Columns » Taxi Driver

'Happy birthday. Cheer up.'




I opened the door from inside the cab, and they got in. It was raining. One had a longish, stony expression for a Saturday night, or early Sunday morning.

"Shit, man, I guess I'm 30 now," he said.

"You are 30," said the second. "Happy Birthday. Cheer up."

"But in another 30 years I'll be 60," the first countered.

The door rolled shut. They stated their destination — an expensive townhome complex to the north — and route with quiet authority. Riding through the Colorado College area at night, the young men talked as young women with umbrellas strolled unescorted among the darkened oaks.

"'Tis age that nourisheth ...' said the second, giving a consoling pat on his friend's shoulder. "Listen to me. I was an English major."

"Yeah? Well, here's one for you: 'People do the thing they hate to do the least.'"


"You heard me."

North Nevada Avenue past the college lifts and pitches at each intersection, and a cab driver has the choice of either staying in the lane and riding it out, or going down the middle to avoid the swales. One choice is as likely to elicit an objectionable comment from a rider as the other.

"All you have to do," said the former English major, "is look at what the first 30 years were like, you know, how long they took to get here, and that's how long it will take to get to 60. See? Like a map. It's easy. You can plan the whole thing. There's lots of time and you can do whatever you want to do. Absolutely whatever. So Happy Birthday."

"You do the thing you hate to do the least."

"Stop saying that! What's that supposed to mean, anyway? I'm already sorry I asked. It sounds like some kind of trap."

"You sound like Richard Ford."

I straddled the lanes, to no one's notice.

"It is a trap," the sad, now angry one, continued. "You don't realize till it's too late. You know what you want to do, then do something else. No one tells you how important it is to do the first thing."

They had left a party at one of the big houses, shaking hands with others on the porch and walking unhurriedly into the rain. From the street, the party looked in full swing; they were leaving early.

"Driver, can we light this up in here? Do you want some with us? We'll roll down the window," said the former English major. He held out a small pipe.

After a "No, thanks," he put the pipe away and again listened to his friend.

"It means you don't do the work you're supposed to do," the first spoke out. "You become a neurotic. You function well enough and everybody's fooled, but you know better. Then you're 30."

Colorado Springs abounds with corporate offices and institutions of prominence and recognition. Their employees are truly integrated into networks of enterprise and ambition. Business travelers at 5 a.m. will sometimes speak with manifest pride of their employer's activities and benevolence in Bangkok, Munich or Seoul. You listen, and nod along, and they tip well.

The first rider, the sad and now angry one, said to his friend that he worked for one of these organizations, hated it, and did not know what to do.

"I'll tell you what," his friend said in reply. "Let's dash over to Penrose Main and finish this conversation in the Emergency Room. We can sit next to the drooling paupers and shitbags who can hardly wipe themselves, and you can tell me more about the things you hate the least. Then I'll help you remember your townhouse and balcony and built-in barbecue, your 401K, your premium health insurance and travel per diem" — this went on for a while, before I heard, "and you'll stop whining and we'll go home. The driver can wait. You'll wait, won't you, sir? We won't take long."

We turned at Union and continued north, riding in tense silence. Then, leaning forward, the English major said, "So, sir, do you like driving a taxi?"

"Sometimes, yeah," I said. "It's not so bad."

And the rain came down.

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