I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes, I honked again. Since this was my last fare for this shift I thought about just driving away, but instead I put the car in park and walked up to the door and knocked hard.
"Just a minute," answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor; after a long pause, the door opened. A small woman who must have been in her 90's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and an old fashioned pillbox hat with a veil, like somebody out of a 1940's movie.
By her side was a small suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks on the shelves or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.
"Would you carry my bag out to the car young man?" she asked. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to help the woman walk to the cab. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb; all the while she kept thanking me for my kindness.
"It's nothing," I told her. "I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated."
"Oh, you're such a good boy," she said.
When we got in the cab, she gave me the address she wanted and asked if I could drive through downtown before we got there? "Ma’am, it's not the shortest way," I answered.
"Oh, I don't mind," she said. "I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice center." I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening.
"I don't have any family left," she continued in a soft voice. "The doctor says I don't have very long with all this cancer." (I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.)
"What route would you like me to take?" I asked.
"Any one you want," she replied.
For the next two hours, we just drove through the city. She pointed out a building where she once worked as an elevator operator. Then we drove through a neighborhood where she said she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds.
She had me pull up and stop in front of an old furniture warehouse that she said had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a young girl when she was in high school. As we drove, she would often ask me to drive slow in front of a particular building or around a corner; sometimes she would ask me to just park and then she would stare into the darkness and say nothing.
At the first hint of sunlight she suddenly said, "I'm tired; can we go to the Hospice Center now?" We drove in silence to the address she had given me. When we arrived it was a low building, kind of like a small convalescent home with a long driveway that passed under a portico. As soon as I pulled in, two orderlies came running out. They were solicitous and very intent; they watched her every move. They obviously were expecting her.
I hopped out and opened the trunk and took her small suitcase to the door. The orderlies had already seated her in a wheelchair. "How much do I owe you young man?" she asked reaching into her purse.
"Nothing," I answered.
"That’s not fair; you have to make a living," she said.
"There are plenty if other passengers," I responded.
Almost without thinking, I bent forward and gave her a hug and kissed her on the cheek. She held onto me tightly. "Young man, you gave an old woman a lot of joy tonight," she said.
"Thank you," I said as I squeezed her hand and walked back to my cab.
Behind me, I heard a center door shut; it sounded like the closing of a life. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. I thought what if that woman had gotten an angry cabbie or a driver who was impatient and wanted to end his shift quickly? What if a driver would had refused to take that late night run, or had honked only once, then driven off?
Looking back on last night, I don't think that I have ever done anything more important in my entire life.
Many of us think our lives revolve around great moments; but the truly great moments in our lives often catch us when we least expect them – they are often hidden in what others consider to be small things.
Remember; people may not always remember what you did for them or what you said to them but I no one ever forgets how you made them feel.
I am not going to ask you to share this story. All I want you to do is think about The Last Cab Ride and remember try to always remember that even though life is not always the party we had always hoped for while we are living it, we might as well dance every chance we get.