Living Out Loud: The Taxi Driver

Riding with Marvin

Mar 8, 2006 at 2:06 pm

When I painfully got into the cab, the driver said, "How do you do?" He was an older man with a white afro and brown skin that looked like leather.

He was wearing a black cap. His large hands were gripped around that steering wheel like he was holding on for dear life.

"I've been better," I said to him. "How you doing?"

The taxi driver was smiling at me. I remember his teeth being very white. One on the right side was gold.

"God has blessed us with another beautiful day," he said. "I'm doing great."

He wanted to know where I was headed, and I said Keller's IGA in Clifton. He picked me up at a doctor's office in Mount Auburn, where taxis have taken me to and from for over the past month. Foot surgery made it impossible for me to drive, and I couldn't always count on family or friends to take me where I needed to go.

I was going to get a few groceries at Keller's before trying to walk home. It would be an effort, but I didn't tell him that.

"It looks like you're in pain, mister," he said with his eyes focused on the road, those hands still gripping the steering wheel tightly. "Are you getting better?"

"Yes," I said. "I'm getting stronger every day."

"God bless you, sir. We're so lucky we can walk. My wife's in a wheelchair. Has been for the past 10 years."

"I'm sorry," I said.

"I am blessed," he replied. "She's still with me. The love of my life."

He was a kind gentleman. Most cabbies aren't. Most don't even look at you.

Some turn up their talk radio station and pretend like you're not there. One smelled so bad I couldn't wait to get out of the car.

"What's your name, sir?" I asked him.

"Name's Marvin."

"Been driving a cab long?"

"Seems like all my life," he said and laughed. "I like what I do. I meet a lot of nice people, like yourself."

I asked questions, and he answered them. He talked of his life, being the oldest of seven children. He grew up in lower Price Hill, got in trouble with the police when he was young but found God in his early twenties.

He has four grown children, all married, and eight grandchildren. His younger brother got shot and killed in the Korean War, where he served, too. He's been married 51 years.

He loves his life and thanks God for it every day. He knows he'll see his brother in heaven. He talked calmly and slowly, his hands always tightly gripping that wheel.

Traffic was heavy, and I noticed when Marvin would hit a red light he would push a button under the meter screen that accumulates the fare total. When we approached another red light on Clifton Avenue, I asked him what he was doing.

"When I get stuck in traffic or hit the light wrong, it's not fair to you to keep the meter running. You shouldn't have to pay for that."

"Well, I'll tell you something," I said. "For the past month, I've taken a lot of taxi rides and I've never once seen a driver do that."

"I wanta be fair, wanta do what's right. God's watching me."

Marvin reached Ludlow Avenue, turned left and turned left again into Keller's parking lot. The fare was $6. I handed Marvin a 20.

"Keep the change," I said. "I've enjoyed talking to you."

"I can't take that from you," he said. "Why don't you go into the store and get some change?"

"Please, Marvin, I want you to have this."

"I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight if I took that kind of money from you. Thank you, sir, but I would feel so much better if you would get some change."

"Wait right here," I said.

As quickly as I could, I went into Keller's and went up to a cashier and she gave me two 10s for the 20. When I went back outside, Marvin and his cab were gone.

I called the cab company the next day, told them I was looking for Marvin and wanted to pay him what I owed. No one seems to know who he is.

I don't know what to make of this. If I were a religious person, maybe I would say it was Jesus driving the cab on that bright, sunny Monday afternoon. All I really know is I owe him a little bit more than $6.

His kindness and honesty is something I don't see every day, and I want to somehow keep that spirit in me. It was a taxi ride I won't forget.

CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]. His collection of short stories, Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Stories, is available in bookstores and via LIVING OUT LOUD runs every week at and the second issue of each month in the paper.