Beep. Beep. Beep. Nick – Petersham – 5 minutes.
“Yeah, ahhhh, how close are you mate?” asked my next passenger for the night, Nick, politely but also with a touch of urgency in his voice. Before I had a chance to reply, Nick’s friend Shane commandeered his phone and said, in a voice reminiscent of Liam Neeson from the Taken films:
“Mr. Uber Driver. This is Shane. You don’t know me, but what I am about to tell you is of the utmost importance.” Shane paused momentarily to tell his friends, who were laughing uncontrollably in the background, to shut the f**k up or he would punch them all up the arse.
“Sorry about that,” said Shane, regaining composure and returning to his dark, brooding character once more. “Mr. Uber. This isn’t so much a matter of life and death than it is about a man’s dignity. I need your estimated time of arrival right away.”
“Haha I’ll be in there in five minutes mate. Are you fellas out the front already?” I replied, as I weaved through the perpetually congested traffic on Parramatta Rd.
“Five minutes!” Shane yelled to the group, who erupted into a wild chorus of yahooing and yiew-ing.
“We’re out the front. You won’t miss us,” said Shane before abruptly hanging up.
As I do with most passengers, I tried to imagine what Shane, Nick and the boys would look like based on our brief phone conversation. I pictured Nick as a tall, thin man of slight build with thinning black hair and pale, almost translucent skin. I imagined Shane would be overweight with spiked-up brown hair with the tips dyed blonde. He would be smoking on the corner but wouldn’t be holding the cigarette in the conventional fashion, with the cigarette held between the middle and index fingers. He would be gripping onto the cigarette tightly with this thumb and middle finger and would be taking five-second long death drags and looking around aggressively as he blew out the smoke out like a demented, flightless dragon. I wasn’t far from the mark and Shane was right, I wouldn’t miss them.
Standing on the corner of the Oxford Tavern in Petersham were four men all dressed in chino shorts, white button-up shirts and sparkly red bow-ties. Shane, as I predicted, was standing at the front of the pack sucking back on a cigarette in the unorthodox fashion I predicted earlier. I had slightly underestimated Shane. Yes he was overweight and had spiked-up brown-hair fixed in place with a generous helping of gel. What I didn’t anticipate was the unexpected passenger Shane would be bringing along for our Uber ride. Tucked up under Shane’s right arm was a plastic blow-up doll with blonde hair and the standard look of surprise on its face. Scribbled across the dolls forehead in black texta read, “Damos’ Bucks.” Shane was offering the inanimate object a drag of his cigarette when I pulled over to the curb, much to the amusement of passersby.
“Haha! For fucks sake,” I said out loud, unable to stop myself from grinning.
The unruly crew of four made a mad dash to my car when they realised I was their Uber. They frantically piled in with Shane taking the front seat along with his inflatable girlfriend for the day he had affectionately named Shazza. Nick, who did have brown hair but a far more athletic build than I imagined, sat in the back between two very generic looking Aussie blokes. You know the type; decent tan, muscled-arms, pot bellies and cracking banter.
Shane didn’t waste any time officially introducing himself and laying down the law for our ride. “Mate, I need you to listen to me very carefully. Number one, for the next twenty minutes you are British Formula One Driver, Lewis Hamilton. Repeat after me. I am Lewis Hamilton”, said Shane very seriously, as he used Shazza’s arms to emphasise the paramount importance of this instruction.
“Haha! I am Lewis Hamilton,” I replied, confusion creeping into my voice.
“Please, come on, say it like you mean it. I am Lewis Hamilton,” said Shane once more, sounding like a motivational speaker trying to rile up the audience.
I decided to play along. “I am Lewis Hamilton,” I said with conviction, staring straight into Shane’s bulbous blue-eyes.
“Goooood, good!” he replied, clapping Shazza’s hands together appreciatively.
“Now, forget the map on your phone and follow my every instruction. We are heading to the Men’s Gallery in Pitt Street. Damo, our buck for the evening, and the other fellas just jumped into another Uber. We really need to beat them to the gallery. The last car there has to pay for the buck’s lap dance. The prick should be paying for himself, he just pulled fifteen-hundred out of the pokies. Have you ever played Uber racing?”
I hadn’t personally played Uber racing before but I had heard about it. Uber has this function where you can share your estimated time of arrival with others. For example, if you were on your way to your mum’s for dinner and she wanted to get the timing for the roast just right, you could send her a text with a link and she could track you all the way to her door. The more creative riders out there developed a game, usually with a wager, which involves ordering two Ubers at the same time and seeing which driver could make it to the destination first. The wager in this instance was a lap dance at a strip club called Men’s Gallery.
“Shut the fuck up and let the man drive,” snapped the generic Aussie fella sitting directly behind me. “And, you’re not Lewis Hamilton, you’re Peter Brock.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Shane barked back, “Head straight down Parramatta Rd Lewis! Go, go, go!”
I had no intention of losing my license so Shane didn’t have to fork out cash for Damo’s lapdance, so I drove down Parramatta Rd with the needle sitting exactly on the speed limit.
“How are we looking, Nick?”, asked Shane in a high-pitched voice as he popped Shazza’s head over his head-rest.
“They’re about two hundred in front of us,” replied Nick, staring intently down at his phone. “Any money Damo doesn’t get in anyway. His shirt is covered in bourbon and coke and he can hardly string a sentence together. He’s absolute maggot!”
“Hahaha! He will straighten up soon enough, don’t you worry,” said Shane with a villainous grin.
“What does that even mean?” Nick replied, looking up from his phone and shaking his head at Shane, with a look that screamed, “Why the hell am I even mates with you?”
“Lets just say, Damo will be a new man in about five minutes time,” Shane replied smugly, as he placed a cigarette behind his right ear.
“Getttttt fucked! What have you done? Lisa is going to legitimately murder you if you’ve spiked his drink. He has never touched a drug in his life. Don’t tell me you did it!” Nick pleaded, as my other passengers erupted into bouts of laughter and “no ways!”
“What, you’re going to tell Lisa I dropped a pinga in Damo’s drink are ya Nick you weak dog?” Shane snapped back.
“You’re honestly the dumbest bloke I know ay,” Nick replied, shaking his head furiously.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, boring!” Shane fired back. “Hang on a sec, the other lads are calling me.
Shane put the phone to his ear and said, “Hello? We’re right behind you, what’s up? What! Get fucked! You better be shit stirring me Macca. Put Damo on right now. Put him on! Fuck!”
Shane hung up the phone and stared blankly into space for a moment. All of the colour had drained from his face. He slowly turned his head to face Nick and the boys in the back before whispering, “We all forgot Damo, he’s back at the bloody Oxford Tavern.”
As the backseat erupted, lead mainly by NIck who hurled expletives at Shane who used Shazza as protection to block the flurry of overhand slaps coming from the backseat, I turned off Parramatta Rd and headed back toward the Oxford Tavern.
“Fuck! Hang on a sec, let me call him!” Shane begged his backseat attackers. They relented momentarily as Shane hunched forward to call Damo. “Arghhh! It’s engaged. He’s on the bloody phone to someone!”
“Yeah, he’s probably high as fuck and calling Lisa mate!” Nick said in disgust.
I chuckled to myself the entire trip back to the Oxford Tavern. I wondered if Damo had any idea his drink had been spiked, or if he thought the voluminous waves of euphoria washing over him were simply down to a few drinks with the lads and a win on the pokies. There was a collective sigh of relief when we pulled up to the tavern and saw Damo sitting on the ground, his back resting up against a telegraph pole. He was on the phone, a smile from ear to ear on his sunburnt face.
“Get the fucken phone away from him!” screamed Nick, as Shane opened his door while the car was still moving. Shane, being the lunatic that he is, crash tackled Damo and knocked his phone into the gutter.
Damo managed to wrestle Shane from on top of him before standing up and embracing his mates in a round of boisterous high-fives and hugs. “Woooohoooooo!”came the howl of pure elation from Damo, which echoed down the busy street.
Nick walked over to my car, leant in and said, “Mate, we’re going to give the strippers a miss. Thanks for putting up with us! Please don’t give me zero stars!” I smiled and bid Nick farewell as Damo, Shane, the lads and Shazza disappeared back into the Oxford Tavern for more bourbon and cokes.
Read more Uber driving adventures at Diary of an Uber Driver.