Life before taxi driving was an endless parade of strangers every day through the house I shared with my late father: doctors, district nurses, local government officers, pharmacists’ white van men, the bloke who brought meals on wheels – all of whom had access to my home without knocking on the door, through the numeric keypad screwed to the door frame.
I didn’t actually like people very much, before becoming a taxi driver, working out of Abingdon. Seven years ago this week, my Dad went on to a better place and after years of caring for him as best I could, I was out of cash and needed to find a business with a reasonable amount of cash flow. So although not especially well paid, I went on to spend years of the prime of my life, in the recession, driving people from Abingdon and the surrounding area of southern Oxfordshire anywhere they wanted to go.
Between one and two hundred members of the general public every week, in their glorious randomness emerge off the street, the internet, the telephone, and off the Abingdon taxi rank and they mostly pay me cash, at the end of their journey. I still live in hope and fear that one day a customer will flag me down from the hard shoulder of the A34, as occurred to a colleague, in my first year, the passenger’s car broken down and them late for a court appearance.
Passengers’ opening conversational gambits are really quite limited and it was five years into driving taxis at night around the byways and highways of Oxfordshire before I realised that, several times every Saturday night people would try to re-enact the routine of a well known comedian from the north of England. They really do ask “what time you on ‘til?” and “been busy?” several times a night and, to me, “you’re much too posh to be a taxi driver, why on earth are you doing this?” and I dutifully and truthfully answer, every time.
Many people even repeat the same opening gambit, every time I see them and some American customers are so scrupulously polite they even ask me, what their opening gambit should be “You guys like to talk about the weather, right?” was asked of me, just before Easter.
Once past the opening gambits, though, it has been a revelation to discover that rather than being what I thought it was going to be - a succession of random journeys in and around a small town in southern Oxfordshire, of the one to two hundred people who travel in and out of my taxi every week, they are all people and all have a story to tell. On occasion, I've been privileged to hear these stories, sometimes even to be a part of them, and some of those people have even become good friends, who have enhanced my life immeasurably.
Often I am asked what is the best thing about earning my living as a taxi driver? That’s easy enough to answer: the people, but they also are the worst thing about it.