I had it in mind to write about all the amusing and memorable cab rides I have experienced. In my long and colourful life. I’m drawing a blank.
There was a hotel-to-airport ride in Lisbon at dawn that was nice, but that wasn’t anything to do with the cab. I can recommend Lisbon, though. There was a good laugh I had with my mother after a taxi ride in Scotland when we discovered that Glasgow is an English-speaking city where people who learned English in places other than Glasgow cannot understand one word that’s being said to them. I can recommend Glasgow for sure. There were a couple of cab rides when I was young and single and living downtown, going home alone in a party dress with my pumps in my lap and a head full of woozy regret. I remember those rides, vaguely, but they do not make for a whole story. Why did I think I knew anything about amusing and memorable cab rides?
I have just one cab ride story that seems worth building on this valuable slice of internet real estate.
In 1989 I was living in a swell apartment downtown. I was not, at that moment, dating a bad idea. There hadn’t been a murder in the building for several months. Things were looking up! I had just come home from the second day on my first half-decent job. I was hunting around in the kitchen to see if there was any food (there wasn’t) when my brother Lloyd called to say that our Uncle Bob had phoned him. Uncle Bob lived next door to my parents, and called Lloyd to tell him that our Dad had been taken to hospital in an ambulance but he didn’t know much more than that. He would call back when he knew more.
I hung up the phone and had a passing intimation, a momentary awareness that as my parents started to age, there were going to be phone calls like this. It occurred to me that one day, there might be a world without my father. Then I took myself firmly in hand and remembered that Dad was only 65 and had lots of years left.
Lloyd called back and said there weren’t any new details, but in any case we should probably head to the hospital to find out what was going on. Mum was at the lake so it was up to us to be the grown-ups. I called a cab.
At this point it’d be nice to throw in some details. It was raining. It was a warm and humid evening? It was dark? I honestly don’t know. My best guess is that it was not dark yet, and it was early September so it may have been an entirely pleasant evening, just a little cool around the edges. It doesn’t help to know any of that.I can tell you that the phone in my apartment was black, rotary dial. Does that help? I think the cab driver was a slightly hefty guy of fifty or so, with a crew cut and a thick neck. He could have been a seven-foot-tall woman.
“Every act of perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.” Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and other wonderful things.
“Remember that now.” Dav Pilkey , author of The Adventures of Captain Underpants, and other wonderful things.
And now, a tiny play:
The Grim Cabbie
A taxi on a September evening. The driver could be anyone. Enter Ellen, 26, in bad shoes and an indifferent haircut.
ELLEN: Concordia Hospital please.
DRIVER: You going to work?
DRIVER: Thought maybe you were a nurse.
ELLEN: No. God, no.
DRIVER: You going to visit someone?
ELLEN: Uh…my Dad.
DRIVER: He been in hospital long?
ELLEN: Uh…no. I just got a call that they took him there in an ambulance, so… I don’t really know.
DRIVER: What’s the matter with him?
ELLEN: I don’t know.
DRIVER: Has he been sick for a long time?
ELLEN: Um…No, see? I really don’t know. What’s wrong with him. We just got a call. They took him there. In an ambulance. But I don’t know why. So…
DRIVER: Did he have a heart attack?
ELLEN: (politely, yet firmly, with a hint of imminent breakdown) I DON’T KNOW.
Then for a while it was quiet, the way it gets when a cab driver notices that his fare is an unstable substance. I don’t know who brought up the subject of dogs, maybe we drove past one. This was preferable to the conversational roundabout we’d been on so far, so I joined in. I think the cabbie said he had hit a dog or two in his career. I had a dog that got hit by a car once, etc. We were somewhere around Portage and Main when my driver launched into what was essentially a monologue, and the title of the monologue was “How All My Dogs Died.”
He had had many, many, many dogs.
I won’t attempt to write the monologue. Not right now. There were several dogs who’d had to be shot. He grew up on the farm, you see. He’d had a couple of dogs that died on the road, and I think I remember him saying (see Oliver Sacks) that one dog followed him onto the frozen river and fell through the ice. Or is that a scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life?” I know for sure it was a long enough list of dog fatalities to last us all the way to our destination, with me having to chime in very little except “oh, that’s a shame.” Sympathy was wasted here. The cabbie had the former farm boy’s typical laconic response to all of these deaths. He kept shrugging and saying “just a dog.” The only sign that these had been significant losses was his vivid recall of the details of each death, and the fact that he was pouring this stream of tales onto a fare, a stranger.
We arrived at the hospital, and he said “I hope your dad gets better” and I said “me too.” The monologue had made me forget where I was going, and when I went into the hospital to look for my brothers I was wearing the wrong demeanour. Everybody in my family likes to be the one with the funny story to tell, and I went in thinking “you are not going to believe the cab ride I just had.” It’s possible I said it. There is so little I can say for sure about the evening from that point on.
I do know that after the worst part, the part where they took us into that little room hospitals have especially for telling people that their Dad is dead, after that part my Uncle Walter took charge of things for a while. I was so grateful that there was a real grown-up there. After the doctor left the room, a woman came in. She was some kind of “death helper” sent in to mop up after the bad news. She was very well-meaning, but such a poor listener she might have been my cabbie’s sister. She noticed that someone was missing from the usual death room tableau. Another tiny play, this one untitled:
HELPER: Where is your mother?
MURRAY: (or someone) She’s at the lake.
HELPER: Has someone contacted her?
MURRAY: Our lake is…um…there’s no phone there.
HELPER: Someone should really let her know.
Lloyd explained the situation patiently, and Lloyd is an excellent patient explainer. He’d have made a good teacher. Or an architect, if mother had had her way.
LLOY D: No, see, there’s no phone, and there’s no road. We can only get there by train. There aren’t any phones. Not for miles.
HELPER: But she needs to be contacted.
Murray’s turn. Murray is also a natural-born teacher. He taught my son to belch the alphabet. He was, that night at least, a model of self-restraint who did not say what he was probably thinking (“DON’T YOU THINK WE KNOW THAT, YOU STUPID STUPID PERSON?”). He explained again that yes, it would be great if we could do that, and that it had occurred to us that our mother might want to be brought up to speed, but there was actually no way to do it, seeing as how she was in a cabin 30 miles from a road, or a working telephone, or a carrier pigeon.
HELPER: But couldn’t you send someone to tell her? I mean, she really should be told.
Now here’s Glenn, another great teacher. He used to read encyclopedias at bedtime. Ask him anything. He also has, when the situation requires it, the great teacher’s inborn ability to let the student know when it is time to stop horsing around and shut the hell up, and he said, in a voice that was a veritable loaded gun of warning:
GLENN: THERE’S NO ROAD.
Whereupon the Death Helper offered to get us some coffee. I said yes, seeing as how it would cause her to leave the room.
After that, Uncle Walter went out in the hall to start phoning relatives, and we called Whiteshell Air Service and booked a plane to take us to the lake the next morning to tell my mother and bring her home. After all that, but before Glenn and I drove out to our parent’s place to check if the door was locked, and before we went to Murray’s place for the very best glass of scotch I have ever had, I went outside. It was dark by now for certain. I sat on the front steps of the hospital. I stared at the parking lot.
Sometimes you know things. This part I remember for sure. Sitting there, I had a powerful sense of comfort, of fullness, a sense that everything was going to be all right. There’s no reason I should have felt that way. That’s why I remember it.
I know that this is kind of a sad story. Sorry about that. I know we’ve all been through a lot lately, but I was going to have to publish it sooner or later, and perhaps it’s worth remembering. Traumas take many shapes and they can happen at any time. You might wake up on an average morning, a recent Wednesday comes to mind, and find that the entire world has become unimaginable.
Sitting on the steps of the hospital, knowing that everything was going to be all right, I also knew that “all right” was going to mean something different from what it used to mean. It would mean that there can be a world without your father. You might find yourself in an unrecognizable world without any of the million things you might be sorry to lose, and thought you couldn’t do without. Your dog is dead and the neighbours have gone mad and your peace of mind is shattered, but there will just about always be something left. A funny cab ride, or a dog story, or a glass of scotch, or a band of brothers.
©2016 Ellen Peterson. Thanks to the canines, and their photographers. And thanks, brothers.