John, the saintly taxi-driver

Need a taxi, but don’t fancy being objectified today?

Better call John.
When I was living on university campus, it was a treat to hail down a taxi cab without getting scowled at. I wasn’t jumping queues or anything, it’s just many of the drivers that visited the campus were born with a grimace psychologically linked to the presence of a wheelchair. Although I know it’s not their fault they can’t control their facial expressions or emotions, they don’t make for a happy journey. So on the rare occasion when my carer and I found a scowless driver, we took down their name and number.
There was one man who took priority over the rest, and that man’s name was John. John, who drove at an average 5mph. John, who discussed news items which I’m still convinced never happened. But John was dedicated. He saw the alignment of wheelchair ramps as an art that could never be perfected. He always took the short route and never complained. Wherever we were heading, we’d phone to check where John was first. Many times he was nearby, no doubt awaiting our call. Not even John is perfect, however, and was sometimes too far away. Pushed on time, we’d be forced to resort to the taxi lineup.
After causing 90% of drivers to speed off in fear, we’d be left with someone who found the promise of money appealing enough to let us board. Now the taxi-driver scowl is an unfortunate scar to bear, but it’s actually just one symptom of their overwhelming trauma. They smell the chair before they see it. Their extra-sensitive nostril hairs retract at the smell of metal framing and leather armrests. Their eardrums burst at the meep-meep of an electric chair awakening, full-batteried and hungry.
And then they exit the cab. Witness their legs cramp up as they feel a bone crack in their back and the muscles twinging in their neck, their whole body screaming ’No, not the ramps! Stop being a hero for once in your life!’ But they’ve began and so they bravely persist. They heave the first ramp out of the boot, veins already pumping in agony. Reaching the corner of the cab, they place the ramp on the floor and take a good 10 minute rest, and boy do they need it. Their faces are red, they’re gulping in air, their eyebrows have dissolved under a hail of sweat. Still they go on.
’God!’ They pick the ramp off the floor.
’Shit!’ They drag the lightweight metal across the ground.
’Fucking wheelchairs,’ they mutter, facing the dreaded ramp extension. Finally, it’s slotted onto the side of the cab. And, finally, it’s time to get the other ramp. But before they can take another step sweat trickles down their forehead and suddenly a salty torrent gushes from their mouth at an unstoppable force, drenching the pavement and the road and their cabs and the trees until the Earth is flooded and everyone drowns.
I hope we can all find our backup Johns. Dozens of them. They are out there (and if you’re one of them, keep up the good work). As for those drivers who live in constant fear of wheelchairs, please seek help.

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