Thursday, January 22, 2004

Taxicab confessions

When I was 18, Toronto was my first destination of my first trip to Canada. It was a bright, frigid spring after a miserable muck of a winter in Chicago, and my then-boyfriend and I were on a weekend lark over the border to that wonderful arctic land where they let young people drink.

There was this hotdog vendor that my boyfriend was adamant we find. He had been to Toronto before, and insisted that this vendor was a character you didn't want to miss. After some wandering, we happened upon the man in question. He was a burly, bristly slavic fellow with beefy arms dwarfing his beefy wares. When we approached his stand and placed our order, he eyed us critically from under a shag eyebrow.

"You lyook like khappy yong people. Are you khappy?"
"Um. I guess so. Yeah."
"Goot. Be khappy. Because life is coming like TRAIN to KNOCK YOU DOWN."
And with that he slapped the weiners across the counter.

It probably wasn't the first time I received advice from a stranger on the street (nor was it the last, as anyone who has run into a Russian babushka can attest), but it certainly made a strong impression.

Nowadays, like most people, I rely on cab drivers for unsolicited words of wisdom. And so I was delighted when my fairy godmother in the form of a spirited old lady cabdriver picked me up and battled mid-day traffic by "pulling out aaaaaaaaaalll my bag of tricks." She was chirping and laughing the whole ride, ruminating on where she should take her next fantastic vacation. "You travel for fun a lot?" I asked. "Girl, please! I go everywhere." And as I was stepping out of the cab she sang out for all the world to hear, "Spoil yourself in 2004, honey! Spoil yourself in 2004!" My New Years Resolutions have been thusly modified.

A few hours later, I hailed down a creaky old cab with an ancient driver. It was dreary outside and cold, and he had the blues howling from his stereo. It felt like hot chocolate to my ears. As he wheeled us through sidestreets, taking all sorts of backroutes that would land us at the exact point in the block that I requested, I said that it seemed like a big task to remember all the block numbers in the city and exactly where they connect.

"Young lady," he said carefully, "I am 83 years old. I been living in this town since I was 7. I have driven cabs, delivered lumber, delivered clothes..." he trailed off and then started up again. "I got married when I was 18, and had 6 kids by the time I was 29."

I marvelled, and asked if he had many grandkids.

"I have twelve grandkids, and twelve great grandkids. My oldest grandson is 47."

"That's a lot of kids to spoil!" We had already pulled up to my stop, but I stayed still for a minute.

He chuckled. "I'm working for my great grandkids now."

"Well I think your great grandkids ought to give you a break."

"Oh no. You know, the day after my daddy retired, he marched right out and got another job. I said, 'What are you doing going out and getting a job? Why don't you sit still?' And he said, 'Son, you lay around all day, you just get rusty.' That's what I say. You lay around, you just get rusty."

He looked happy with himself.


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