When traveling from place to place, I love to ride in taxis! My conversations with cab drivers are often the highlight of a humdrum trip. They are so multicultural, so interesting, and have such wonderful stories to tell. I am rarely in need of a cab, except when taking my youngest daughter to her orthopedic specialist in Philadelphia. Over the years, my most memorable cab encounters have included chats with an African exile, with a Middle Eastern émigré, with a naturalized citizen from Russia, with a Hispanic gentleman, and with an American family man. Because I am a very curious being, I am truly interested in their situations. What brought them to their present career? Where are they from? And so before long, we are exchanging stories. I ask how long they have been driving a cab, if they have a family, when they came to the city or to the country, and why. I always come away feeling blessed to know them, if only for a small moment. I take a mental snippet, a snapshot, of each driver as we pass into and out of each other’s company for the first and last time.
The young African cabbie who drove us out of Philadelphia one autumn afternoon had been in the country for over five years. He was a student at a college nearby. We spoke to each other in French and English. He and his brother came to the United States for a better life, and they would often send money to their mother, to their family, who still resided overseas. When I asked if he missed his family or how he could bear being so far away, he smiled and said that his life without them was a small sacrifice that he was glad to pay in order to give them a better chance at living. He and his brother planned to bring their mother to the States very soon; then afterward, a few family members at a time. Where he had come from, the government was very corrupt and there was little hope for the common people. Most of the drivers I have spoken with are seekers. They are seeking out peace and personal liberty, which makes me realize that despite our differences in backgrounds, we are all searching for the same things.
In another taxi experience, I hailed a cab to go from the airport into the city, and we were chauffeured by a Middle Eastern gentleman in a black turban. My daughter, Rowan, looked at him with big, curious eyes. He was a formidable figure dressed in black, speaking polite, broken English. At that moment in time, many Americans were feeling threatened by strangers in Muslim attire, but as I tried to talk with him, I noticed that he was feeling just as uncomfortable and awkward as many Americans have felt. In speaking with him, we found a common ground and began to feel at ease. As humans from different world views, our basic needs were still the same– to be respected and understood.
As a foreign language teacher, I am always eager to practice and hone my skills. It is such a thrill to understand and to be understood in a foreign tongue. When riding with a Hispanic gentleman, we conversed in Spanish about the direction in which we needed to go. He was sure it was this way, but I was sure it was the other way. In the end, and one u-turn later, he had to concede that my memory for the best route was correct.
When speaking with a Russian driver, I was at a loss in speaking his native dialect. His eyes were wise, and his mouth curled at the sides in a calm and benign smile. I learned much about his culture and way of life in only a few minutes as he spoke very good English. For starters, I learned that there is a large Russian presence in a number of Northern cities. (There was also the question in the back of my mind about Russian mafia groups, but I convinced myself that a man with such a pleasant face could not be bad!) He spoke to me of his grown children, of his home, and he asked me about my travels and my family. At the end of our journey as the airport came into view, I believe we were both truly sorry not to have the time to learn more about the other.
Only once in about six cab rides have I had the experience of riding with an American driver! He enjoyed talking as much as I enjoyed listening. As we conversed, I learned that he had a daughter who was a teacher, like me, and he had grand-kids about the same age as my own children. We seemed to have a lot in common, and I could tell that he enjoyed speaking with someone who was interested in more than just the destination.
As cab rides go, however, I never had a better experience than when God took matters into His own hands. I remember clearly how stressed and worried I was about the next trip to Philadelphia. I was not only worried about Rowan’s upcoming orthopedic appointment, but also about money. How was I going to afford the cab rides this time? I prayed about the situation, asking God for guidance to get us there safely and cheaply. I decided to go to the train platform at the airport. I knew absolutely nothing about the trains into the city, but it would cost less than half of the fare for a taxi. Rowan and I stood on the train platform for a few minutes, staring at an incomprehensible schedule attached to a concrete post. It was Greek to me.
I walked back toward the airport entrance where I had noticed an older gentleman sitting and chatting on the phone. He had an airport ID badge, so I assumed he could not be too dangerous. He was pleased to help, as I told him we would be aiming for the Ronald McDonald House downtown. The gentleman would not be going all the way into town, but he would go part of the way and point us in the right direction. Meanwhile, two businessmen had come down from the airport ramp and were milling around the train platform as I spoke to Mr. Airport ID Badge. My daughter and I walked toward the businessmen, ready to wait on the train. They were also staring at the train schedule, unable to make heads or tails out of the information. The taller one spoke a few words to me: “Do you know anything about these trains?” I had to confess my ignorance and mentioned my new best friend, Mr. ID Badge. He smiled and walked back to his colleague for a brief conference. They nodded their heads in agreement as they talked. Rowan and I stayed in the background a few steps away. The two men then approached me stating they had decided to hail a cab, and since they would be taking the fare as a business expense, would we like to ride with them??…A smile spread across my face as I thanked God for my rescuers!
Soon, introductions were made. Rowan and I were walking with two businessmen from Pittsburgh, Brian and Kirk, toward a line of taxicabs. Unbeknownst to them, they were acting as guardian angels to us that day. My fears dwindled, and I felt secure in God’s hands. Our angels from Pittsburgh were so helpful in getting us situated inside the taxi. Then, I turned toward the cab driver. (As I have explained, I love talking to cab drivers.) I am a student of culture, so I could not resist taking a long look at him. Our driver that day was very dark, sporting a white-toothed welcoming smile. He spoke broken English with a West African accent. Then, I spied something which was both astounding and comforting to me. The driver left a Bible resting next to his seat on the dashboard in plain sight. A thin devotional book accompanied the Bible, and I knew that my prayers had been answered that day. God had heard my need and filled it. He had taken care of me, a lone mother with a five-year-old daughter, in the big city. Both the Bible and the cab driver’s kind smile confirmed that I was not alone on the journey. Kirk and Brian took us to our destination, which was completely out of their way, refusing any kind of payment. May God bless them.
Although I learned a little bit about Kirk and Brian on the drive, I did not get the chance to talk with the taxi driver this time. I would have loved to have gotten to speak with him, to ask him about his story, to tell him how God used him in a small but significant way that day. But then again, maybe he knows all about God’s grace. Maybe he knows God cares for us all. Maybe he already knows that God uses each of us to confirm His love and existence to other journey-weary people, even if it is just for a minuscule moment. A lot can happen in those small snapshot moments– when we pass each other once in life, never to meet again.
Thank goodness for people like Kirk and Brian who step up to the plate when a stranger is in need. Thank God for helpful people like Mr. ID Badge. Thank God for the little moments, and thank God for those taxi drivers.
Leave a Reply