CAB DRIVERS don’t get paid like doctors. They certainly don’t enjoy a physician’s prestige. Still, we expect them to exercise equal discretion, right?
We passengers assume cabbies have seen it all – the sloppily amorous couples, the shifty cheapskates and the drunken teens.
We expect these drivers to keep shtum and file away the stories of their “fares,” maybe trotting out the odd one to entertain friends over a post-shift beer. They have to be plenty jaded, we reckon. Nothing we can do could startle them.
Thus, last week my husband Stanley and I assumed that the fellow who drove us from the Ottawa airport to our downtown hotel would be as quietly circumspect as a Buddhist monk as he listened in on our heated conversation.
Poor Stanley, who carries a cell-phone while I do not, always has to deal with our family’s emergency calls. So, shortly after landing, he was forced to try and sort out a squabble between Petunia and her brother Bart. We’d decided to leave them on their own for the better part of a week while Stanley attended a conference and I visited friends. This isn’t new – they’re grown-up enough to cope. Yet Stanley was tied up on the phone, trying to mediate the dispute, from the disembarking zone all the way to the luggage carousel, into the taxi lineup, and then right into the cab.
The conflict had been caused by my slap-dash decision to leave more “emergency money” with one child than the other, due to one child being older and therefore responsible for any random household expenses. The insult to the younger one was too treacherous to be borne, whereas the older sibling didn’t appreciate being woken up and harassed simply for being the recipient of the lion’s share.
Stanley got tired of trying to discuss this on his lonesome and decided to put one of our kids on speakerphone. All of us then made our exasperation clear. After Stanley hung up, with no clear resolution of this extremely tedious (and unusual) dispute, our previously silent cab driver finally weighed in.
He had a thick accent, and his intonation was of the weary Eastern European variety.
“My friends, the problem is not with your children. It is with you,” he boomed in his deep voice, staring ahead as he navigated Colonel By Drive in rush hour. “I have two words for you: Gestalt therapy.”
He proceeded to tell us that this issue would never come up between his own children, because he didn’t treat them in an unequal fashion, and he would never give them money. All was harmonious in his home, he said, with everybody dedicated to the collective good.
For some reason, this did not make me admire the cab driver, or long to thank him for his generous counsel. Rather, I wondered how much it would hurt if we quietly opened the car doors while the vehicle was moving and flopped out, and then how fast we could run away.
I was already fuming about the battle of Petunia and Bart, and had quarreled with Stanley over whether I was to blame because I was too vague in defining the purpose of the money. Our trip was getting off to a terrible start. And while I am ordinarily drawn to any man who looks and sounds like Topol in Fiddler on the Roof, did I really need the Reb Tevye of Bulgaria weighing in?
He evidently felt that the 10 minutes he had been forced to spend in our company had made him an expert on our family dynamic. I have rarely been more embarrassed.
The cabbie went on to recommend an internationally renowned therapist he admired, who had an unintelligible name. “Google him,” he suggested. Google him? I couldn’t even spell him.
Out of curiosity, I did Google “gestalt” later on, attempted to read an explanation of it, and couldn’t understand a word. Even the diagrams were baffling.
Over the course of our seemingly interminable ride together, our new advisor revealed that in university he had studied theology, psychology and philosophy. (I guess recklessness came naturally.)
He’d left Bulgaria for Ottawa and had returned to his homeland to become a businessman. He’d moved back to our national capital after discovering his former country had been ruined by corruption.
I felt sorry for this well-meaning fellow, so I resisted my urge to suggest he re-visit Bulgaria and try to make it work. Instead, I respectfully did not roll out into traffic. And kind-hearted Stanley gave him a tip.