Thursday, July 12, 2012

D.C. Taxicab Drivers

Before you go getting all huffy or think that I believe all D.C. cabbies are crazy and rude -- STOP. That ain’t where I’m comin’ from.

Since 1971 I’ve taken quite a few cab rides in D.C.. Some were less than pleasant. Not that long ago cabs were often really old, rundown cars with sunken back seats, windows that didn’t work, too many air fresheners . . . you get the idea. However, never did I feel unsafe or disrespected. I just figured the drivers couldn’t afford to drive spiffy, newer cars. There were, of course, exceptions.

Even with the old zone system, I never felt I was being ripped-off on a fare. I didn’t necessarily like the amount I had to pay for a short ride that went through two or three zones. [No surprise that Congress set up the zones to suit themselves.]

A Local Living article by Chris Lyford in today’s Washington Post triggered a warm personal memory. Chris wrote about the D.C. Professional Taxicab Drivers Association and in particular, driver John Bugg, a native Washingtonian who has driven a cab here for 55 years. Mr. Bugg easily could have been the driver who transported me on one of the most horrendous days of my life.

It started on a frigid February morning when I was very ill with fever and bronchitis and should have been in bed, not slogging through empty, snow-covered, early-morning streets looking for an ATM. Someone near and dear to me had been falsely arrested and jailed overnight and I needed cash to bail him out.

Having cried through the night, waiting until I could get to him at 7 a.m., I was a haggard mess. The cold air made my eyes water, nose run and made me cough so hard that it nearly took my breath away walking eight blocks to the nearest ATM.

Turning away from the ATM, there were few cars on the street and not one taxi in sight. Minutes went by and hopelessness set in. I just wanted to find a warm hole to crawl into. God must have taken pity on me because about then a taxi stopped near the curb. I crawled over the plowed snow drift and pretty much fell into the front seat, there being another passenger in the back. I was so grateful I wanted to grab and hug the gentle black man at the wheel.

As soon as I’d gotten into the front seat, the driver cranked up the heat to high. He must have felt suffocated from the hot air blowing on him, but he was clearly concerned about me. The passenger in the back didn’t say anything and soon reached his destination. I started weeping in relief and because I felt so lousy. That gentle man did his best to soothe me with kind words and encouragement.

Thirty years ago, there was still stupid awkwardness when it came to the sight of a young white woman alone in a car with an older black man. As far as I was concerned, he had saved my life and sanity. He acted like and even resembled my own grandfather. To this day, I wish I had been better able to express my appreciation.

As if his loving concern hadn’t been enough, he refused payment when he safely delivered me to my destination.

I hope his life has been especially blessed. I know he’s not the only good Samaritan out there, but he’s mine. I’m grateful to Chris Lyford for reminding me about this caring man.

- - - - - -

With so much famine, conflict and turmoil in the world, many more immigrants now drive cabs in D.C.. Striking up conversations with drivers isn’t always easy, but I’ve learned that many have advanced degrees and held important positions in their homelands. Unfortunately, degrees from overseas don’t always translate well for American jobs.

Some are less patient and more anxious about their futures than others which sometimes comes off as rudeness. And, let’s face it, discrimination still distresses many newcomers, especially if they don’t dress Western style or speak with heavy accents.

I wish that judgmental types would remember that many of them left everything and loved ones behind to escape untenable conditions, much as many of my own ancestors did.

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