Last weekend I took the train to Sydney with my children to meet up with my husband who was staying in a hotel in the city for business. I decided to take the train to save money, and hopefully arrive less stressed. Besides saving petrol costs we would be pocketing the $40 a day that the hotel charges for car parking, and avoid the Friday night traffic snarl on the Harbour Bridge . At the last minute I remembered the large pram travel bag that I had sold on eBay and agreed to deliver to Sydney for the buyer to pick up. Oh well, the hotel was only a few blocks from the train station so we could catch a cab there. (I’m a thinker).
So as it happened I arrived at Central with two small children, a medium-sized suitcase, a handbag, an extra bag with train-entertainment-related paraphernalia, and a large pram travel case (minus the pram). We three waddled over to the taxi rank and the driver helped us load our things and ourselves into his cab. Off we set; after two and a half hours on the train plus a full day of school and preschool, the children were tired and hungry, but also interested in this novel way of travel.
As soon as we got out of the train station car park, we saw that the traffic was bumper to bumper. The taxi driver sighed. I remained calm. Surely it was worse than it looked. But no. Ten minutes later we had moved what seemed like only a few metres and had no way of getting out. The meter ticked over. I felt myself tense up. At this rate the cab fare would be a fortune and completely negate the money saved on parking.
The taxi driver apologised for the traffic and said he would try a detour. It turned out to be just as bad, and he apologised again. I told him there was no need to apologise - he was hardly in control of the traffic. While we sat in traffic, we started to chat. I told him I'd come down on the train from Newcastle. He said he'd been there with his kids on the cheap Sunday family fare. I asked whether his kids, who he told me were 9 and 11, had enjoyed it. He said "They like any chance we get to spend time together as a family. I work 70 to 80 hours a week and my wife works too." He said it in a very matter-of-fact manner but his words shocked me. He told me he was lucky he had bought a house 15 years ago because these days he would not have a chance. He said his wife worked as a cashier at Aldi. He had come from India 20 years ago and saved every cent to put a deposit down on his home. Since then he's been working twice the normal number of hours in a working week, driving cabs to pay his mortgage.
So often we hear about stressed families with parents in high-pressure jobs, working to pay for family holidays, extracurricular activities, school fees. We read sage advice about how these families just need to "slow down", to find a "work/life balance", to "choose to live with less." I wonder how this advice would apply to my friend the taxi driver.I also thought back to my own childhood - my mother raised three children on her own whilst working as a nurse, and "choosing to live with less" was not an option for us. The taxi driver told me business was not very good these days, but he had no choice as he was not qualified to do anything else. He proudly told me the names of his children and the schools they attended. He complimented me on my daughter's name, which is popular in India. The trip of a few blocks took 45 minutes. When I got out of the cab with my kids, he reluctantly told me the fare had come to $40 and apologised again for the bad traffic. I was more than happy to pay the fare, aware that it would have otherwise only gone to a faceless corporation who did nothing to earn it other than own the building where I had parked my car. When I told my husband that the cab fare was $40, he remarked "so it wasn't really worth it to catch the train then." I reassured him that yes, it had been worth it.