DIARY OF A CABBIE : Dec 05, AU Edition

One 21st birthday bash plus two divorced parents minus cigarettes equals a very tense ride
Just after dark recently I was dropping off a passenger in an Eastern Suburbs Housing Commission neighbourhood. As I slowed, a party of three hailed me. It was obvious they were waiting for a booked cab: A young guy around 18 years old in suit pants, white shirt and tie, plus two women likewise dressed up.
The fella ran after the cab then stood on the roadway at my window waiting for the passenger to alight, then asked, ‘Mate, are you free?’ ‘Um, did you book a cab?’, I replied. ‘Yeah but we’ve been waiting half an hour – it’s my sister’s 21st and we’re really late. Please, I know you don’t have to take us but it’s really important’. The kid’s plaintive appeal struck a chord. ‘Yeah righto, jump in’.
My passengers were in good spirits as we headed for a five star restaurant at Circular Quay. The kid earnestly engaged me in banter about cab driving whilst the two women quietly chatted in the back. When one of them requested we stop at a convenience store for cigarettes, the kid tapped me on the leg and said, ‘Mate, this cab doesn’t stop, does it?’. ‘Depends who’s paying’, I replied. ‘I am’, insisted the woman. ‘No, Mum’, the kid replied, ‘we haven’t got time – we’ll be late for the guests’.
Hearing the word ‘Mum’ surprised me. From snippets of their easy chat I’d been under the impression both women were the same age. Now I realised I was carrying a single parent and two children. ‘Mum, you can buy cigarettes when we get there’, the kid told her. ‘No, I don’t think there’s anywhere near the restaurant’, she said, ‘We’ll stop at the nearest hotel’.

At Circular Quay I pulled up at the Paragon Hotel for the mother to buy smokes in the bottle shop. However, as she only had plastic the kids told her she would need cash for the machine. ‘I don’t care, we’ve got to find another shop’, she said tersely, ‘You know not to get between me and cigarettes’. The birthday girl chided her, ‘Mum, you’re being childish’. But the mother’s frustration was obvious – she needed smokes.
‘I’ll take you around to Harrington Street’, I said, ‘there’s a 7-11 there’. ‘No mate…’, said the kid, but his mother interrupted, ‘Yes Steven, we get the cigarettes first!’. Whatever, I thought; it would only take a few minutes. Unbelievably though, the store was lit up but closed! The mother stood outside its doors willing it to open, before storming back to the cab and slamming the door. ‘I told you I needed cigarettes!’, she exploded. The kid leaned over and whispered to me, ‘Mate, please take us to the restaurant now’. ‘Okay’, I said, ‘but there’s a shop back on Pitt Street’. ‘We’ll go back then!’, the mother barked. ‘Mum, let’s just get to the restaurant’, the kid pleaded, ‘then I’ll run up to the store for you’. ‘Yes, you will’, she scowled.
We completed the trip in tense silence, the jovial atmosphere now gone. ‘Thanks Mum’, the daughter quietly said, ‘you’ve managed to spoil the start of my night’. Ignoring her, Mum handed over a debit card then hopped out, slamming the door. ‘I’m really sorry about my Mum’, the kid said as he punched in the PIN. ‘Mate, it’s cool’, I told him. ‘I’m a smoker too.” I handed him a cigarette for her along with the receipt.
What I understood was the situation of divorced parents coming together to celebrate a child’s 21st birthday. There was a good chance relations between the parents were not ideal and the pressure of such a momentous evening could be overwhelming. A child’s formal graduation to adulthood is a tough gig for parents at the best of times, full of powerful mixed emotions. And if a parent insists on cigarettes for such a night, then they must be believed. Believe me.
Read more of Adrian the Cabbie at www.cablog.com.au