The life of a Bermuda cabbie: Front Street on a calm night — but on New Year’s Eve it was a different story. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead
The life of a Bermuda cabbie: Front Street on a calm night — but on New Year’s Eve it was a different story. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead

It is New Year’s Eve and Lionel Godfrey can’t sit still.

For taxi drivers like Lionel, the night is one of the busiest of the year, a kind of last hurrah before the dead of winter, when the tourists are harder to come by.

We are driving down Front Street around 8pm and Lionel is talking about his cabbie strategy: constant movement.

He is not one of those drivers who sit in the cab lines downtown and work on the crossword, chew the fat with other cabbies or listen to talk radio and wait for a potential passenger to approach.

He likes the pace of the job — the constant newness it brings. New people. New routes. New destinations. Idling on Church Street brings none of that. 

Plus, there’s the bottom line: Lionel thinks hustling from job to job  makes him more money. His 2004 Toyota Avanza isn’t the gas-guzzler that some of the other taxi minibuses are, he says.

“I’ll go do a job or two, make some money and come back still see the same guy sitting there. I don’t understand it, but if that’s what he wants to do, that’s fine,” says Godfrey. 

“They call me a roadrunner. I’m always moving.”

He is bidding on jobs that the taxi dispatch is posting on his GPS system.  He picks up a group of Americans and Bermudians in Paget. They are on their way to a company party in Hamilton. He takes a nurse home to Warwick after work. 

He drives a Canadian landscape designer to one of the parties on Pier Six.  We talk about Olympic hockey. Great Britain won a gold in the sport, he tells us, way back in the day. Who knew? 

We pick up a British bar manager and an Irish woman who used to work in a law office here, but now lives back in Ireland. There is talk of Rum Swizzle and cheesy Bon Jovi cover acts. 

The ‘pajama lady’

Lionel keeps the radio on low while driving; he says sometimes he’ll change the station, depending on the clientele. He engages in conversation, but does not seek it out. 

In between jobs, I try and pry some stories from him. In his 11 years as a taxi driver, the 60-year-old Southampton resident has had people run out on his fare exactly four times. They usually say they need to go get money in the house and then disappear, he says. One of them involved a woman in pajama pants.

“I call her the pajama lady,” he says.

No, he’s never had anyone vomit in the cab. No, he’s never kicked anyone out of his cab for being too intoxicated. No, he’s never been robbed.

“It’s a small island. Everyone knows everyone, so you really can’t get away with that stuff.”

He does share a story about another Bermudian cabbie. A trio of men, grabbed the driver by the throat , presumed to have a knife and robbed him of his cash and his cab, says Lionel. 

But then one of the cabbie’s friends recognized his vehicle in another part of town, and gave the cabbie a call. 

The cabbie then rounded up some friends, found the cab and the robbers and beat them up, he says.

“Put it this way: They were happy to see the police.”

That’s the closest we get to a cabbie war story all night.

Lionel is not interested in talking about politics. He doesn’t smoke or drink anymore, he says. 

He likes travelling to England. His wife is studying there. I ask him if he supports an English football team; he says he has seen Stoke City lose on several occasions. 

It’s unclear to me if that means he supports Stoke or just has a thing for brutally direct, dour, rainy football in the West Midlands. I don’t press the matter.

He loves tourists, calls them “our bread and butter”.  He says in the summer, he can make $300 a day driving a cab. In the winter, that number is  reduced by at least half, he says. He says the biggest changes he has witnessed during his life in Bermuda have been the increase in price of everything and the decrease of job opportunities.

Shortly after 9:30pm, there is a lull.  Mostly everyone is already at his or her respective destinations, apparently . There aren’t that many cab rides he can bid on. 

He pulls up to the taxi queue on Church Street. The street is relatively dead.  He waits for about 15 minutes before deciding to call it a night. He’s been on the road since 7 a.m. I suspect he finds the idea of sitting in the queue unsettling. “Happy New Year,” he says before he drives away.