen to fuck on a regular and exclusive basis. For some reason, despite her friend always being there, always having her back and being such an important part of her life, she has chosen you to be the guy she snuggles up to at night. You're the guy she says she loves. So I have no clue what you have to offer her, but she obviously does."

"Damn straight!" cried Fred.

Roger was silent for a long while. While I kept my face professional, inside I was horrified. I had crossed a line, I had gone too far. I had poked my nose where it didn't belong. We arrived at the night club, and while the streets were full of loud drunken party people, the silence inside the cab was deafening.

"Look," I said, turning around. "I don't know you and I don't know your girlfriend. Wanted my opinion, and you got a lecture on things I essentially can't know. So, I'd like to apologise."

"No, no..." said Roger, very quietly. He was looking very intently at his hands. Then he looked at me.
"You're right. I... I should trust her, I should. But I don't know... Maybe I'm not ready for this relationship."

I was quiet for a while too, looking for the right words to say. Not just out of the goodness of my heart (though that was a factor), but also because sometimes when having confessed something like this, customers can take a very long time leaving the cab. As I get paid by the fare, rather than by the hour, I literally can't afford that.

Finally I said: "I don't know. But the fact that you realized this suggests that you're wrong."

In addition to paying the fare, he tipped well over 50%.

I have not driven him since. And I don't think I saved his relationship (though sometimes I wonder if I put it out of its misery), but I like to think that our conversation planted some kind of seed in his head, which  down the line served to make him into a better person.

Either that, or I basically bullied a guy whose emotions were soaked with booze and testosterone into submission.

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