Pre-Covid I had a healthy following for my taxi driver stories.
I always made a point of asking any chatty (not grumpy) driver to answer one simple question:
"Nobody leaves school intending to be a taxi driver, so how did you end up doing this?"
Fans of the posts will know that some fascinating stories emerged and I soon realised that the person in the driving seat could easily have trained as an accountant, a pharmacist, a soldier, a hod-carrier, a salmon fisher - the list (and the stories) never ceased to amaze and delight.
That was another tradition that the pandemic ended abruptly.
Now that I'm back on the road again, I've been meaning to make a start, although sometime inhibited by the driver's mask (or yesterday in Southampton, the continued use of plastic screens between driver and passenger).
However, yesterday morning my driver from home to Stockport station broke the ice for me.
I mentioned that I'd thrown away my flight tickets and changed to the train, after hearing about the ongoing morning chaos at Manchester Airport check in and security.
He responded that his trips to the airport had started at 04:00 and the queues were out of the terminal - so he agreed with my plan to get 4 hours peace and solitude with Cross Country Rail.
Then he added that he was due to take his own family to Lake Garda next week and had similar concerns.
As a former resident in Como, I asked if he knew the area and it quickly transpired that he knew a lot of places in Italy better than me.
On further enquiry, we started talking about balance - and then his story began:
"I moved here from Belfast 21 years ago with a degree in leisure and hotel management and ended up working 70+ hours a week as a hotel manager in Manchester for about £50k.
A friend told me I could make the same money as a cab driver and still have plenty of time with my family.
I changed over and have never looked back.
I work from 04:00 to 12:00 five days a week and don't work weekends.
My life could not be simpler - I drive and chat to (mainly) nice people first thing in the day - no drunks or idiots.
I still make my £50k but last year I took 17 weeks holiday.
My family and I have seen the world and have seen each other."
17 weeks holiday....
I loved my 20-minute chat with him and it left me contemplating:
That "balance" we all talk about and never quite get to;
The simple and beautiful life of a freelancer;
What matters most.
And, of course, a reminder to start my taxi driver chats again.
I never know who is driving me.
You never know who you might have in the chair.
Take the time to find out.