Here are a couple of recent diary entries, only slightly altered in order to improve the prose and protect the anonymity of my passengers – the essential details remain the same and are all true.
Terry from Shropshire last night. Teenager in London for first time. Bundled into the cab in the West End by middle-aged relatives who want him taken to the Travelodge Hounslow West. They give me £110 cash up front to cover the fare and as surety against him vomiting, which they insist won’t happen. I take a look at the crumpled heap in the back. He’s completely out of it and pale and sweaty as an unplugged fridge. I’ve never seen a more likely vomiting candidate in my life and I can’t believe I’m agreeing to take him.
He comes round about twenty minutes into the journey, clutching his trousers and screaming, almost in agony, that he desperately needs a piss. I pull up outside the Hilton Kensington but he doesn’t make it as far as the foyer, he just stands on the street outside the entrance pissing, for about seven minutes.
I’d been going to take him inside and show him where the loo was but he was too quick for me. Now that he’s started I can hardly stop him. What can I do but sit there with my head in my hands secretly thinking, “My goodness this guy is hilarious”? The hotel kitchen staff who pass by on their way home seem to agree.
After this, continuing on down to Hounslow, Terry stays mainly upright and nearly seems sober, except he is almost completely incapable of speech or answering the very simplest of questions, to most of which he says, “What?” in an utterly baffled manner, as if the enquirer were an idiot, or foreign, or drunk. He does it an a rich West County accent that is at once gruff and totally innocent.
The hotel is entirely unfamiliar to him. He has no idea who the people were that I keep telling him put him in the taxi, to whom he needs to give the £45 change (they correctly predicted there would be no vomit) and receipt I’ve just handed him, but he seems to understand that it’s important and after I help him out of the cab he carefully stows it in his back pocket with an almost mystical look of great seriousness and responsibility, as if it was a message he must transport forthwith to King Arthur.
He asks for my name, shakes my hand and says thank you. He announces, “I’m going inside”, turns and marches bravely through the automatic doors and into the alien foyer of the Travelodge Hounslow West.
Terry from Shropshire, first time in London. One of my all-time favourite passengers.
Last night, around midnight, driving vaguely in the direction of home:
A happy, fun, eccentric Australian girl in a funky Russian-type hat says a friendly goodbye to a dapper gent in Portman Square and asks to go to Harbut Road, Clapham Junction. She settles in playing on her phone as they do and in five seconds she’s bawling her eyes out. Then the phone rings and she’s bawling her eyes out into that. I turn off the intercom to give her some privacy but when we arrive and the call’s over I ask if she’s OK and she tells me she just found out on Twitter that her grandmother died, in Australia, and she can’t go back.
She stumbles off still desperately sad and I drive in the direction of home feeling quite sad myself, but get hailed by three white, British, suited and lubricated EC Harris consultants going to a shit bar in Shoreditch. They sit in the back playing hip hop beats on a phone and making up raps about being EC Harris consultants in comedy black American accents. They are amongst the most loathsome turds I have ever carried.
As they get out, an actual black American, talking loudly on his phone, gets in. One of the consultants says to me, “It’ll be double for him eh mate” and asks for a blank receipt. I don’t give it to him.
I turn to the guy in the back, still on his phone, and ask him where he wants to go. He ignores me and carries on talking, doesn’t even wave a polite finger to ask me to bear with him. I give him a few seconds and then ask again. He ignores me again. I give him a few more seconds and then I say, “Tell you what mate, why don’t you just get out of my cab?”
He does. I turn the light out and drive home.