I learned early as a cabdriver to judge some people’s intentions by their behavior and body language. There have been occasions when I’ve been fooled by what I saw. One particular homeless shelter resident reminded me of this fact in a very special way.
He appeared to have just finished a long hard work day. He walked slow and labored. His clothes were dusty and he looked exhausted.
“I’ve got a good bit of ground to cover and I’m short on time.” My customer said as he handed me a one hundred dollar bill. “I don’t want you to worry so I’m gonna pay you up front.” I guess he could tell that I was a tad apprehensive. His gesture really put me at ease.
He wanted to go to a used car lot. Huntsville, Alabama is littered with places where the salesman buys lemons and sells them to people who are strapped for cash for a high profit. My client told me he was looking for something to get him back and forth to work. I pulled up as close as I could to the office door. My guest went in and talked to the salesman for awhile. I could tell he was disappointed when he came back to the cab.
“Dear Lord! That dude wants way too much for all the cars he’s got,” my patron lamented, “I guess I’ll just keep looking.”
We went next to a run-down motel up in Meridianville. I really had a bad feeling about being there because of the poor reputation the place had.
“Now don’t you worry about a thing. I ain’t gonna be here that long. I ain’t fond of this place at all!” I began to wonder what I had gotten into by agreeing to drive this man around. True to his word, he was back in just a couple of minutes and we got out of there as fast as we could.
We made our way to a neighborhood close to Alabama A&M University. We were greeted by children running out of the house as I pulled into the driveway. A tall, husky man followed the kids. He came out to the car and opened the door for my rider. The two men shook hands then hugged. After awhile, everybody went inside the house after they greeted their visitor while I waited in to the car. My passenger returned to the vehicle after his nice, long visit that he really enjoyed.
“WOW! That’s my brother and his kids. I got paid today and brought a good bit of it up here to him. That way I won’t be tempted to spend it and those bums down at the mission won’t steal it. They’ve got a really nice home. He wants me to stay with him because he worries about me a lot. I don’t want to be no bother to nobody. Besides, I like my freedom too much. I’d feel like I’d be intruding on their life. I’ll just stay at the mission until I can find something better.”
We then went to New Market. I could tell from the previous stops and our next destination that my companion and I shared a rural, blue collar background. I told him that the town I grew up in only had two hundred and fifty people living there and my home county population was only seventeen hundred. My new friend found it hard to believe that there was a place in twenty-first century America that was that sparsely populated. I assured him that I was telling him the truth.
I could tell that he was only making this next stop out of a sense of duty or debt. He got awfully quiet as we approached the house he wanted to visit.
“I want you to park on the street. Point the car out of here and keep the motor running so that we can get the hell out of here in a hurry if we need to.” I started to worry about the well being of my automobile and my own safety with those instructions. I fulfilled my fare’s request and started to put a plan of action together that I would execute if my customer’s fears came true .
My passenger was greeted within seconds of setting foot in the yard. A man came out of the house agitated and concerned. My customer seemed to be apprehensive about seeing him. You could tell from watching the two men’s interaction that they weren’t on friendly terms. They finally went inside after spending several minutes holding a conversation in the front yard. I started to pray that I would be able to get out of this community with my client, my car and myself in tact. My patron returned to the car after what seemed to me to be an eternity. He acted as if he was sorry that he came all this way.
“Those people in think the worst of me. I’ll never be able to change their minds. They are set against me.” My passenger said as he got back in the car and we drove away. I released a large sigh of relief that we were able to leave that situation unharmed.
“That’s my former brother-in-law. He and I came up together. He’s never really like me. He’s always said I was no good for his little sister. He blames all that happened on me. I’m not saying that I didn’t have my part in it, but he had a good bit to do with it too!” It was with that statement that I realized that my rider was telling me the story of his life. I knew he was trying to find closure. But I didn’t know why he revealed this information to me.
“Driver, You know where Valhalla Gardens is?” my client asked. I told him that I did and plotted a course that would take us there. My rider acted like it was important we got there before sundown.
We arrived at the graveyard just as the sun was setting. My customer directed down the narrow driveway that wound through the potter’s field to the site of a specific grave. He got out and walked over to where it appeared someone had been laid to rest recently. The sepulcher was surrounded with floral arrangements. A blanket of roses covered the mount of dirt. It was a breath taking sight as I sat in the car facing west and observing my companion. There was just enough daylight left to see the silhouette of the man paying his respects to a love one. I wished that I had been a talented photographer with a high-tech camera so that I could have captured the sight. My passenger returned to the car when it was too dark to see.
“I buried my wife there three days ago,” he said as he wiped his eyes with the handkerchief his took from his pocket. “We had it all! A nice house, a booming business, we were happy, lived in peace as long as her family left us alone. She developed cancer a year ago and that when my life fell apart. Her mother and brother, that man where we stopped right before coming here, just kept messing in our business. I got enough of it and hit the road. That broke my Winnie’s heart. They took everything away from me. They say I deserted her. I guess they’re right. I wished I’d stayed now. I was hurting so bad I started drinking. That just made matters worse. There’s nothing I can do about it now. She’s dead and they hate my guts. I guess it serves me right.”
My passenger asked me to stop by the liquor store on the way back to the mission. He bought two large bottles of alcohol hidden by brown paper bags. He gave me a twenty dollar as he got out of the car. The fare and a large tip were covered by the deposit that was made at the outset of our journey. I thanked him for his generosity; he closed the rear passenger side door of my cab and made his way toward the locker he had rented.
I thought about that man as I sat my carport when I got home that night. Somebody I thought was shiftless and lazy turned out to be a person who actually had ambition and drive, or at least used to. Most people I’ve picked up at the mission have only been concerned with getting enough money to buy more booze. But the man I chauffeured around struck me as having the desire to defeat his demons and return to the lifestyle he once enjoyed. I made a promise to myself to try to be more understanding of the people I serve as a cabdriver. It’s something I find hard to do sometimes but well worth the effort.