Unexpected Detour (Part 2)

September 21, 2008

My taxi driver had engaged with me in animated conversation on the way from Brisbane airport to my hotel. Our conversation flowed easily and had occasioned laughter, even though on balance he did most of the talking. He was naturally talkative and opinionated, but I sensed that my responses surprised him out of possibly habitual monologue, especially when he was challenged to justify or explain his views. I became aware that he had begun to look at me more often as the conversation progressed.  However, I was quite at ease with him until he turned off the main road into a church car park without warning, other than flicking off his meter and saying, “I won’t charge you for this detour”.

This unprecedented move was alarming. It had been in the context of him explaining the history and significance of the church to Brisbane and to himself personally. However, the car park was not lit well and there were no other people around. Although my outer attitude would not have changed perceivably, I panicked inwardly. My mind began to work at a hundred miles a minute. My senses heightened and my body readied to respond in a reflex of fight or flight. I reasoned to myself that there could be no escape while the vehicle was moving. I thought of my suitcase in the boot of his cab and consciously decided to give it up as lost should the need arise to make a run for it. At the same time, I decided to consciously stay put and take the risk that his intentions were as harmless as his monologue about the church.

He pulled into one of the vacant parking lots but left the motor of the vehicle running. I waited for signs of danger like a coiled spring, acutely aware of the position of the door handle and lock. I sat stiffly like a traitor with my seatbelt already quietly unlocked but held in position. At the first sound of the door lock being activated I was ready to pounce, open it manually and spring out of the car. 

It turned out that the car park he had chosen enabled a view of the church which clearly showed the new wing. He pointed out the difference in the stone colours to me. “Can you see the old stone? It has weathered. And here is where the new stonework begins”. 

“Oh yes”, I replied, but I was too agitated to really take it in. He continued describing aspects of the construction and I continued to reply as of before. But I only relaxed completely when he reversed out of the parking spot and turned back onto the city street. For him there could hardly have been a blip in his consciousness. For my part, I felt as though I had endured a trial and the seeds of this post were sewn. I reflected that I felt as though I had taken a risk. The risk was retrospectively traceable to the moment where I began to engage with him in conversation deeper than chit-chat. Would I take the risk again? Yes, I would, I thought. 

We passed through the city traffic, towards my hotel in Southgate. Along the way he pointed out the random-looking architecture of the council buildings. The windows were all on oblique angles, at artistic odds with the shapes of the tiles on its facade. I tilted my head as he described the view from the inside of the building and remarked how weird it would be to work in that space. “It would be difficult to get a painting straight on the wall!” I joked. We crossed over the Brisbane River again leaving the CBD behind. As we approached the Southgate precinct, he pointed out places of interest like the museum and concert hall, mentioning that these were all walking distance from where I was staying. Finally he said, “And here is your hotel”. I felt relieved but instead of stopping the taxi, he drove straight past it and turned the meter off again!

He took me on a tour of Southgate along the Brisbane River, pointing out good restaurants, places to walk and the site where the craft market would be set up the following day. 

After a slow loop of the Southgate precinct, he pulled up into the circular driveway of Ridges. To onlookers, there would have been nothing unusual. How many times would Ridge’s double glass doors have seen a taxi driver pull up and dispatch a client? He fetched my case. I paid him. He wished me well for my conference. I thanked him for the tour and he departed. The difference was imperceptible. I felt caught between a sense of relief that the journey was over and a reluctant farewell.

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4 Responses to “Unexpected Detour (Part 2)”

  1. And he probably had no idea what you were going through; he was just thrilled to have an audience. Some men are clueless.

  2. trousers said

    It’s frustrating, really, that he should be so generous with his time and thoughtful observations – and yet be so utterly unaware of how his actions were likely to be interpreted, given the situation.

    I like that you kept your eyes very much open to the whole situation and made the best of it.

  3. ejenne said

    Hi Charlotte. He was as harmless as my great uncles (my nanna had lots of brothers). But the problem with this generation of Australian man is that they are blissfully unaware of any other perspective than their own. He carried on as though the intentions behind his actions were transparent. But I come from a modern era where you cannot trust in the chivalry of men.

  4. ejenne said

    Hi trousers, I agree. His obliviousness is difficult to understand. When do taxi drivers take you on spontaneous tours? I was privileged as well as bamboozled. If there were a precedent for this sort of thing it wouldn’t have been harrowing.

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