The Cabbie: Kind-a-sad!

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Posted by TerryS ( on October 05, 2000 at 16:15:27:


Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living. It was a
cowboy's life, a life for someone who wanted no boss.
What I didn't realize was that it was also a ministry.

Because I drove the night shift, my cab became a
moving confessional. Passengers climbed in, sat behind
me in total anonymity, and told me about their lives.
I encountered people whose lives amazed me, ennobled
me, made me laugh and weep.

But none touched me more than a woman I picked up late
one August night. I was responding to a call from a
small brick fourplex in a quiet part of town. I
assumed I was being sent to pick up some partiers, or
someone who had just had a fight with a lover, or a
worker heading to an early shift at some factory for
the industrial part of town.

When I arrived at 2:30 a.m., the building was dark
except for a single light in a ground floor window.
Under these circumstances, many drivers would just
honk once or twice, wait a minute, then drive away.
But I had seen too many impoverished people who
depended on taxis as their only means of
transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger,
I always went to the door. This passenger might be
someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself.
So I walked to the door and knocked. "Just a minute",
answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear
something being dragged across the floor. After a long
pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80s stood
before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox
hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a
1940s movie.

By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment
looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the
furniture was covered with sheets. There were no
clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the
counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled
with photos and glassware.

"Would you carry my bag out to the car?" she said. I
took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist
the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward
the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness. "It's
nothing", I told her. "I just try to treat my
passengers the way I would want my mother treated".

"Oh, you're such a good boy", she said. When we got in
the cab, she gave me and address, then asked, "Could
you drive through downtown?"

"It's not the shortest way," I answered quickly. "Oh,
I don't mind," she said. "I'm in no hurry. I'm on my
way to a hospice".

I looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes were
glistening. "I don't have any family left," she
continued. "The doctor says I don't have very long." I
quietly reached over and shut off the meter. "What
route would you like me to take?" I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She
showed me the building where she had once worked as an
elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood
where she and her husband had lived when they were
newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture
warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had
gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she'd ask me to slow
in front of a particular building or corner and would
sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing. As the
first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she
suddenly said, "I'm tired. Let's go now."

We drove in silence to the address she had given me.
It was a low building, like a small convalescent home,
with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two
orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up.
They were solicitous and intent, watching her every
move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the
door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

"How much do I owe you?" she asked, reaching into her
purse. "Nothing," I said.

"You have to make a living," she answered. "There are
other passengers," I responded. Almost without
thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me

"You gave an old woman a little moment of joy," she
said. "Thank you." I squeezed her hand, then walked
into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It
was the sound of the closing of a life. I didn't pick
up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly,
lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could
hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry
driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift?
What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked
once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don't think that I have done
anything more important in my life. We're conditioned
to think that our lives revolve around great moments.
But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully
wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

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