4500 Stories Revisited

“But in looking back at the places I’ve been, the changes that I’ve left behind, I look at myself to find I’ve learned the hard way every time.” ~Jim Croce~

 “Love rescue me. Come forth and speak to me, raise me up and don’t let me fall. No man is my enemy, my own hands imprison me. Love rescue me.” ~Bono/Dylan~

“Are you kidding?” I asked, eyeing him. There was something skewed about the man leaning close to my cab. He had jerky movements, and his head kept swiveling back and forth as though he was expecting trouble.

“No. I’m serious,” he said firmly.

45008It was a sunny mid-September day in 1989, close to the one month anniversary since I’d managed to quit smoking. Twenty years of ingesting nicotine had been replaced by eating salty snacks and drinking gallons of coffee—black at the beginning stages, but now laced with cream and sugar.

45009I was driving for 4500 Taxi in Welland, Ontario. That’s forty-five hundred—not four thousand five hundred. My car was one of a few in the fleet that was equipped with a cassette player. Lately U2’s Rattle and Hum had become an obsession. I turned it down and asked, “You want me to do what?”

The man was fiftyish and rumpled looking. He had thick eyebrows that connected in a thatch at the bridge of his nose, along with a swept back wave of a hair-do. He was holding a small box with a red ribbon bow on it. “I want you to deliver this gift to Sheila at the Pizza Hut. It’s her birthday and I want to surprise her.”

“What’s in the box?”

“Does that really concern you?” he asked, frowning hard.

“If you want me to handle it, you bet your butt it does. How do I know it isn’t a load of dog dirt . . . or worse? Maybe you got an axe to grind with this Sheila.” I shrugged and looked past him toward the bus stop.

450010I was sitting at the Seaway Mall. It sprawled on the north edge of the city, and had a unique nickname. A sting operation by the Niagara Regional Police several years earlier had caught some gentlemen engaged in illicit activity in one of its bathrooms. From that juncture on, it was known as the Gayway Mall. A joke that made the rounds was that a football player went in as a tight end and came out a wide receiver. Not too kind, but I must admit that I laughed aloud when I heard it.

I craned my neck around to look across Niagara Street. The Pizza Hut was less than a block away. “Why not take it to her yourself?”

“It’s a necklace,” he answered bluntly. “Sheila’s my girlfriend.” There was a vacant quality in his dark eyes. “How much will it cost for you to take it to her?”

“How much you got?”

“Will thirty dollars be enough?” He held out a couple crumpled up bills.

I took them and smoothed them out. “Yeah, that’ll do it.” Thirty bucks—off the dispatcher’s radar—to drive a few hundred yards. He handed me the gift box and I placed it on the passenger seat.

“It’s Sheila. Tell her happy birthday.”

“I’ll deliver the box.” I dropped the shifter into gear and pulled away.

I parked at the back of the lot, got out, and went inside Pizza Hut. The hostess greeted me with canned hospitality. I explained that I had a present for Sheila.

450012A moment later, a young woman came over. She was a waitress, and might have been all of nineteen—bright-eyed and nicely shaped, though a bit chunky in the thighs. Her age obviously surprised me.

“Are you Sheila? Is it your birthday?” I asked, sounding puzzled.

She gave me a sharp look over. “Yes to both questions. Who are you? What do you want?”

“I was paid to deliver this to you,” I said, offering her the box.

“Shit!” Sheila hissed, snatching it out of my hand. Her tart retort drew attention to us. People were now concentrating on our exchange. “Who gave this to you? Was it an old jerk with a Cro-Magnon eyebrow?”

I forced a feeble smile. “Yeah. That fits.”

Her face screwed into an angry wince. “He’s stalking me.”

“Call the police,” I suggested directly.

“He’s already got a restraining order against him. I’ll be passing this box along to the cops,” she said, eyes flaring into narrowed slits. “If you see that sonofa . . .” She stopped suddenly. Her shoulders sagged in resignation. “Well, happy freaking birthday to me!” she spit out the words, spun around and stormed away.

I looked at the shocked faces of customers staring at me. Hostility was evident in the air and it was all being aimed in my direction. I held my arms up in mock surrender and said, “Hey, don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger.”

I slipped outside, hopped in my cab, and made my getaway back to the Seaway Mall. I wondered about the details of their story and even imagined a scenario or two, but I never saw Sheila or the man with the Cro-Magnon eyebrow ever again.

Laundry Day

A few days later, it was drizzly and windy when I pulled up behind an apartment on Second Street. It had been a slow morning, with calls being few and far between. A woman was standing on the stoop waiting for me. She wore a blue terrycloth bathrobe that was cut nearly to the top of her long legs. She waved at me, then propped open the door.

450013I got out. She had a large green plastic garbage bag waiting for me. “Help me get my laundry in the car.” She was tall and thin, with a tangle of dirty blond hair that framed a shallow-cheeked face. Tiredness or strain marred pretty eyes that were focused on some faraway place.

I loaded the bag into the trunk. When I turned to get into the car, I saw she had set two more bags on the stoop and was going back inside. I finished getting those bags situated. She was wrestling two more bags down the steps.

One of her flip-flop slippers caught the edge of the bottom stair. She tilted to one side and stutter-stepped to maintain her balance. In the process her bathrobe flapped open, which revealed that she didn’t have a stitch of clothes on beneath it. She didn’t even flinch.

With her tiny boobs bouncing in the breeze she carried the bags to the car and dropped them on the ground. It was only then that she re-knotted the flimsy robe around her waist. “That’s all of it,” she said, offering a tilted head grin. “Take me to the Burger Street Laundromat.”

450014I pushed the final bags into place as she slid into the passenger seat. It dawned on me that these five overfilled garbage bags contained her entire wardrobe, minus the bathrobe.

We drove in silence, with her clutching a change-purse in her lap. Her legs were folded up, and a sideways glance confirmed that she was wearing nothing on the bottom half. She didn’t seem to care that her southern region was exposed.

The streets were wet and greasy, but there was little traffic. I pulled to the curb close to the Burger Street Laundromat. She paid the fare with coins and told me to keep the change. The meter read $4.95—she’d given me a whole extra nickel. WOW. Now I could purchase that penny candy for which I’d been saving up.

She went straight inside, leaving me to lug her laundry. I did so. When I carried in the last bag, she was adjusting the terrycloth bathrobe, and for a brief moment it appeared as though she was going to shed it into her pile of dirty clothes. Instead, she flashed me a full frontal view, smiled and said thanks for all my help. Nice tip. I would have preferred a buck or two.

Love Rescue Me

“Yeah I’m here without a name, in the palace of my shame. I said love rescue me.” ~Bono/Dylan~

During this period of time, I was into some deep introspection. Ten months earlier—in mid-January—I’d rolled a cab down an embankment. The car was totaled, but I was hardly injured. Well, physically I only had a bump on the head and a bruised leg. Psychologically I was wrecked.

450015I’d screwed my life to a standstill. There were a slew of heartaches and layers of relational chaos that required excavation. Making sense out of the mess had become a primary task. To do so meant having to deal with the spiritual dimension of life. That had me reading ancient Hebrew poets and listening to soulful music.

Love Rescue Me had become a favorite. Written by Bono and Bob Dylan, it was featured on Rattle and Hum. On the original recording Dylan sang lead vocals—a performance which Bono called “astonishing”, but for contractual reasons, that version never made the album.

I’d play it repeatedly. Sitting on Jean-Guy Boulevard under the large maple tree or in the arena parking lot beneath the billboards advertising the latest delicacy offered by Tim Hortons, the volume would rattle the speakers. I’d close my eyes and meditate, crawling inside the imagery as the music washed over me.

Colleagues would pull up beside me and listen to the hymn-like rhythm with interest. Some would ask questions that’d lead to discussions which probed the vertical relationship between God and humanity. Others were quick to trash the song and change the topic of conversation.

Always reflective and sensitive to the stuff of eternity, I merely rolled with it. I delved deep into spiritual matters with those who, along with me, were groping around to grasp faith in the midst of lives littered by hurts and brokenness.

For those with a latent hostility to all things related to God, this intensity and openness caused derision. They started referring to me as “Brother Ken”—derogatorily at first, but then, as the authenticity of my quest became more and more integrated into who I am, it morphed into a term of respect.

Greatest Lesson

“I’ve conquered my past, the future is here at last. I stand at the entrance to a new world I can see. The ruins to the right of me will soon have lost sight of me. Love rescue me.” ~Bono/Dylan~

My sojourn as a cabdriver gave me a wealth of material for telling tales. It also did much to give me insights into the stories we each live.

The ordinary days are always strewn with bits of laughter or mystery. We routinely meet quirky characters that fiction writers can only dream of creating—or perhaps, to others we’re seen as an intriguing character.

Life always generates situations that necessitate an exploration of our interior landscapes. There is an urgent hunger within us that can only be satisfied by the Divine. Whether we accept or comprehend it, God exists and is always at work drawing each individual to himself. Life is a journey filled with lessons to learn and apply. The greatest of these lessons is this: God is love—love is in the rescue business. No matter where we are on the spectrum, extraordinary hope is always available in the bottomless well of love that is from everlasting to everlasting.

Love Rescue Me, indeed.

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