Friday, September 15, 2006

The Cab Ride

I received the following story in an email from my cousin Amy in Pennsylvania.

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The Cab Ride

Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living. 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, and 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 80's 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 an address, and 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 rear-view 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 tightly.

"You gave an old woman a little moment of joy," she said. "Thank you."

I squeezed her hand, and 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.

PEOPLE MAY NOT REMEMBER EXACTLY WHAT YOU DID, OR WHAT YOU SAID, ~BUT~THEY WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL.’

You won't get any big surprise in 10 days if you send this to ten people. But, you might help make the world a little kinder and more compassionate by sending it on.

Thank you, my friends...

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This story took me back to the summer of 2004. My late wife Barbara had finally accepted that her brain cancer was terminal and wanted to do a few special things one last time before she died. Just like the old lady in this story. One thing I remember in particular, was she wanted to take a car ride out to the east end of Long Island and visit some of her favorite places.

It was a Saturday, not exactly sure what day and we took the drive. We stopped at a few wineries, ate a lobster roll at her favorite place for them, The Lobster Roll and drove out to Montauk Point.

When we got to Montauk Point, I wheeled her in her wheel chair up to the wall which was at the eastern most point of Long Island over looking the ocean. Thank goodness the wall was low enough for her to see over while she was sitting in the wheel chair. I pointed out Block Island and Connecticut for her. She then asked me to point to Europe, which I also did. We weren’t there for more than 10 minutes when she asked to leave.

We drove around the area for awhile so she could see the places she spend so many summers with her family. Her father and mother would rent one house and her aunt and uncle one next to them. All her relatives from Brooklyn and Long Island would come out at one time or the other during the summer and spend some time with them. The men would take the long drive back to work each Monday and return on Friday after work.

Barbara, Brian and I spend a lot of time each summer out on the east end of Long Island after we got our boat, the B.T. Express. We usually stayed a few days or maybe a week at one marina or the other, but usually tried to stay at the Montauk Yacht Club. One year we even took the boat to Newport Rhode Island.

Before Barbara was no longer able to make these long drives, I took her to a few other places she wanted to visit. Like the cab driver in the story said, "I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life."

It was the least I could do.

14 comments:

Wenchy said...

Hello Hello Hello.

Thinking of you.

patti_cake said...

It was so thoughtful of you Tony. You were such a wonderful husband to Barbara and Lori is so lucky to have you too. Sorry men are a dime a dozen but gems like you are few and far between. I know, cos' i've got one too!

Libby said...

...Tony, i love these stories, but today you made me sob!!

No One In Particular said...

Sounds like some nice memories ya'll had to look back on. Have a nice weekend =)

BTExpress said...

Wenchy - I think of you a lot. I'm still hoping that someday we'll actually get to meet. Love you.

patti_cake - Thank you so much. :-)

Libby - I can't believe how much I cried the first time I read that story and then again when I tried to write this post. I've tried for two weeks to write this one and each time I had to stop. Today I finally managed to finish it.

No One - All I have now are the memories, the good ones and the bad.

barman said...

Wow, those were some stories and the eyes still have not stopped leaking. You are every bit as awesome as I knew. It is sgreat to have a reminder from time to time what is truely important in life. Thank you.

jillie said...

Wow...you're an incredible guy Tony and what a lucky lady she was. I worked for hospice for close to a year and it was one of the toughest and most rewarding years of my life as a nurse.

Lucky Pink said...

You made me cry!

lime said...

you didn't warn me to have the tissues nearby. and yes it was important you did that, for barbara and for you. may she rest in peace. thank you for sharing.

gab said...

I had received the one about the cab from my girlfriend just two days ago. I sobbed my eyes out. Then I thought of my mom who had so wanted to go on a cruise to Alaska. We were actually planning the trip when she passed. How I wish we had started planning earlier. Of course now reading it here again I sobbed all over again and more so when I read about what you did for your wife. You really and truely are a gem. I outta know I have another one like you.

MamaKBear said...

It's obvious in this post how much you must still miss Barbara! Bless your heart, Tony...you were a wonderful husband to her.

You made me cry a bit too...Hugs!

Samantha Alice said...

You were lucky to have each other.

Isolde said...

omg, this brought a lump to my throat.
thank you for sharing.

Jodes said...

lovely story