Cab Ride, Dunedin

Rain poured down while Lynley and I waited on her porch for the cab after a three-hour dinner with plenty of talking and an abundance of wine. Cab drivers can be so irritable when kept waiting. We saw his lights and after a quick hug I rushed out into the rain. But this one was irritable despite my hurry. A big Maori guy, 50 something, he watched me struggle with the door then, when I finally got in, said “You could have told me to stop at the letterbox, this driveway is too steep on a night like this.” I sat there dripping while the poor guy grunted and groaned, backing his cab up the drive.

History crashed down on us when he asked the inevitable question about my origins. I claimed California, Utah being loaded with Mormons and complicating questions. I asked it back. “Up North.” He explained. Let the sparring begin. I was here to lecture for a few weeks at University. He’d bought his cab 7 years ago. I went to school at Berkeley. His school wouldn’t let him speak Maori.

I asked him when things changed and between the two of us we figured it was sometime in the 70s. He figured these days, “Everybody’s Maori.” That, too, seemed to piss him off.

I reminded him that Europeans had landed in America before they descended on New Zealand, and they’d wiped out people and languages. I told him lots of people in America want to claim indigenous identity too. He started to relax. He spoke of grandparents who’d taught him Te Reo Maori and loving times with his whanau. He figured school was worthless and the teachers were downright mean. “But you turned out OK,” I said.

By the time we reached Knox he figured I might have turned out OK too. Still he couldn’t resist adding a couple of dollars on to my fare. “Administrative fee,” he said, “you can read about it there.” He pointed to a notice on the dash. Funny, how the driver who took me from Knox to Lynley’s hadn’t charged the fee. But I said, “That’s OK, I trust you.” He offered a receipt and I declined and was pleased to see his moment of chagrin. He’d taken a couple of bucks off of me personally, not some university. “Good talking to you.” He said. I said, “Yeah.” and slipped out into the rain.

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