A Tale of Two Taxi Drivers

A tale of two….taxi drivers? And here’s where the story begins. I land at O’Hare, get to baggage claim. A customer service rep from Delta helped me get my bags and walked with me to the taxi stand. And that’s where things got weird.

The taxi attendant asked me if I needed an accessible cab. I said no. He said ok, take the next one, and waved me down the line. Me and the Delta rep headed to the next taxi. I rolled up, pulled open the door and started getting ready to get in.

The driver jumped out and asked the guy from Delta, “Is that her wheelchair?” I responded, “Yes, it is my char.” He then responded, “You need a wheelchair van.” I replied, “No I don’t.” He said, “Yes you do.” I repeated, “No I don’t. I can get in any cab.”

He said, “I’m not taking the wheelchair.'” I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. I said, “What?”, thinking surely I must have misheard him.  He repeated it. No mistaking the words. The taxi stand attendant, the rep, and me look at him. Look at each other. The attendant says, “You have to take her. She said she doesn’t need a wheelchair cab, she can take any cab she wants.”

The driver again said he would not take me. “I will not put your chair in my car,” he said. “That’s why they have a wheelchair van.”

I said to him, “You know what you’re doing is illegal, right?” He said, “I don’t care.” Plain as day. “I don’t care.”

I said, “You know I’m going to file a complaint against you.” He said (wait for it), “Go ahead. I don’t care.”

It did not matter what any of us said to this guy. He did not budge. Even when security was called. Same answer. No. Flat. Out. No. Finally, the taxi attendant yelled at him, “You refused her. Get outta here! Now!”

I haven’t been this upset since I can’t remember when. I was so angry, I wanted to swear, to scream, to hit something. I did none of those things. Instead, I feared up. And I got in another cab.

And this guy could not have been more different than Mr. Jerk who refused to take me. He put my bags in the car. Put my chair in the car. Asked me what route I wanted him to take. He was friendly and polite and kind. He talked about his family, where he was from in India. How long he’d been here, how much he liked Chicago.  He got me to my house. He got my chair out. He got my bags out. He carried my bags to the door for me. He wished me a nice weekend, and was on his way home to enjoy his weekend with his family.

I am so grateful that second driver came along. He didn’t devalue me, or diminish me. He treated me with courtesy and kindness. And he made sure I got home safely. Doing his job. And doing it well.

Flying the Friendly Skies

One of my earliest memories of O’Hare Airport is going there at age 3 with my entire family to see my brother off to Vietnam. I don’t know that I knew he was going to Vietnam, but I knew he was going “at the war.” What does a 3 year old know about that?

I remember the smell of jet fuel. I remember it was night time and already dark. We were all dressed up. People used to dress up to fly, seems strange now when you see people in pajamas, yoga pants, sweats, jeans. And, you could go all the way to the gate even if you weren’t getting on a plane. I remember we stayed at the gate, watched my brother walk down the jet bridge and watched the plane until it took off.

That’s the thing. Every day, people get on and off planes. Going to work. Coming home. Going “at the war.” Truth is, we have no idea what the hundreds or thousands of people we pass on the way to our own flight are facing or dealing with on their journey. Sure, many people are taking fun trips, Disney with the kids, some Caribbean island or European jaunt for a honeymoon. But there are others whose journeys aren’t all sunshine and roses.

On my last trip, for example, I met a guy who was making his every-three-week flight between Chicago and his tiny Arkansas home town to get treatment for cancer. He was traveling alone. He said his wife came with him sometimes, but insurance wouldn’t pay for her to accompany him, and they had to pay for it themselves, and it got expensive. So he came alone. To have his body filled with chemicals that would kill the invaders inside him so he could go home for three more good weeks.

I loved talking to this guy. He was in good spirits. He was reading Grisham. We bonded over that, talking about our mutual love of his fine writing. We compared notes on which book we liked the best, and then about the movies that had been made, and which actors did justice to the characters in the books. We both agreed that Denzel and Julia did a pretty damn fine job in The Pelican Brief.

Then, the talk turned serious. We talked about his cancer. How he’d been going for these treatments for several months, and he had a few more to go. And we talked about how blessed he felt to have found a place to treat him and give him hope, after his first doctor had told him there was “nothing that could be done.” He was grateful to have found a place where they treated him like a human being, with compassion and grace, instead of as a set of symptoms to treat (or not). He got teary when he shared this part of his story. I got teary right along side him.

I don’t remember his name. But as I’m traveling through airports today, I’m thinking of him, and hoping his journey is going well.