Recollections of Travel – Being Taken for a Ride
In Houston, the taxi driver taking me to MD Anderson Cancer Center was gigantic. He had a Jamaican-sounding accent and wore an enormous cowboy hat. His remarks were friendly at first as he discussed the need for health care reform obviously assuming that I was interested in his opinions. He progressed to make disparaging remarks about “foreigners who take jobs from native Americans.” It was obvious that he considered himself to be one of the latter in spite of his very black skin, so I wondered if I was wrong about his being from Jamaica. I said something about American Indians being actual “Native Americans” and he postulated “they were not really here first,” he’d seen a documentary on PBS. I did not debate that issue with him.
During the ride, he talked cloyingly nonstop and I became rather uncomfortable as his comments grew more inappropriate in content as well as tone. At the time Ann Richards was running for governor of Texas and the driver declared that he did not want her to win, because “women should not be at the forefront.” It was hard to not debate that point, but I again managed to refrain. At that point, he asked me where I was from, not an unusual question for a driver picking up at the airport. When I said, “Louisville,” he asked about horse racing, again appropriate. I replied that the Breeder’s Cup was taking place there in a few days and his response was “I hope you breed something good down there.” Okay, so now I thought he had embarrassed both of us to the extent possible with words, but I was wrong. Suddenly he began to laugh when a female driver slowed and motioned him into the traffic flow. I thought I had missed something because it seemed simply a polite, not humorous, gesture. He spoke loudly in the car’s direction saying, “Thank You!” and then to me, “I’ll have to do something nice for a woman tonight! I’m glad that I have never impregnated a woman.” It was with considerable relief that I saw my destination up ahead.
Out of all those years of travel that cab ride in Houston, TX was the most bizarre, but two others stand out as slightly concerning. One night, after entering a cab at the Baltimore Airport and asking the brooding driver to take me to my hotel near Johns Hopkins the entire city suddenly turned black. To me, it was an ominous sign, especially that it occurred the exact moment that I stepped into the cab. He drove silently block after block, underneath unlit traffic lights, in front of darkened buildings and deadened street lights, not saying a word that acknowledged he had even noticed the blackness surrounding us. Apparently, he was a seasoned driver, because within about a half hour he pulled in front of the looming darkened hotel. He popped the trunk to get my luggage and Baltimore was immediately illuminated with a brilliance that stung my eyes!
Very late on another night I arrived at the airport in Kansas City and gave the driver the address of my hotel. About forty minutes later I was beginning to worry a little and then I suddenly saw that we were passing the US Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth! Much later I safely arrived at my destination and paid a $65 (in 1994 dollars!) tab which of course was an item of interest when I turned in my expense account.