I’m not a people person. I’d much rather write a blog where I am having a pretend conversation with no one than try to share my views with the people I would like to hear them. If that makes sense. That, in essence, is what all of my blog posts are: I am waffling on and on about something or other, and no one can argue with a word I am saying. I then use nobody’s help to get it up on the internet for nobody to read. If I wanted human interactions I would have chosen literally anything else.
As a consequence, I find conversations really hard work. I am shy, I am awkward and I am not the most comprehensible person when I speak. I have to repeat myself so frequently that I often think it better to just write it all down, in the hope that someone finds it one day and agrees with what I say.
Taxi drivers seem to have none of these issues. They seem to like a natter, do taxi drivers. They also have grown up skills: driving a car, maintaining a car, insuring a car, filling a car with petrol, knowing how to be self-employed and knowing which direction the shops are in. I fail at the bulk of those. I am not a genuine grown up (except for the two kids and a mortgage thing, but I outsourced that.)
There have been days recently when I have had to get taxis to and from places. Normally this means that I book a taxi (via an app) to pick me up at 4:30am to take me to either the train station or to the airport. I can get through the next few hours without any inter-personal interactions, so it’s the taxi bit that I am most concerned about for the minute. Basically, I’m worried that I come across as rude.
I’m not. I say please and thank you, as I was trained to do when I was growing up. I just don’t talk. I think I get away with it at that time of the morning precisely because it is that time of the morning. No one judges someone for not being talkative at 4:30am. That would be inhuman of them, surely?
It doesn’t change the fact that I sit there for the full half an hour of the journey worried that I am in the process of annoying someone I will likely never meet again because I am sitting there projecting an uncomfortable silence. I wish they would just turn their radio up, so that we can both enjoy taking our minds out of gear for the journey. At this point I realise that I am torn, because I think they might want me to never talk when I am in a taxi, and so right now I am being a great passenger.
Worse still, I never know whether to sit in the front or the back. Sitting in the back makes me feel haughty and aloof, as if they are my chauffeur, and that they are beneath me. Sitting in the front makes me feel that I am coming in at their level, and that conversation is assumed. Is it, though?
I know that I cannot, must not fart in a taxi. I am scared that if one even sneaks out, as may happen to us all from time to time, that they will screech to a halt, throw me out of the car and make me miss my train or plane. I clench for all I am worth, for I am a flatulent soul, and rotten with it.
They sometimes ask me questions – where I am going, what do I do for a living – and I always try to answer honestly. But I always worry that I come off as some posh prick, who thinks far too highly of himself, and is lording it over the hoi polloi. I am not, and I never want to do that. It’s just that I do sound quite posh, and I do have a posh sounding job, so it does sound like all of that at times.
I am often quite self-conscious, whether I am in conversation with someone or not. When I know that someone can see me – and probably is paying attention to me – I almost crawl out of my skin.
So that’s the middle of the night taxis, where I can be excused conversations, even if I feel like I am being a haughty prick. They drop me off at an anonymous transport point, from where I can make my anonymous way down the country. What do I do at the other end? If I am lucky I can get the bus or the tube. I like this: they’re nicely anonymous (unless I forget how London buses work again!)
That’s London: I don’t always have to go to London. I don’t always have to go to places with their conveniently integrated public transport infrastructures and anonymous payment systems. There are times when I have, for instance, to go to Swindon. Swindon’s lovely, but I have never spent more than five minutes there without having needed to get a taxi. From the station to the office is one thing, but from a pub in the old town to another pub in the new town is quite another. And that is the norm for my friends and colleagues in Swindon. It means that they’re all arch conversationalists.
I am not an arch conversationalist. It means that when I pop down to do some work I have to get a taxi by myself, sober and in daylight. I just don’t cope at all well. Bring back day drinking, please! I can pick up a taxi easily enough, and I have the whole address thing sorted, but during the daylight hours it is simply not permissible to pretend to be dead: they don’t know how early I woke up.
They ask me questions and I gibber on uncomfortably for a bit. I get self-conscious about how much I sound like a haughty prick, or a patronising bell-end or a sullen bastard. I sweat and I stress, and after all of that, I still have a day of work to do, followed by another taxi journey back to either the station or to the airport. And imagine the situation if we happen to get stuck in traffic for too long.
Recently I was working in London, and flying back. I wanted to give as much time to the job at hand as possible, so I stayed until it was all done. My colleagues advised me to get an Uber to Heathrow, and that it wouldn’t take long. I booked it and stepped outside. The Great West Road was in utter gridlock. I waited for an age, saw my driver pass me in the opposite direction, waving at me. He was able to turn around and come back, before we had to turn around to get on the right road again.
What followed was thirty minutes of gridlock and awkward chat. Thankfully the plane was delayed.