This is the introduction to a weekly series I will be writing for NewsBlaze on life as a Cab Driver in Northern Arizona, although it could be almost any town USA.
I call this series of articles on life in a cab; Zen Taxi. This is not because I am some Zen Guru, nor do I have some particular elevated insight into life. I chose the name because the ever changing ‘Zen’ moments are exactly that, a constantly shifting view of reality punctuated by events I have little control of inserted into my life.
When people say I should write about myself or my life, I immediately think about the Macbeth quote; “A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I hope, in this instance, that will not be the case. I would like to convey the quiet courage, beauty and fragility of the people I encounter in my fair city of Flagstaff, all the while giving you a glimpse inside the ever-changing moments in my life as a taxi driver. As an observer, I feel it is not my place to embellish, but to merely report life as it is presented to me.
Being a taxi driver allows me the unique opportunity to meet an incredible cross section of humanity. Some of the people you will meet in this column are out of their normal environment. Others are quite comfortable moving about in a car with a total stranger.
Regardless of how they get here, people like to talk, to share their world. It is those brief moments I wish to relay to you. No private details will ever be reveled and I will respect and protect the privacy of everyone by changing relevant facts as needed.
Some of these stories showcase the incredible beauty sculpted into the land of Northern Arizona from Prescott to Monument Valley. Some narratives will deal with life and death issues faced by everyday people. Be forewarned that there are few happy endings here. Many times you will not get closure, because there is none available for me to report. There are things I will never know, many questions unanswerable due to the brief nature of the encounters I have. It is just the way it is. People come, people go.
I am not offering any wisdom here. That is not mine to give. Each comes to that through his or her own accord, through his or her individual experience. I make no attempt to influence you other than telling the tales of the interesting people I meet. It is up to you to draw your own conclusions.
What you will find here are the stories of real people living real lives, although at times, it will seem like something out of a novel. The first story ‘A Lawyer on the Lam’ is a prime example. Even though I lived the event it still feels surreal to recall. I will also give you a look inside what it feels like to drive a cab.
A Lawyer on the Lam
I picked him up at a hotel on the outskirts of town. He was headed to Flagstaff’s Pulliam Airport. We’ll call it A1. After a forty minute wait, I was just happy I was finally getting a fare. From the look of his clothes, I could tell the exterior of his existence was well maintained. He would have fit well in the Hamptons, walked comfortably while shopping in Beverly Hills, or sat quietly gazing out the window of any private jet. But, from the sound of his voice and the look in his eyes I could tell he was a troubled man.
He spoke so softly I could barely hear the words flowing from the back seat, pulling me into his world. Al was an attorney openly playing out in his mind a change of professions. He was wondering aloud what it would be like to work at a McDonalds or Taco Bell. Any normal place that would not be a threat to his family, any job that would not put his young daughter in harms way would do.
I have learned to be silent, present in the moment when faced with these situations. A Cabbie becomes a confessor of sorts, a sounding board, hopefully an intelligent opinion, possibly a vessel into which the troubled can channel their energy.
Some bring their brokenness and inject it into my mind, then they walk away. The odds are very high I will never see them again. Nobody does this to add to my burdens, but knowing what some of these people suffer both now and in the future adds weight to my heart. For many, talking gives respite from their problems, freeing that monster for one brief moment from its bonds.
It was quite apparent Al needed to talk, so I shut off the meter, turned off the CB radio, and patiently waited. He talked about how happy he would be not to have to make decisions; there were no life or death choices in making a hamburger. No need to move his family in the darkness of night because he put the wrong fixings on a taco.
I never did turn and look at him, our eyes bounced off the mirror, colliding out there in empty space. His job as an attorney was representing death row inmates, trying in his own small way to give these men justice, feeling certain inside he was doing the right thing.
He left a lucrative career in a prestigious law firm back East to do this work he felt would give some small meaning to all the minutes, hours, days and weeks he toiled away at the law. It was easy to tell he cared deeply for people, and doing the right thing.
I listened quietly as he sang the song of his life. He had some success until he took on a case where his client was waiting to die for a triple gangland murder. The hints from the condemned man’s family were subtle at first. As long as he pushed back the execution date, all was well.
Things suddenly changed and pressure to get the convict released into the prison population became constant. The real threat came at a meeting the lawyer had with the convict’s uncle. His eyes winced as he relived the stark fear of that moment.
Do something for the nephew, or nasty things could happen. It was hinted Al’s 11 year old daughter could be kidnapped and raped. “Bad things do happen to good people,” the uncle suggested with a smile.
The attorney and his family immediately went into hiding. “How did they know I have a daughter?” he asked. He bit his lip as he said “My wife hates this…” Al stared out the window at the entrance to the terminal. He got quiet for a moment. He took a deep breath as if to gather strength for what lay ahead. He grabbed his bag, and as he left my cab he slipped forty dollars over the seat.
My boss was angry that I had shut off my CB. We were at 10 calls waiting and nothing mattered except picking up fares. “What the hell was I thinking anyway?” At that instant I was thinking “How fragile and tenuous life can be and how trivial my problems were compared to others.”
I think often about Al, hoping that he is happily working away at some grill making hamburgers, or stuffing tortillas at some taco place.