Newfoundland writer Mike Heffernan seems to be documenting the experiences of his home province’s working class one book at a time. His first was the best-selling Rig: An Oral History of the Ocean Ranger Disaster, which addressed the 1982 tragedy that is burned into the brains of any Newfoundlander born before 1975. This time Heffernan digs into the mysterious and often difficult lives of St. John’s taxicab drivers.
The Other Side of Midnight captures the history of the taxicab industry in St. John’s over the past 100 years, and provides first-hand accounts from the current batch of souls trying to eke out a living in a city with a population of only 200,000 and anywhere from 500 to 1,000 cabbies. Heffernan’s extensive interviews with drivers (almost all of whom choose to remain anonymous) take readers through the ins and outs of the industry, offering insight into the idiosyncracies and dangers of the job.
The book’s stories are divided into rough sections, beginning cheerily enough with some old-timers’ reminiscences about the “good old days” when cab companies were family-run and a driver could make a decent living. But the portrait quickly turns grim as cabs are bought up by brokers and leased to drivers who are now subject to hefty fees and forced to split revenues with owners. It’s telling, and somewhat depressing, that the book’s longest section by far is the one dealing with tales of financial hardship.
Heffernan presents the cabbies’ stories without much commentary. One of his primary goals, he writes, is to make the city’s taxi drivers “more human” and, by giving voice to their frustrations, he largely succeeds. But one does sometimes wish he had wielded a heavier editorial hand, as he tends to let his interviewees ramble. Still, The Other Side of Midnight offers a unique social history of St. John’s and a compassionate portrait of an overlooked segment of society.