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The Unforgettable Ride


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 am., 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
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,
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

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, 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

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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