Wrong Turn

“Car 5.”

With two phones ringing off the hook, or they would have been if I hadn’t already picked up one of the receivers, and a collection of arguing adults in the office, this wasn’t exactly the best time for Car 5 to radio in.

“Stand by, Car 5,” I said, then turned my attention back to the call I was already taking, “So that’s one taxi to go from Ringwood Crescent to Anchor Road at five o’clock tomorrow morning?” I received confirmation and hit enter to officially add the booking to the system. “Okay; that’s now booked.”As they hung up, I selected the next line from the queue. “Hello, taxis.”

“When’s our taxi coming?” demanded one of the adults in front of the counter, who’d broken off the argument for a moment or two.

“Excuse me a moment,” I said to the phone customer. “He’ll be here in the next five minutes.” The adult grunted and picked up the threads of the argument again. I turned back to the phone. “All right, you want to be picked up from Church Road; which Church Road?”

The woman on the other end of the phone line uttered a blood-vessel-bursting snort. “What do you mean ‘which Church Road?'” she demanded. “There is only one!”

I nearly dropped the receiver in shock at this remarkable statement. Just from where I was sitting, I could have given her directions to at least five!

“Car 5.”

I rolled my eyes. “Stand by Car 5.” Back to the phone. “Ma’am, could you tell me which part of Bristol you live in?”

That met with a further snort and the grudging response of, “Stoke Bishop, of course!”

“Of course,” I murmured, all the while thinking that I probably should have guessed as much.

“Car 19 pulling up outside.”

That was one radio message I was grateful to receive. And it seemed as if the adults had stopped arguing for long enough to hear it too, from the way they all promptly trooped out of the office. Blessed silence. Perhaps I could complete this booking and actually put the phone down. “So that’s Church Road going to Clifton Village, what time, please?”

“As soon as possible.”

I winced. She wasn’t going to like my answer to that. “The earliest available taxi I have is in two hours.”

“What?!”

I winced again, this time from the shrillness of her response. “I’m afraid we’re very busy this afternoon.”

“But there’s sport on the television!” she said, incredulous. “Why are you so busy?”

I opened and shut my mouth for a few moments. Just when I thought I’d hit the bottom of the barrel for excuses and justifications in this job, someone went and found another barrel. “Yes,” I agreed. “There is sport on television; there’s also a lot of people who want to go shopping, there’s plenty of people who don’t give two figs who wins the cup final and there are people who need to get to work.”

“Who on earth works on a Saturday?”

I looked around the office then glared at the phone which had now stopped flashing, which suggested that the other caller had given up on trying to get through. “I can’t imagine,” I said dryly. “Do you still require this taxi?”

“I suppose it will do,” she said grudgingly.

After a few final details, I was able to put the phone down and key the booking into the system. Just as I hit the enter key, the radio bleeped.

“Car 5.”

I picked the microphone up. “All right, Car 5; what’s the problem?”

“Well I did want some directions,” came the slightly huffy answer, “but I’ve found the house now, so I’ve picked up and am en route.”

I sighed. “Sorry Car 5. Thanks for letting me know.”

The only response from Car 5 was a double click on the microphone.

In the sudden silence in the office, I sighed again and glanced at the clock which, mockingly, informed me it was only just two o’clock. That meant there was still five hours of my shift to go. I hoped they were going to be significantly quieter than the first hour had been.

Under most circumstances, the Saturday afternoon shift as the book-and-dispatch operator for a small taxi company in North West Bristol was relatively quiet and I’d brought my physics textbook with me with the vague idea of getting some revision in before my exams, but so far, it hadn’t even made it out of my bag. Just as I began thinking about retrieving it now, however, the phone started to ring again.

Yep. Not going to be my afternoon.

I picked the phone up. “Hello, taxis.”

“I’d like a taxi for half past one, please,” requested a somewhat sleepy male voice.

I glanced at the clock. “Do you mean tomorrow morning?” I asked. I generally tried not to assume my callers were idiots, even when they ended up proving me wrong, but I had a nasty suspicion that I was simply clutching at straws on this chap’s behalf.

“No, I mean this afternoon,” he answered, no trace of sarcasm to the reply.

Yep; definitely a straw. “Then I’m terribly sorry; I can’t help you,” I said.

“Why not? Have I got a wrong number? I thought this was a taxi company.”

“This is a taxi firm,” I agreed. “But it’s already two o’clock.”

“Oh shit.”

There was a click as my caller hung up rather abruptly and I started to giggle.

“What’s so funny?”

I looked up as Car 19 – or at least its driver – walked into the office. Still giggling, I told him.

He grinned. “Somebody’s late for work,” he observed. “And that last run was on account.”

I lifted my eyebrows. “Oh?”

“Yeah,” he said bitterly. “On account of they hadn’t got any money.”

I grimaced at him. “Sorry.” I entered it into the computer.

He shrugged and headed into the gents. “Where am I going next?”

I looked at the screen. “Coomb Paddock for Mrs Smith.”

That was received with a loud and slightly echoing groan. He reappeared a moment later, drying his hands on the towel. “Not her!”

“Sorry, but after Darren’s performance last week, I’d like the poor woman to actually get picked up somewhere close to on time.”

He stumped out of the office just as the phone began to ring. Shaking my head, I picked up. “Hello, taxis.”

“This is Jane Smith from Coomb Paddock, how late is he running this week?”

I grinned to myself. For all Car 19’s complaints, Mrs Smith was actually one of our favourite customers. Kind, polite, punctual and, above all, possessing a sense of humour for the times when we weren’t running quite to time. Of course, being more than an hour late the week before was a particularly spectacular effort, hence her query this week. “He’s actually not running late this week,” I answered. “He’ll be with you—” And at that moment, I heard her doorbell ring. “In fact, that’ll be him.”

She laughed. “Thank you very much, dear.”

She hung up and a second or two later, Car 19 radioed in to confirm he’d picked her up.

“Car 5.”

“Go ahead, Car 5.” Things did seem to have settled down after the initial rush. Maybe I would get that physics revision in after all.

“Dropped in Avonmouth, five pounds.”

“Got that,” I answered. “Head for Barrow Hill, pick up by the name of Young, going to the Treble Chance.”

“On my way.”

I keyed the price into the computer and started to reach for my bag. Physics it was.

“Car 5.”

I let my arm drop back to my side and groaned. What now? “Go ahead, Car 5.”

“Uh, I think I’m going to be late to Barrow Hill.”

I blinked. “Why?” Barrow Hill was no more than a five-minute drive from where he’d dropped his previous passenger.

In so far as a radio silence could be sheepish, this was. It was followed up by an audibly sheepish response, too. “I seem to be heading for Gloucester.”

“Say again?” I asked. Had he really said Gloucester?

“I seem to be heading for Gloucester.”

Yes, he really had. “What on earth are you doing on the M5?” I demanded.

“I don’t know!” he answered. “They’ve changed the road layout and I somehow, err, accidentally, ended up on the motorway.”

I started to bang my head on the counter. At least the next junction on the M5 was only a few miles north. “Let me know when you’ve got turned round,” I said.

“Will do.”

I put the microphone down and groaned. Yes, it was clearly going to be one of ‘those’ days. And it was still only quarter past two.

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