I love to ask taxi drivers how they are when I get in the cab. Sometimes I receive "good thanks" and the conversation stops there. Many times, they talk on their phones while driving - something I'm not comfortable with. The best times are when the conversation continues from the initial hello, and we tell each other about ourselves for the whole trip. Those are the times I'd happily pay more to extend my trip and the conversation.
Because of the many appointments I had in Sydney, and the rain (oh the pouring, chubby, soaking, squelching, delaying rain!), Mum and I thought it was easier just to catch cabs instead of using public transport. Because we weren't really tourists this past weekend, we had Stuff To Do.
A lovely older man picked us up from Newtown Saturday night. We were tired, it was getting dark, and the streets were about to get very busy with the Mardi Gras celebrations. We only saw his face on entering and exiting, but he had the kindest eyes. He came to Australia from Singapore 25 years ago. He has a Chinese background and lives in Sydney with his partner - "a female partner", he added. "But when you say 'partner' in Australia, you always have to qualify whether they're male or female", he said. "But if two males love each other, or two females, that's ok". He said he wants to quit the taxi industry, he's tried so hard to, applying for many jobs every day. "But it's hard you know", he said. "I'll have to continue driving tomorrow."
He spoke with a gentle voice, a soft Singaporean accent with the slightest Australian twang. He asked Mum and I why we were in Sydney. I told him about the blogging conference, I explained that I am a writer. He told us how he loves to read. He learns a lot from books - he loves historical books, he imagines himself being involved in that era when he reads them. He also loves Australian author Colleen McCullough, referencing her as "writing incredible romances - libraries are full of her books."
He asked what topics I write about, whether I have written a book, and how much I get paid for each post I write on my blog. Nothing, I told him, unless I write a sponsored post, but that writing here opens up doors elsewhere, and those opportunities sometimes pay. I told him I write my blog for the love of writing, and the connection with people, readers. He asked how many readers come here per day, and I told him it varies, but from 100 to 1000, depending on what I've written. "Wow", he said. "I admire that you just do this for the love of it."
Mum, ever my promoter, gave him my card when we paid the fare. He looked at my picture on my card, and then looked at me. "I didn't realise that was you, my darling", he said. "Find your niche, and keep writing."
We walked to our motel room feeling warmed by this taxi driver.
And on my trip from the train station to home last night, I encountered another lovely taxi driver - funny, interesting and interested. This man has been in Australia almost a year, studying a Masters of Accounting. He loves accounting, but has to study at a cheaper university because it's so expensive to study in Australia if you're an international student.
We talked about the best and worst taxi drivers and passengers we have encountered. His worst passenger was a drunk man who wanted to pay him with naked pictures of his girlfriend. My worst driver was the one who told me my skin and Vaseline would dirty his seats. "That's not right", last night's driver said, angry at his colleague. He went on to say it's drivers like that who give the industry a bad name, and then asked me a little about my skin, telling me that he too suffers from dry skin.
We talked about my trip to Sydney - I told him I went to a blogging conference. He asked what I write about. Myself, food, bands, social commentary, I said. "You don't seem so fat considering you're an eater", he observed! I laughed. He asked how I write about bands - I told him I do an informal review and include my own experience of the show in there. He asked if bands hate me for reviewing them. I told him that I have only put a bad concert review on my blog once.
And then he asked why I write. Because I enjoy it, I said. He was genuinely interested about the writing process - when did I know I could write well? (when I got good marks at school, and then when people returned here to read my words) and whether I will write a novel (not a fiction novel but maybe an autobiography). And then, the most interesting question: "how did you develop your vocabulary?", he asked me. I told him I read a lot as a child, and I wrote a lot, and still do both. He asked me how he can develop his vocabulary. I suggested reading a lot, and writing. I also told him to talk to lots of people and if he doesn't know what a word means, ask. I suggested he listen to some podcasts of radio interviews while siting in his taxi waiting for passengers. He told me he prefers the ABC Radio presenters over the commercial presenters because many of the commercial presenters "don't speak properly."
He asked me what's in my bag that makes it so heavy? I told him that I am not an economical packer, I always overpack. "That's good", he said. "Heavy bags are good for taxi drivers' exercise." I laughed! When I got home, he got out of the taxi and walked to the boot, telling me "now it's my exercise time again!".
As I paid him, I gave him my card, inviting him to read my blog. I told him it might help him develop his vocabulary. "I hope you don't use too difficult words", he said.
I could have been driven around forever by those two men. I wanted to know more about their lives. All up Mum and I spent around $300 on taxi fares this past weekend. But honestly, I feel richer, not poorer for forking out my money for the service I received from those two drivers. Theirs are conversations I'll treasure.
Have you had interesting conversations in a cab? And if you work in the service industry, do you take interest in your customers?