One of my favorite nights to drive a cab was Christmas Eve, because for the most part it was a happy night with generous passengers. Unfortunately some people needed to do some last minute shopping and were either heading to or coming from the downtown business district or the mall. Even if you didn’t get trapped in a parking lot and weren’t going directly there you had to drive down one of the grid locked streets at some point, but that usually ended by 6:00 or 7:00 PM, when the retail stores started closing to let their employees enjoy Christmas. Then the destinations changed as people started to head to parties at friends and relatives houses in residential areas. At the same time all the hard core bar fly’s, were heading to the same bar that they frequent 364 days a year. I say 364 since some of my hard core bar fare’s didn’t like to go to the bar on New Year’s Eve, because they said that there were too many amateur drinkers out that night.
Christmas Eve is also a spiritual time and some people go on a spiritual quest that night. Whether they head to a Protestant church for communion and Carols, the Catholic church for Midnight Mass or the local bar to talk to the bar tender about God, life, death and everything in between, it’s all for the same purpose. Sometimes the cab driver unwittingly becomes a character playing a part in an ancient myth as his part in the spiritual equation.
The thing about spiritual matters is that they know no boundaries, like the ones that theology and logic places upon them. Life is a fine edged walk that balances the sacred and the profane in each person’s sphere of existence so that they are able to function in society as well adjusted human beings. Sometimes that balance gets out of kilter and help is needed to get it back on track. In some of the classic myths, the main character goes on a quest for either a sacred object or a female soul mate that fulfills his destiny. Then during that quest he gets in trouble and nearly fails, but is helped by some formerly unknown ally in the form of an animal or human being, who becomes his friend.
Sometimes the friend is a cab driver, as was the case at around 1100 PM on this Christmas Eve, after I had been driving since 4:00 PM when I began my shift. The call was at an apartment complex in a middle class neighborhood. When I arrived and found the apartment I knocked on the door and when it opened a man dressed in black slacks and a patterned green, red and blue sweater shirt called me Bob by name. He must have asked the dispatcher my name for some reason, I thought. He looked to be in his early 40’s and was about 5 and half feet tall and a little on the pudgy side, but not fat. He wore wire rimmed glasses and had blondish hair that was starting to look shaggy and then he told me his name.
“My name is Marvin, Bob,” he said and then he handed me 2 – 50.00 bills and said, “I need a friend Bob, will you be my friend? I just want to talk and I don’t care where you drive. I know that you have to drive people to make money and I want you to drive me until you use the $100.00 up and then you can bring me back here. I’ll give you a $20.00 tip if you’ll do it.”
I thought to myself, I could go park somewhere and just let the meter run for a couple of hours at $40.00 an hour or I could drive around town and stay off the highway for $2.70 a mile. So I extended my hand in friendship and shook Marvin’s, as he got his jacket and locked his door. When we walked down the hallway to the exit, I noticed that he walked with a severe limp and seemed to move with difficulty. After we got in the cab and I started the meter I headed downtown and on the way there Marvin began to talk.
“I was married for 10 years,” he said, “and was madly in love with my wife and I thought that she was in love with me. I had a successful accounting business and had half a dozen clients that earned me 6 digits a year. I lived in a nice neighborhood and had a beautiful house and lots of friends. Then about 3 years ago I started to get sick and was beginning to have a difficult time keeping my business caught up, so I hired someone to help me out. He had recently graduated from Willamette University with a degree in accounting. He began to do more and more of my work and my wife was my secretary. To make a long story short, I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and was losing control of my motor functions when I found out that my wife was having an affair with my new assistant. I didn’t want to but we got a divorce and she got the house and half the business with my former assistant and her lover running her half. All our friends sided with my former wife and I found myself completely alone, then one of my best clients left and my business began to take a nose dive, so now I work for the state and live in the apartment that you picked me up at.”
I was getting overwhelmed just listening to Marvin’s story and began to wonder whether it was worth the fare to be Marvin’s psychoanalyst, but then I once had a calling and was a church pastor. Once you get a calling, it doesn’t go away, it just evolves. I concluded that about 25 years ago when whatever unnamable power that everything is connected to, also known as God or the Wholly Other, made it plain that I wouldn’t be in the full time paid ministry anymore, but instead I was to meet people one on one right where they were living. The best way to do that I found is by having an ordinary every day job, so you can relate to the people that make up your parish. My parish then became my everyday life. Then, while living and working together, you can talk to people and live what you talk in the same circumstances as them. By your example and sometimes your words you influence them or move them in the right direction, even if you don’t know what the right direction for them is.
As usual my instructions could be found in the Bible, in Luke 12:12, which states, “For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” So I turned my attention back to Marvin as we hit downtown which was desolate with almost all the bars closed and every one either at home or in church.
“Sometimes I get so lonely that I have to pay a girl to come over and help me feel better,” Marvin said and then asked, “is this wrong?” Before I even considered how to respond he continued, “she was so pretty and her name was Delilah, she didn’t care that I had muscular dystrophy and it only cost $100.00 for ½ hour.”
For some reason the first thing that popped into my mind to respond with was a joke that another passenger told me one night as I drove him and his drunk friends. So I asked him if he wanted to hear a joke, to which he said “yes.”
“A leper goes to a prostitute and after they have sex and he pays her, she thanks him for the tip,” I said.
He burst out laughing, saying, “I get it! I get it! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, I get it! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha…..”
After that the rest of the time that we drove around we talked about religion, morality and how to get through life without going crazy. After he found out that I had been a pastor back in the 1970’s, he asked me if I was a good shepherd. I told him that I tried to be, even when there were some black sheep in the flock. He asked me if I’d pray for him and I said that I would. We talked about every aspect of life that Marvin wanted to discuss until he exhausted himself. The meter was rolling over $99.00 as we turned off the main road onto the private drive that led to his apartment complex. I walked with him back to his apartment and before he went in he hugged me and handed me a $20.00 bill as he wished me Merry Christmas and walked into his apartment..
“Merry Christmas,” I answered him, as I turned to walk back to my cab.
It was 1:45 AM and when I cleared my fare and I immediately got another one when the rain turned into snow as the temperature began to drop. It was a personal request for my number at Player’s Lounge. I guessed that it would be the same guy that I drove earlier around 10:00 PM. He was an interesting character who claimed that he was visiting a friend that he met in college. He said that he was from Houston, Texas and his father was a Multimillionaire that he worked for. I picked him up at the Red Lion earlier and then we picked up his friend who was a woman. It seemed to me that he was trying to get into her pants when I dropped them off 5 hours earlier. I expected them both to be falling down drunk, but they seemed only slightly drunk. They wanted to go to Noble’s Tavern, which I told them would be closed by now, but he said that they didn’t care because his car was parked there.
On the drive there he was trying to convince his female friend to let him come over to her house or go with him to the Red Lion. She said that she had to wrap presents and he said that he’d help her. This went on until we got to Nobles and then they decided to drive his car to her house where he would help her wrap presents. The fare came to $9.40 and I tried to convince him to have me drive them there, rather than chancing a DUI, but he said that he wanted to drive and pulled out his wallet to pay me. I turned on the dome light, because it was dark where we were parked in an unlit area where I couldn’t see clearly, but he immediately told me to turn off the light. I started to argue that I needed light, but decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle, plus it was Christmas day now and Christmas is all about giving, so if I get screwed, it could be a Christmas present. He handed me a $10.00 bill and said to keep the change as he and his female friend opened the back door and left, as they left their tracks in the accumulating snow.
I had a couple more calls driving people home from parties and even taking a nurse to the hospital for her early morning shift before it was time to gas up at 3:45 AM. When I went inside the AM/PM Arco station I pulled out my small wad from my right pocket that I always kept under $50.00, in case I got robbed. My gas came to $35.00 and when I was picking through my $10.00 & $5.00 bills, I found a $100.00 bill. I knew that I had not taken any $100.00 bills the entire night, but immediately remembered the Texas multimillionaire’s son that wouldn’t let me turn the dome light on. I drove back to the office in the accumulating snow where I would do my paperwork, drop my envelope for the night and head home to bed before the snow got too deep and Santa arrived at my house.
Bob Gersztyn is a veteran taxi driver from Salem, Oregon. He drove for 9 years and has been a freelance journalist for 20. He has published 4 books on gospel music and has 2 blogs. www.thetranscendenttaxicab.blogspot.com and www.Jesusrockstheworld.wordpress.com He is also a wonderful photographer, all of the pictures used in this post are his own!