I usually avoid conversations with taxi drivers. Their job is to drive me, not talk to me. Once the mandatory pleasantries are over, I’m content with silence. A nod of the head, a thank you and perhaps a tip are all that’s required to conclude the encounter.
While most of my cab rides have been unmemorable and many of my cabbies have been surly, acting like they’re doing me the greatest of favours by taking me from point A to B, two recent cab trips made me change my tune.
On a return trip from Halifax last October, I may have learned more about myself than I learned about the driver.
He arrived at my son’s home 15 minutes late, on a dark, cold, wet morning when the city was still asleep. There was no reason he should have been late and, to put it mildly, I was miffed. When he didn’t make any effort to put my bag in the trunk, I whispered to my son, “He’s not getting a tip.”
I’d judged him and found him unworthy. Worse, I wanted him to know it. I said a curt hello and settled into the back seat determined to maintain an angry silence.
I guess I made my point because as he pulled away from the curb, he apologized for his tardiness. Before long, we were talking. He was from Lebanon, where his wife and sons still lived. He had a business degree from a Boston-area school. Driving a cab gave him the freedom to return home for extended periods. He planned to bring his family to Canada and hoped his sons would attend McGill University. I mentioned that two of my children had attended McGill.
I noticed a rosary hanging from his rear-view mirror and asked if he was a Catholic. We began talking about the role of faith in our lives, the plight of Christians in Syria and Islamic State.
We arrived at the airport with time to spare. My anger was all for naught. He hurried out of his cab, pulled my bag from the trunk and placed it on the sidewalk. I nodded my thanks and tipped him. As I walked away, it occurred to me that different as we were, we shared a belief in transcendence and aspirations for our children.
On my most recent trip, the driver was on time. He had my bag stowed before I’d set it on the sidewalk. I was barely in the vehicle when he hustled around to close the door. Clearly, this guy was a keener deserving of a tip. (There I was, making judgments again.)
He’d been in Canada for two years. Originally from Pakistan, he’d left at 19. He went to Korea, where he met his wife; they have two children. He plans to start a business but for now he is doing well driving a cab. He thinks Canada is a great country, a land of opportunity for those willing to work. He sounded like my father, who left Italy at about the same age and holds a similar view.
I felt another point of connection when he talked about his mother. One of 11 children, his siblings are scattered all over the world. I could hear his mother’s voice when he quoted her, “I have six sons and five daughters, but only one in Pakistan. What can I do? They are happy. That’s all that matters.”
While my daughter lives close by, my sons live in other parts of Canada. Even though the geographical separation of my family pales in comparison, I could relate to this young man’s mother. I could feel the heartbreak of separation in her voice and the consolation that arises when your children are content.
We arrived at the airport. He offered to meet my flight when I return in a few weeks, and handed me a company card on which he wrote his name and number. I nodded my thanks, tipped him and said goodbye.
Fleeting encounters, like these, can be purposeful. They help us make connections with those whose circumstances and experiences differ from our own, but with whom we share our humanity.
For a brief moment, we form a relationship and are the richer for it.
Louise McEwan has degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation.