So we’re sitting in the Embankment in heavy traffic, in the queue for the lights to turn right up Northumberland Avenue. I’ve got five corporate party-goers in the back who’ve been boasting about how much they got for letting out Square Mile office space most of the way from where I picked them up at Borough Market. We’re bound for their work Christmas dinner in Wardour Street.
One of them turns to me, as we sit, and says, “Is this the quickest way?” Now, I’m already in a bad mood I’m afraid, because I’ve been ferrying ungrateful festive merrymakers about in seething late December traffic for the last six hours and driving myself slightly potty in my little box. So I just turn to her and say emphatically, “Yes.”
Then she says, “Really?” So I say, “We could have sat in Covent Garden for half an hour if you’d have preferred. It’s the Thursday before Christmas. London’s busy.” And that’s the end of that conversation. Except to add here that I’d been in Covent Garden on my last job and it was absolute sheer bloody murder, which was why I plumped for the famously fast Embankment as an alternative.
A few moments later we make the lights and turn up Northumberland Avenue which – to my great relief – is empty. We shoot up there, go around the bottom of Trafalgar Square, cut beautifully up the side of the National Gallery along Whitcomb Street, do a bit of left-right-right-left through the shabby little one-way streets just West of Leicester Square – Panton, Oxendon, Coventry – head up an also mercifully empty Rupert Street, right into Shaftesbury Avenue, left into Wardour Street and drop them off in comparatively excellent time. In other words, I was right. As I just about always am. Because I’m the taxi driver.
One of the best ways to make a taxi driver take an instant dislike to you is to request that he goes the fastest way, because to do so is to accuse him of being nothing less than an idiot or a thief or both. If he wasn’t, he would choose the best route without your prompting, wouldn’t he? You might as well get on the 91 bus and ask the driver to follow the 91 bus route, but that would be insane, wouldn’t it?
And of course that’s only the start of it. I know that after that initial request, any congestion is going to be met with huffing and puffing and whining is there anything else we can do, possibly even suggesting their own idiotic alternatives, as if I hadn’t noticed there was traffic, despite having spent the whole day sitting in it.
There was the awful shouty American man who directed me all the way from Bloomsbury to Chelsea, never getting us out of the traffic, swearing about all the other drivers, having me do U-turns in gridlocks, shouting at me to beep my horn and cut in. In the end I had to tell him to shut up and calm down or get out, because there was no way I was putting up with that all the way down to Old Church Street.
Or the man who wants to go from Langham Place to Mayfair without going down Regent Street, and then gets all agitated as we inevitably sit in traffic, traffic, traffic on Welbeck Street and Vere Street instead. Oxford Street has to be crossed one way or another, sir.
Ah, Oxford Street. The man who gets angry when I just touch on it going from Fitzrovia to Aldwych. “Oh, you think Oxford Street’s going to be quiet, do you?” Londoners, I can’t move the damn thing. It’s there, and it’s bloody long, and if you want to go North to South in the West End we’re likely going to need to involve it. Believe me, if I diverted to avoid it we would get stuck in traffic elsewhere, and we’d be going the long way around already. You see, if there was an alternative, we would be using it: I am a taxi driver. It’s my job, I trained for four years, and I’m good at it goddammit.
It is better to sit in traffic heading the right direction than to sit in traffic heading the wrong direction, no?
I drop them off at San Moritz for their poxy dinner and get another job straight away. The gentleman wants me to pull over to the other side of the street, thus blocking everybody trying to get up Wardour Street while he and his three oblivious friends clamber slowly in, when I am already nicely pulled up at the side out of the way. I make him come over. He gets in.
“The Ritz Hotel”, he says, “Piccadilly.” Yes mate, I think, I know where the fucking Ritz is.
Happy Christmas, y’all.