Try talking to your cabbie, you might learn something
No matter if you’re sitting in a boozed state in the back of a cab at 2am, if you’re being taken on a half-hour “shortcut” or have to revert to sign language to say ``take the next left’’, always take time to share a nice word with your cabbie.
Those on the road we never feel guilty to rage at, honk or flick the bird, cabbies are fast becoming public enemy No.1 - And there’s no mystery as to why.
In hometown Brisbane it’s hard to get a driver who speaks English and doesn’t stare at you blankly when you ask them to drive you into town. Their 12 hours shifts means they get bored with indicating, speed limits, right of way and other minor road rules and a simple ``to the airport please’’ usually provokes a frantic tom-tom tap-fest.
Melbourne’s The Age has described the city’s taxi industry as ``a disgrace’’, rife with un-roadworthy vehicles and dodgy drivers while Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph has exposed “Cowboy Cabbies” who demand flat fees and refuse short fares on weekend nights, leaving many a reveler stranded in the city at 3am.
Brisbane isn’t much better with the Courier-Mail’s Fare-Go campaign revealing foreign students are using fake documentation to obtain open Queensland driver’s licences while drivers were also refusing blind passengers with guide dogs and possibly taking blind passengers on long-cuts.
Almost 1000 of Queensland’s taxi drivers have had their permits revoked or suspended in the past 16 months due to anything from suspended licences to criminal offences while there has been several reports of cabbies destroying wheelchairs of disabled passengers.
On top of that it seems foreigners driving cabs in the Sunshine State are returning to their homelands without paying GST installments, leaving taxpayers millions of dollars in the red.
Yup, there’s enough just there to fuel a Mel Gibson-grade bout of xenophobic road rage next time you’re cut off on the freeway.
But with all their faults, it’s easy to forget the hectic workload, the dangers of picking up strangers and the opportunities driving cabs have provided to immigrants with no other choice but to take a demanding, thankless job. One without which we wouldn’t make it home some nights.
If you’re in Brisbane on any night of the week you might, as I did, come across 25-year-old Hussain Ali behind the wheel of your ride home.
Until recently he worked grueling 14 hour shifts, six days a week to make enough money to send his two teenage brothers to school in Pakistan and eventually bring them Australia.
Currently he deals with obnoxious druggos who vomit in his car, violent yobs and the odd punk teenager doing a runner but in a past life he faced death at the hands of the Taliban.
Ali was a member of the Hazara ethnic minority in the mountain province of Ghazni, Afghanistan, which was for years terrorised by the Taliban before the world turned its attention to the region in 2001.
The extremist Islamic militia was prowling from town to town, dragging teens and boys off to fight or shooting them there in the street when the 16-year-old Ali made his escape with his father’s savings, leaving behind his parents and four brothers. His directions were to get out and find work to help the family.
In 2000, he arrived in Australia where, once he was old enough, driving a cab became the best way to make a living, fast.
“I spent five years in Australia before I even made contact with my family again. I didn’t know if they were alive or if they escaped the fighting,” Ali told me, in a conversation that started when I simply asked him where he was from and why he became a cabbie.
When he finally tracked down relatives in 2006, he discovered two of his brothers and his fathers had been missing in the fighting for two years and were most likely dead. His gravely-ill mother died a few months after Ali made contact, leaving his two teenage brothers in a Pakistan border city to fend for themselves.
“It’s why I spent all my time in the cab as there’s not a lot of opportunities to have jobs where I can work as many days a week as I can,” Hussain says.
“Without me my brothers have nothing, no hope, no money, no family and nothing to buy bread with. I kept enough for rent and food here and then everything else I sent to Pakistan.”
The second such story I heard in the back of cab was from Asad, 29, who didn’t want to give his full name and started with a simple “Hi, Where are you from?”
Asad emigrated to Australia shortly after two of his brothers died in crossfire in 1993 during the Battle of Mogadishu, depicted in the Ridley Scott movie Black Hawk Down.
“But that was a long time ago and now Australia is home,” Asad told me. “Now taxi work is the best for me. It is flexible and there’s no limitation to how much I can work.”
Asad works a lot, he says. Sometimes up to seven days a week to help provide for two children and his wife, who is struggling to find a job in Brisbane due to her limited English.
Queensland Taxi Council CEO Blair Davies says there are several stories like Hussain’s and Asad’s that Australians should remember when they get annoyed at their cabbies.
“For an immigrant here with limited English or limited ways to interact with our culture, driving cabs is a great way for them to experience an Australian way of life,” Davies says.
“They can get out and about, learn about the city, the culture and the way we speak.
“Besides the guys that come overseas or from a war-torn environment, they work very hard. They’re working for a purpose and not just for themselves. For us they’re just earning a couple of bucks but when they send that money home it can buy so much more and make such a difference to their families.
“They’re copping some flack but they really lift the bar for some of the people they’re competing with for jobs in the taxi industry.”
Davies is right. With all the headlines and cutting exposés is easy to forget the person taking your drunk ass home is just that. A person. He may not know the way or understand you but that doesn’t mean you can’t share a nice word or two.
It might be the most interesting chat you’ve had all day.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
Shots fired at a coal seam gas protest in Tara, Qld this morning, http://t.co/bQpLhosjbh
The fittest love affair in the known universe has been confirmed, http://t.co/OkXywaDvnb
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…