Brendan Fox’s taxi is parked up on Charlotte Way, just around the corner from Harcourt Street in the south inner-city.
It’s 9.30pm on a Friday night. The Luas trails by at the top of the road and snakes off out of the city, leaving Charlotte Way as it found it: isolated.
A few minutes later, a pair of gardaí pass the taxi, their footsteps and murmured conversation audible as they step all the way up the street. There is nothing else around to disrupt the sound.
“I would have expected to get one maybe two jobs so far,” Fox says, after driving for 30 minutes through the city centre.
He’s been driving for an hour total already – coasting in his black Skoda through empty streets from Tallaght to the south side of the city, up to Parnell Square, and back through the city again.
Nobody has hailed him yet, though. “Now, let me know if you see anybody because I certainly don’t,” he says, over a WhatsApp video call, his camera pointed to the road.
Normally Fox would not work on Friday nights, he says. “It’s the one day I off I give myself a week.”
However, these are not normal times.
An hour earlier, Fox set off from home to work for the night.
He glides past Tallaght Stadium. “The home of Irish football,” he says. (His WhatsApp profile image is the Shamrock Rovers crest.)
The roads around the stadium are quiet. But not completely empty. There are three cars within sight.
“Not a hell of a lot different for early on a Friday night,” says Fox.
It’s in the city centre that you really notice the difference, he says.
Fox first got his taxi licence in 2003.
He’d done loads of jobs by then, he says. Retail. Warehousing. Logistics. Sales repping.
Some of those skills have transferred to what he does now, he says. In retail, you have to talk to people.
And working in a factory with 750 lads? That “prepared you for the slaggin’ and comradery that comes with this too”, says Fox.
But “I wanted a stable job because at this stage I had a wife and three kids – that I know of”, he says.
In the early days, it was terrifying, he says. A taximan can be asked to go anywhere, and there’s no room for error.
Dublin city has thousands of streets “so it takes a while to get them all under your belt”, he says.
Once familiar with the roads, Fox decided to reinvent his car, to conjure up some atmosphere for those headed into town on a night out.
“I put on ridiculously loud music,” he says.
“I put the lights on in the car and they change colour,” says Fox. Strips of LEDs run the length of the taxi’s inside ceiling.
“I have a little disco ball in the car. I turn that on and it sets a tone in the car that people really, really like,” he says. He has his own personalised party playlist, too.
It all sets him apart from other taxis, says Fox.
“Some of these guys have Newstalk on. Some of these guys don’t have any radio on, and some of these guys don’t want to talk,” says Fox.
That’s not his style, though. “I’m perfectly comfortable talking to people,” he says.
He’s a sociable guy in a town that, right now, isn’t that sociable.
But he backs the shutdown in place. “People aren’t going out and I think it’s brilliant. I’m not asking people to go out and I’m not asking people to feel sorry for me,” says Fox.
Fox is not used to a shortage in business on the weekend. He’s a catalogue of regular customers. “A lot of them are very faithful,” he says.
To some, he’s known as “The Best Taxi in Ireland”. That’s his Instagram name at least.
“You have that choice when you get in the car with him,” says Bríd Browne, a regular for five years now.
“You can have a rave or have a deep, meaningful conversation,” she says, on the phone.
On Friday night, though, the lights had stayed dark. And still, nobody had hailed him for a lift and a chat.
Fox cruises down South Great George’s Street – past now the once-crammed Market Bar, the Globe, and the George.
The footpaths are scattered with the odd pedestrian and occasional garda.
The lights are on at Wow Burger on Wexford Street. “It’s open with a security guy on the door and about six guys standing outside from Deliveroo,” says Fox, as he passes.
At the northern end of South Great George’s Street, he veers right onto Dame Street towards Trinity College.
Fox enjoys what he does, so others do too, he says. “It sets a totally different tone in the car.”
Nine out of ten people want to see the lights and music in action, he says.
Says Darragh Cullen, another regular: “The flashing lights would put you in a good mood coming home or going out.”
Cullen met Fox through the Shamrock Rovers Football Club.
“You get a good buzz off him and talk to him about anything. He’d pick you up from anywhere,” says Cullen.
It feels safer having a regular taxi man, says Browne, who calls Fox her “Dublin Dad”. Back where she’s from, in Wexford, she’d have a regular taxi driver, she says.
“You just don’t get that in Dublin. It’s nice to have someone you can trust at the end of the night,” says Browne.
Fox drives onto Westmoreland Street, crossing paths with a 39a bus. “I didn’t see one person on the bus there,” he says.
In normal times, 90 percent of a taxi’s work would be from pubs, clubs, and concert venues, he says. “None of these are open.”
“The other 10 percent you get is between the street,” says Fox, as the taxi bends around Parnell Square heading back into the city.
These days, he’ll pick up hospital workers, sometimes, too.
“I picked up, what I would describe as, a young doctor after he finished an 18-hour shift,” he says.
To make sure he’s being safe, Fox cleans the car, wipes down the door handles and steering wheel, he says.
An average Saturday night? Fifteen fares, says Fox.
Tonight, he’d expect half, he says.
But he gets five, then winds up for the night.
“Once you got past the last bus, the only people that will be on the streets is homeless people, bad people, and guards,” he says.
Those who are homeless are desperate, he says. “They have nobody to beg money from.”
Fox pulls up to Charlotte Way. He’s been driving an hour. This would be his last weekend night on the road, he says.
On Monday, by text, he said he’s staying home from work too for now.