I have been driving a taxi most mornings over the last three months.
Rising well before any hint of dawn, mostly I am driving mostly from 5am until mid-morning, taxiing all and sundry to and from Guernsey Airport, and elsewhere around our little island.
Early on in the job, I found myself thinking about my previous job as a waiter at the Hilton and St Pierre Park hotels – very similar roles in some respects.
I provide a taxi service from A to B, and provided me are small slices of time with all manner, colour and creed of people, to whom I can chat and chirp away, which, surprisingly, the majority of people are very happy to do, even at the hairy crack of dawn.
Each little slice of time should be cut with care.
I see it in the same way I saw waitering: dozens of unique interactions, all opportunities to have a meaningful chat and chirp, and to shine some light into someone’s day.
Here are a few chirpy tidbits from my fares, including a recovering cancer patient, a Nigerian couple, an older couple who lived in post-colonial Zambia, and a young fellow making a risky romantic gesture…
Who is a ‘Morning Person’?
Every weekday morning, as I get out of bed, I tell my fiancee I love her.
If I get a grunt one day a week by way of response, I’ve had a good week.
That is to say, mornings aren’t for everyone.
(Or perhaps 4am wake-ups aren’t for anyone).
Some people don’t want to talk in the morning – some people can’t even stand human contact in the morning – and that’s fine.
This is especially important to gauge as you chauffeur someone to and from the hospital or the airport or work or wherever else.
These are all potentially stressful situations people are entering or departing, so chit-chat isn’t first thing on their mind.
That all said, overwhelmingly, people are glad for a chat, even first thing in the morning.
I’m predominantly doing airport runs from 5am Monday to Friday, so although everyone is bleary-eyed, they are all abuzz for their holiday or business trip, and want either to talk excitedly about it (if a holiday) or to focus on and chat about anything else (business trip).
Oftentimes people present as grumpy or uninterested, but once you’ve found something they are interested in, they’ll chew your ears off.
I had monosyllabic answers from one fellow, until I found his passion, which happened to be recruiting and training other software developers. My conversational flow fell, and his dam burst.
One middle-aged Scottish lady I picked up was more interested in her mobile phone than chatting, at first.
She wore a fur coat, held a bagful of duty free cigarettes and smelled strongly of perfume.
By the time I dropped her off, I had heard her ongoing battle with breast cancer, (literally) breaking her leg before chemotherapy, and how she had worn a freezing cold cap to prevent hair loss during treatment, just so she wouldn’t scare her grandson.
She just took a bit of warming up (pardon the pun).
My First Fare
If you know me at all, you know that I am, in the words of my friend Aidan, ‘the stupidest smart person’.
Once when walking to my friend’s house, I got distracted, I got lost, and I had to be collected – in a parish I had lived in for many years.
I also routinely guess which direction to drive rather than suffering the indignity of having my poor navigational skills revealed for all to guffaw at.
So, when I told Aidan that I was going to be a taxi driver, he laughed in disbelief.
Another friend asked, “Isn’t there a test for that?”
“Yes,” I replied, “there used to be…”
And so it was, that I drove to the airport to pick up my first fare, two lovely people over for business for a couple of days.
We chatted about work and life and family and all else, the sort of chirpy witterings I imagine people would once have had on the bus pre-iPhone. The lady sat shotgun and showed me the adorable drawings her daughter had made her.
A couple of months on, I had a message come through saying, “you’ve driven two of my colleagues to our offices since you started driving (think one was you first fare) and both of them were raving about you. Think you made our MD’s morning this week. Hope you’re enjoying it. Perfect chirper for the job!”
Aside from being one of precious few taxi drivers who is sub-50 and has hair, it seems plopping a genuine interest into peoples’ lives made a ripple right away. It makes me wince to think of all the nice plops we deny one other on a standardly siloed commute.
Suits and Sprogs
There’s a gentleman I have given a few lifts to en route to the office.
He’s in a suit but he isn’t a suit, if you get me. I’ve a few of these regulars, high-flying yet down-to-earth types; money has gone to their bank accounts rather than their heads. All with partners and kids.
When I show an interest in their kids – which happens also to be my vocational interest – they are always happy to chat, oftentimes grateful for someone to share with.
This gentleman has two kids, one a young girl diagnosed with ADHD.
Delicately, he expresses some misgiving about his daughter being diagnosed with a ‘disorder’.
“It helps my wife understand it, but I don’t think labelling her is a good idea,” he says.
Delicately, I note merits on both sides of the discussion.
“I get that a diagnosis can indicate to adults how best to interact with them,” I say, “but I fear the negative impact of being labelled as ‘disordered’ outweighs that benefit.”
We agreed on that point: you can recognise a child is ‘ADHD’ and treat them accordingly without slapping ‘disorder’ on their developing self-identity, still less medicate them too.
That’s a whole other discussion for another article.
I have had the pleasure of driving a Nigerian couple to and from the airport a few times. Warm and chatty people, who emigrated from Nigeria for work, happily earning a living on Guernsey in finance for the past few years.
The gentleman had worked at a bank in Nigeria, and through that job landed another in the UK, and through that landed yet another job in Guernsey. Though he has revisited his family in Nigeria, he feels he has made a home in the UK, and would have stayed longer in Guernsey had his license not expired.
The lady moved to the UK only a few years ago, and then to Guernsey with the gentleman thereafter.
I asked whether she met her husband in Nigeria, assuming they had.
“I met him in London,” she tells me. “I didn’t date him just because he’s Nigerian… but it does makes everything easier!”
Make what easier, exactly?
“We like verrry spicy food!”
The lady pays a premium to have precious Nigerian goodies shipped over from the UK to Guernsey, home comforts from half a world away.
How do you – rather, how did you – like living on Guernsey?
“First I thought it would be too quiet”, she says, after having moved from London. “But now when I go to England, I think it is too busy there.”
I got my most loveable tip from a lovely lady travelling with her husband to see their son in the UK. They are happily living in their twilight years. She gave me a fistful of silver coins amounting to about two quid.
I love lifting older people, they are always chock full of life stories and always willing to impart them.
This particular couple worked in Zambia during the late 1970s, living close to the border of what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), witnessing the neighbouring country pass from racist colonial government by oafish Victorian Ian Smith to racist indigenous government by genocidal lunatic Robert Mugabe.
The gentleman was a pharmacist, chipping in Western knowledge to a developing economy. During their time off, he and his wife would drive over the border to view the Victoria Falls, gazing in awe at the thousands of tons of water roaring down the Zambezi river, thick mist rising like steam from the basin.
They revisited 40 years later.
Unlike the catastrophe that is Zimbabwe, they were pleased to see Zambia had progressed in leaps and bounds since they left.
They revisited their pharmacy, which stood in the same place in the same building, run happily by local Zambians.
They popped into the local hospital, seeing it was now modernised and run too by local Zambians.
A veritable success story compared to their next-door neighbours.
Romantic Risk Equals Reward
I gave a Guernsey lad a lift to the airport, early twenties, dressed smart but casual, looking handsome, seeming antsy.
What’s the occasion today?
“I’m actually going over to surprise a girl,” he tells me, somewhat incredulously.
How long have you been together?
“We’re not, she went to uni, we’ve just been texting,” he replies.
Mate, that is some romantic gesture.
“I know, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m texting her that I’m going away but she doesn’t have any idea I’m going over to see her.”
Brass balls with a romantic sheen, I love it.
I hope risk equalled reward.