Last night was a disaster at the busiest time of the year. Upon commencing work I was unable to log-on to the radio network, a goldmine of work early on Saturday evenings.
I phoned the radio room supervisor who confirmed the network was operational and my radio status was clear. All he could suggest was I visit the radio repair facility at Alexandria, the network headquarters. This is the last thing cabbies need during a peak work period, especially out in the western suburbs. In short I was furious. Finally after two patchy hours of street hails I turned off my Vacant light and headed to Alexandria...
Four other cabs were waiting, all from my district with the same problem. Needless to say, four very pissed-off drivers. ‘Oh, that radio tower out there is down’, explained the technician. In literally twenty seconds flat he changed my radio channel and had me logged-on for work.
‘Well mate’, I bitched, ‘why doesn’t the radio supervisor upstairs know about this ? He’s advising drivers to come all the way here for a service when all we needed to do was manually change our channel’. To be fair, the techo insisted he’d only just learned the tower was off-line and he trudged off to inform the radio room. A typical cab screw-up.
Prior to this I'd picked up a fella in his thirties who was happily drunk and heading home with two female companions. ‘How’s your day ?’, he chirped. ‘It’s a friggin’ disaster’, I moaned. ‘I can’t log-on to my radio and I’m losing work’. ‘Ahh, a comms' problem’, he said. Sensing I was too shitty to chat he proceeded to silently clown around with the women. Thankfully.
On approach to their destination he made another effort to be friendly. ‘Where you from driver ?’. ‘Afghanistan’, I growled. ‘Oh really’, he cheerily exclaimed, ‘I’ve been to Afghanistan’. Now I was in trouble and cautiously asked, ‘Why..?’. ‘I’m in the Air Force’, he replied and pulled out an RAAF photo identity card. As we were mobile I refused to look at it and he waited, holding it up.
Finally I forced myself to glance at it and asked, ‘What were you doing there ?’. ‘Aw, you know, fighting the War on Terror’, he said, then gently touching of my arm added, ‘but no offence, I’m not saying you’re terrorist...’. He was that drunk he didn’t seem to realise I was lying, nor that my broad Australian accent was impossible for an Afghani. Then he was gone with a friendly farewell, which whilst acknowledged, had me feeling lousy for being so unsociable.
Now at home, I feel even worse after Googling for the RAAF in Afghanistan, rather than show some real interest in my passenger at the time. In September, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force gave a media briefing on the wildly successful twelve month deployment of our Special Forces Task Group involving the SAS, Army commandos and a myriad of support personnel including the Air Force,
The other often unrecognised area of support were the work horses of the RAAF: the C130s of 36 and 37 Squadrons and their crews who maintained regular runs to re-supply us in our remote location, flying in all weather and under constant threat of surface to air fire. The Hercs provided a vital lifeline for our operations. By completion of our mission, the Australian C130s had delivered thousands of tonnes of cargo to Camp Russell. This included everything from food, water, replacement vehicles, through to pallets of humanitarian stores for distribution across the area.
That I was so off-handed to a valued member of the Australian Defence Force fills me with shame. Such behaviour is not normally my style and I hereby offer a sincere public apology to all servicemen and women doing a dangerous and commendable job on my behalf. My passenger certainly didn’t deserve the crappy attitude and was fully entitled to some friendliness, if not a free fare. It won’t happen again.
(Hit the above link for an account of how our Special Forces cleared a hostile Afghani province of insurgents for the Australian Reconstruction Task Force, currently working there. Highly recommended. Images from Operation Slipper.)