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?" 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, I 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. As we drove, she would often ask me to drive slow in front of a particular building or around a corner and sometimes we would just park and stare into the darkness, saying nothing.
At the first hint of sunlight she suddenly said, "I'm tired; can we go now?" We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, kind of like a small convalescent home with a driveway that passed under a portico. As soon as I pulled in, two orderlies came running out. They were solicitous and very intent, and 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?" 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 replied as I squeezed her hand and walked back to my cab.
Behind me, I heard a 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 driver or one who was impatient and wanted to end his shift quickly? What if a driver had refused to take the run, or had honked only once, then driven away?
Looking back on last night, I don't think that I have ever done anything more important in my entire life. We sometimes think our lives revolve around great moments; but great moments often catch us when we least expect them – they are often hidden in what others consider small things.
Remember; people may not remember what you did or what you said but I don't think anyone forgets how you made them feel. I am not going to ask you to share this story about The Last Cab Ride – as I think most of you with a heart ... just will.
Even thought life is not always the party we hoped for while we are living it, we might as well dance every chance we get.