By Eugene Salomon, Taxi Driver, New York City
One of the little side-benefits of driving a cab in New York City is that you occasionally have a window presented to you through which to gain an insight into major world events. For example, to go way, way back, I once had a military man in full uniform get in my cab who was en route to New York’s Sloan-Kettering Hospital. It turned out he was a general in the army of the overthrown Iranian government who was going to visit “His Excellency” in the hospital. “His Excellency” was the Shah of Iran who had been overthrown by the Islamic revolution and was at that time receiving treatment for cancer at the hospital (from which he died shortly thereafter). I didn’t have a conversation of any substance with this military man, but his seriousness, his stiffness, his continuing to wear the uniform of an army that no longer existed as a show of respect for the deposed Shah, and his use of the term “His Excellency” have remained with me all these years. An abstraction had been given some mass, a face. Whenever the Iranian situation was mentioned after that I could think back on this ride and get a feeling for the way it was, just based on the way this general in my cab carried himself.
I had a ride like that a few days ago.
I picked up a young man in Manhattan who was headed for Kennedy Airport, and from there he would be flying home to London. New York was a stopover in his journey from his original point of departure – Haiti, a place that, of course, is very much in the news these days. He told me he is a photographer and had donated his services to record some of the relief effort that is in progress on the devastated island.
Getting a report about something from someone who was actually on the scene makes a deeper impression on me than just seeing it on the television or hearing about it on the radio. And the stories he told me were inspirational:
– volunteers who in the morning would have recoiled at the sight of someone receiving an injection were taught how to do it and by night’s end had administered hundreds of inoculations to Haitians at risk of disease,
– a volunteer took half a day to teach himself to identify all the instruments used in surgery so he could then serve as an assistant and thus free up a doctor to perform surgery who otherwise would have been doing the job of handing instruments to surgeons himself,
– volunteers were sleeping in tents, eating food packets provided by the military, using makeshift latrines as bathrooms, and taking showers from water coming down from elevated buckets,
-people were experiencing the exhilaration of knowing that they were actually saving other people’s lives and knowing as well that their reach was expanding and that they would never be the same again.
It occurred to me later that changes for the better often go unnoticed and unacknowledged. Here is a country literally being invaded by people who have come to help. Some of them are specialists, some of them are there to just help in any way they are needed. Soldiers arrive in huge planes and are deployed to distribute food. These kinds of things have not been the normal way the history of the human race has been written.
It brings to mind the dream of a brave new world and it’s enough to make an optimist out of you.
The name of my passenger was Felix Kunze.
You can see his photography at felixkunze.com.
Reprinted with permission from Cabs Are For Kissing.