An unexpected cab ride; or, things I learnt from the taxi driver

NYC Cabs, New York 2008, Katy Warner

I think that anybody’s craft is fascinating. A taxi driver talking about taxi driving is going to be very, very interesting.

James Lipton

Today I had to catch a taxi. I don’t do that very often. Whenever I do I like to imagine I am Carrie Bradshaw and I am in New York with amazing shoes and the salary to afford it (the taxi and the shoes). This particularly taxi was taking me to Brunswick (which is not quite New York) because our borrowed 1988 Ford Laser refused to start (which is not quite Carrie Bradshaw’s style) to get me to a casting (which means I am not even close to being able to afford those shoes).

I love talking and I particularly love talking to taxi drivers. Sometimes it works out (I’ve had some enlightening political conversations). Sometimes it doesn’t (I’ve been asked out, rather emphatically, on a “date”). But it is always interesting.

Today I had a brilliant taxi driver who got me to Brunswick

a) on time

b) alive

and, as bonus, we had a nice chat during ridiculously expensive ride (which I didn’t feel so bad about paying due to a and b, above, but not necessarily in that order).

He told me he was trained nurse. Nursing was his passion. It was all he wanted to be. It was the job he loved most in the world. But here he was, driving a taxi because Australia would not recognise his four-year degree from a University in India nor his extensive experience. “Driving a taxi is better than nothing,” he told me. His positivity was incredible.

Along with some wonderful positive thinking, here’s what I learnt from the taxi driver today:

  1. Being called “Boss” has nothing to do with Bruce Springsteen
  2. Always speed up when approaching an amber light because “you never know which ones you will make”.
  3. Education is important (but Australia only recognises those educated in the western world) (i) Australia has a tendency to treat people from non-English speaking backgrounds in the most shameful way
  4. Taxi drivers have to deal with some of the most awful people in the world (“I think when people are drunk,” he said, “they just don’t realise what they are saying”) (i) Some people are gross when drunk (ii) Some people are gross all the time
  5. Positivity can be contagious
  6. Taxis trump public transport (i) Guaranteed seat (ii) Less likely to be coughed all over / sneezed all over / stepped on
  7. Ray-Bans are cool
  8. I am pink – like my EFTPOS Card (I’m taking that as a compliment)

I wish more people would speak to their taxi drivers. Yes, sometimes you may have to give the driver directions, yes, sometimes the driver may just be a jerk, yes, sometimes the driver may have bad-taste in music / jokes / appropriate conversation starters or a turn out to be some sort of homicidal maniac or racist / homophobic / sexist / angry, angry person … But we all know people like – besides, it always makes for great writing / blogging / dinner-partying material. Speak to your taxi driver – you never know what you might learn …

Removing the earphones

I walk to work with music. It is a pretty eclectic mix on my iPhone. Bob Dylan, Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Belle & Sebastian, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, kayne west … It’s quite a mix.

a rainy walk to work

A rainy walk to work

After doing this walk for a few months with my earphones firmly in my ears I saw this fabulous TED talk, Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better. In his talk, Treasure examines the loss of listening, active listening, in our society. His comments about headphones really hit home –

Many people take refuge in headphones, but they turn big, public spaces like this, shared soundscapes, into millions of tiny, little personal sound bubbles. In this scenario, nobody’s listening to anybody. 

I hadn’t thought about my headphones as a refuge before but he is right. It is a way to block out the world, to avoid listening, to not have to connect with the outside world nor the people in it. So, whilst I love David Byrne singing me to work I decided to walk to work without my earphones. I decided it was time to match the view with the sounds. This is what I heard –

  • an older woman with a lovely voice say to her no-more-than-5-year-old grandson “Do you think we could change the topic? Talk about something nicer? You’re being a pain in the arse” and his uproarious laughter in response
  • birds
  • dry leaves being pushed around by the wind – sounds like rain
  • the dull, muffled sounds of music from someone else’s headphones
  • someone sniffing who clearly needs a tissue
  • cars
  • high-heels striking bitumen
  • a man reading aloud a text message from a disgruntled ex-employee to his friend. There was talk of restraining orders and jealousy and “yeah, it says – hope you have a crummy life”
  • more cars
  • that little clicking sound at the traffic lights whilst you wait for the green man
  • the sound of the green man
  • a helicopter
  • a tourist from Germany asking me for directions
  • classical music

It may not read like an exciting list but it made for such an interesting walk to work. I was actively listening, straining my ears to seek out new sounds or accents or phrases I’d never heard before. I felt more connected to the space and more aware of my surroundings. It was a nice feeling …

Of course, there will always be moments when you want to block out the world, when you need Talking Heads’ This Must be the Place (Naive melody) to help you start your day, when you can’t / don’t want to deal with some of the more interesting characters on the tram …

But for me, putting on headphones had become a habit. Sometimes I didn’t even feel like listening to any of the music I had on my phone (and what a choice I’ve given myself) but listened to it anyway because … I don’t know … That’s just what we do? I don’t want to live in my own bubble, I’m going to make more of an effort to be more connected to the spaces I travel through and hopefully become better at listening.