Harry & Alex & me

It was near the end of my shift & I was driving down Harris Street, Ultimo towards Broadway when he hailed me; a big man, about 60, who smelled of alcohol but was not noticeably drunk. Wanting to go to Brighton Le Sands. I asked him which way he’d like to travel, we discussed options & came to a mutually acceptable route; which, however, on a whim, I varied, taking us up City Road & along King Street rather than through Redfern & Alexandria & down Mitchell Road. He queried that decision, not seriously; then said he thought the cd I was playing (Bought for a Dollar, Sold for a Dime) was a downer &, further, opined that music should not just uplift the spirit, it should encourage those civic virtues we hold most dear: patriotism, respect for the military, solidarity with mates etc. etc. I didn’t comment on that. Somehow he began to recite a list of the wars Australia has sent troops to & from that I understood that he himself had served in Vietnam; but I forget if this was before or after he told me that he was the owner of that Sydney institution, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. Anyway. What d’ya know about Vietnam? he asked, a touch aggressively. Not much, I said. Though I worked with quite a few Vietnamese people in the ’80s. We didn’t go any further down that track however, we talked instead about the mechanics of conscription; because that was of course how he went there. How old were you? I asked, knowing what the answer would be before he even said it. I was only nineteen. It was 1969. What were you doing before you went? We were coming down the slope of King Street now, heading for the old brickworks in St. Peters. I was working here, he said. Right here. This road used to be just a dirt track. Well, a strip of seal with dirt on either side. When he was fourteen, living in Blacktown way out west, his father took off & he became the main support for his mother & his younger sisters & brothers; & got a job in the brickworks. A long train ride every morning & another at night; & a long day in between making bricks. He detailed all the different stages of the process & said what the person was called who did each one. Then he gestured off to the right. We used to drink in the White Horse. There . . . the flow of reminiscence continued. The night before we left, he said, I had a send off at the White Horse. And this older woman was there & she said come on, come with me. She took me down to the park, that park just down there, & fucked my brains out. I was just a fresh-faced kid. I say older woman, she was probably about twenty-four. You know. When I asked him if he ever saw her again he did not answer. We moved on to other things. Harry’s Cafe de Wheels is opening a new facility on the Princes Highway at Tempe and he showed me that. Spoke at length, & bitterly, about how the big boys are always trying to muscle in on a small operation such as his. How you have to franchise yourself if you don’t want to lose the business. What happened to Harry? I asked. Harry liked drinking beer, he said. He drank too much of it & died of a heart attack. That’s when Alex took over. I must have sounded a bit tactless, I don’t know; I asked what happened to Alex. Same as what happened to Harry, he said. Had a heart attack & died. Yeah, there was Harry & Alex & me; now there’s just me. We headed up West Botany Street & turned into Bay Street. My phone rang & I took the call. That your Missus? he asked when I’d finished. Or your mistress? Heh, heh. The rest of the way he talked about his sons, what fine boys they were, how much he loved them. He lived at Lady Robinson Beach, right on the shores of Botany Bay, but I didn’t actually see what the house was like. When we pulled up there was $35.00 or so on the meter. I paused it & turned on the interior light. He had a fifty dollar bill crumpled in his fingers. That’s alright, he said, keep the change. Then he shook my hand in that meaningful way that some men will, as if all that is unspoken between you might be acknowledged in the clasp of flesh, the simple pressure of palm on palm. He got out, closed the door then opened it again. You’ll have to turn around, he said. It’s a one way street.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Harry & Alex & me

  1. Graeme Shepherd

    Hola Martin
    Googled my name for something to do and lo and behold found your blog mentioning me.
    Well Im still in the Merchant Navy having worked on Cook Strait ferries since Nov 1994 when I made sudden decision to accept an offer there.
    Missed Sydney so much I resigned 3 times in first year,but stuck in out rising to dizzy heights of Master for last 7 years.
    I resigned a few weeks ago to go adventuring somewhere else although in actual fact I am now unemployed and will probably go back to Interislander. Have been in Pacific NW of USA several times as I have bought a lovely old boat motorsailer and it is getting refitted up there so I can cruise back to NZ next year sometime.
    I have read some of your taxidriving tales and they brought about a wave of nostalgia.
    Not for the job itself but that discovery of quirky,depraved, exhilirating hidden corners that appear every time you go out on the road.
    Hope you can reply to me through this blog somehow.
    GPS (in wtgn phone book -Days Bay)

    • me

      Hi Graeme,

      Good to hear from you, I’ve sometimes wondered where you are, I thought Tasmania . . . surprised to hear you are on the Inter-Island Steamer Express, as Peter Cape called it . . . !

      Blog post comments aren’t the best way to communicated, why not email me on:

      mjedmond@optusnet.com.au

      & we can have a proper talk.

      cheers
      Martin

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