“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be
honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you
have lived and lived well.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
I picked him up downtown. He was wearing a dirty jacket, dirty jeans and a Vietnam Vet baseball cap - and he smelled. The cab dispatcher gave me a call on the radio and asked me to pick up the gentleman at a building downtown. When I arrived, he was nowhere to be seen. I called the dispatcher back and asked him to give the rider a call to find out where he was. I was getting annoyed and my patience was wearing thin as I waited outside the building with the engine running for what seemed like forever. The dispatcher called me back and said the man was on his way.
He finally appeared, shuffling very slowly down the sidewalk towards my cab. He had trouble walking and even more trouble getting into the cab. I immediately felt guilty for my impatience. He asked me to take him to a downtown liquor store.
On the way to the store I struck up a conversation with him. I thought he was much older than me, but I found out that we were just about the same age. The years had obviously been much harder on him. He suffered from gout and neuropathy in his legs and feet which was extremely painful and made it hard for him to get around.
We arrived at the liquor store and I parked out front. He asked me if I could help him out of the cab. I got out, walked over to the passenger side and helped him out and on to the sidewalk. He thanked me profusely for my, "kindness and understanding." A few minutes later, he came out of the liquor store and I helped him get back in the cab.
We arrived back at the building that I had originally picked him up from and I helped him out of the cab once again. He asked me if I would mind helping him get to the door. I said it would be no problem at all and started guiding him by the arm to the main entrance of the building. He stopped me and pointed to a long narrow alley that ran beside the building. "My door is down there."
It was at that point I started getting just a little nervous and began to wonder if maybe this wasn't just a ruse and he was going to rob me once we got into the alley. It's funny where your mind can go in this kind of situation. We squeezed down the alley and arrived at a door with a security lock. He typed in the combination and opened the door.
He turned to me and said, "Can you follow up the stairs behind me just in case I fall?" I said, "Sure, I know I look soft and all but if you fall on me it's going to hurt and I'm going to be really upset!" (I can't seem to stop myself from making jokes even in the oddest of situations.) He laughed and slowly made his way up two flights of stairs to his apartment. "Thank you sir," he said, as he reached out and shook my hand. "My pleasure. I'll see you again, I'm sure" I replied.
I would have never had an interaction with this person in a million years had I not been driving a cab that day and had he not needed a ride. We were worlds apart, but during the 30 minutes or so that we were together, a connection was made. I held the arm of a stranger and helped him from one destination to another.
It still feels good.