The Undercovercabby

Don't walk away

Finally in the summer of 1988 the day any London Cab Driver will never forget arrived. Despite my ridiculous nerves I emerged from that ‘cold war’ looking building in Penton Street with a very shiny green badge with the number 46587 stamped on it. I went in a knowledge boy and emerged as a cab driver….

I went to see Michael at the garage with my badge in hand. I walked into the office feeling at least a foot taller than the last week time I had been there, he was on the phone and looked at me with absolutely no bodily acknowledgement whatsoever. Eventually, the phone slammed down and he said “so you want a cab do you”. We walked out onto the forecourt and he pointed to some dirty old cabs that were along a wall. They all had adverts on them and looked very unappealing, he opened the drivers door of the first one and an A to Z fell out of the door pocket, it stank of cigarette smoke and I found myself taking a step backwards. “How much ?” I asked “£140” he replied, it was only a marginal improvement on my wangle cab, he wandered off as I shut the door and found the oldest one. It turned out to be the cleanest with the least battle scars. I went to find him and we walked back to the office where he gave me a card with the date and the registration number on it, next to the date he had written £127.00. “pay me at the end of the week” he said. I watched him go as a train rattled above the old railway arch.

London cabbies are a superstitious lot and I had been warned time and time again to give away the first fare. In other words, the first fare is free to facilitate a long a prosperous career. I was far more concerned that I wouldn’t know the first destination. I rattled along the cobblestones towards Bethnal Green Road and I switched my light on. I could almost hear my heart pounding. I neared Shoreditch High Street and I saw them, I felt sick as they spun around and started waving their arms, they shrieked “TAXI”. I think I was actually reciting the Lords Prayer as I pulled in beside the two largish west indian women who were so obviously excited to see me. I prayed I would know the destination as one of them pressed her face into the nearside window. I waited and watched her lips as she mouthed the words “Lemon Road Please”.

Shit … Lemon Road ? I repeated the words back to them to make sure I’d heard them properly “yes Lemon Road” they said as they opened the back door and climbed inside, my mind raced frantically, I spun around “so whereabouts is Lemon Road then ?” I asked. “Its near Aldgate” one of them said. I breathed and felt my body relax. “Do you mean Leman Street ?”, “Oh yeah thats right” came the reply. I pressed the big button on the front of my meter and off we went. They looked like they were going to molest me when I told them that the journey was free but I managed to escape by turning into Prescott Street and on towards the City…

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