Wednesday, 12 August 2009


The first person we met properly was an unlikely taxi driver; no, the unhelpful American Airlines employee doesn't count. The driver was definitely a character, only four foot ten with small bright eyes and a missing front tooth. Wrapped in some kind of red taffeta shoulder-padded number, she wouldn't have looked out of place in a deep south church on a Sunday or a Cyndi Lauper music video. Add a battered tricorne, put her on the high seas behind the tiller of a rogue tea clipper and the look would be complete, if a bit unorthodox. This was all somewhat unexpected. Where was the jovial yet jaded taxi driver with the flat cap, foul mouth and Bronx lilt? Still, she would have to do. This peculiar hybrid looked up at us suspiciously, as if asking 'What do you want from me?'

A taxi ride, hopefully. Nothing relating to pillaging, thanks.

'Julia Street?' she mumbled, 'I don't think there are any hotels on Julia Street!' Her drawl and missing tooth made it hard to make out exactly what she was slurring, but the subsequent giggling cackle made it obvious.

Oh good.

After loading our bags she spent an inordinate amount of time thumbing helplessly at the mangled key fob in her hand. While waiting for her to decipher the complex device, I noticed the taxi door held an imposing sign : 'Only Driver May Operate Door'. Initially confusing, it soon became an ominous warning; What would happen if we, and not the driver, attempted to Operate Door? Could we injure ourselves? Could this even be a veiled threat? The matter was quickly resolved as our odd host, her brow furrowed in concentration and a dash of temporary confusion, put her tongue back inside her mouth and looked back up us. She jabbed a button on the fob, eyes ablaze with triumph.

The door slid open.

We climbed aboard and arranged ourselves around her bags of shopping, laundry and an impossibly large half-eaten slice of watermelon. It was itself sitting in a plastic bag, surrounded by pips and with a worn plastic fork sticking straight up out of the pulpy middle. This was her fruit fork, revered amongst all others, to take centre stage at all times; The mast to her noble vessel. The watermelon sat on the arm rest between the two front seats; August upon its throne, the best seat in the house. It was our silent, sentient guardian gazing tirelessly away beyond the horizon. When she swerved or braked hard, her hand shot out to steady the massive piece of fruit, as though she knew her driving had the potential to spill it or bruise it or otherwise cause it offence.

It is not comforting to be valued less than a watermelon.

The journey to the questionably existent hotel was largely uneventful, marred only by her seeming inability to keep a constant speed. Go. Stop. Go. Stopgo. Gogogostop. And so it continued. I pondered quite how to put on my seatbelt quietly and carefully enough so that she wouldn't realise it wasn't a direct result of her erratic driving. Slowly, carefully, I clicked the catch into place and turned to look out of the window, ashamed. When we finally arrived at our destination, our pilot veered sharply across the thankfully empty road and slid into a parking spot, watermelon always secure.

'You're staying here?' she cackled once more. Hobbling out of her seat and opening the boot - I noted with an odd degree of satisfaction that it was not also automatic - she glanced at us, inviting us to remove our bags. We rummaged through further plunder: shopping, clothes and now baby toys and pulled out our things. She gunned the engine and sailed off down the road, leaving us standing in that muggy street that smelled vaguely of sick, a wino asleep on a bench.

Enjoy your watermelon, weird pirate lady.

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