This is part 2 of a 3-part series on memorable taxi stories that started with a story from my last trip to Las Vegas over on The Vegas Solo. Today’s story comes from my most recent trip to Orlando, and much like my Las Vegas story, involves a driver making a fresh start with his life. In this case, though, he was a towncar driver.
I don’t usually splurge on towncars, but I had to twice in Orlando, because neither the Swan Hotel at Disney nor the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal have taxi stands. Instead, they have towncars. Oh, they’ll call a cab if you prefer, but meanwhile you’re left waiting for God knows how long for it to arrive. The savings of taking a cab over a towncar was around $10, and it irritated me to be pushed into spending more money than I should have for a ride.
On the day I left to come home, I stood waiting at the valet at the Hard Rock to ask them to call me a cab. No one paid me any mind at all, but I saw a man at a towncar waving at me. I thought he must have mistaken me for a client, so I ignored him. When the valet finally noticed me, he said “Sure I can call you a cab. It might be up to half an hour before it gets here, though. Or you could take one of our towncars.” He gestured in that direction. With a sigh, I agreed to take a towncar and he directed me toward the gentleman who had been waving at me earlier.
Now I felt like a jerk for ignoring him. I apologized and told him I thought he had mistaken me for someone who had pre-booked a towncar. He was very gracious about it.
His name was Mark, and he was a handsome older gentleman with silver hair and mustache from Puerto Rico who told me his life story en route to the airport. He was a terrific storyteller, and kept me entertained the whole way. He had spent years in Air Force Intelligence, and then went into the hospitality industry managing restaurants when he got out of the service. He did well in that career, but didn’t enjoy it; he said he didn’t care for the lack of work ethic in young people in the restaurant industry.
One day he had a brainstorm and decided to begin driving limousines instead. His wife at the time was not happy about this and gave him an ultimatum that he had to earn as much money every month in this new job as he had in his old one—or else. For the sake of marital bliss, he took the “or else” very seriously.
Mark was doing all right driving the limousine, and enjoyed it much more than his old job, but the deadline his wife had given him was fast approaching, and he hadn’t earned as much as he had in his previous job. Then the September 11 attacks happened. Flights were cancelled all over the country. He sat at the airport with nothing to do because no flights were arriving. Now he wasn’t earning anything. With his wife’s ultimatum hanging over his head, things were looking bleak.
As he sat reading the newspaper in his car at the airport, a man approached him; the man and his wife had been on vacation before he started a great new job. He had spoken with his boss on the phone, and even though the boss knew the flight situation, he basically told the guy he needed to be at work the next morning, or he’d be fired. The guy lived in Cleveland or something. He had tried to get a rental car, but they were all gone.
He asked Mark: “Can you get me home before tomorrow morning?”
It was like something out of a movie. Mark drove the businessman and his wife home to Cleveland, driving through the night. It took 17 hours or thereabouts, but the guy got home in time to go to work. He and his wife unpacked their luggage and he told Mark to wait while he went into his house to get some money for the fare. He was gone for quite awhile. Mark began to worry he was going to get stiffed. But then the man ran back out with a huge wad of cash, way more than the cost of the drive (and coincidentally, more than enough to satisfy Mark’s wife’s ultimatum) because Mark “had just saved his job.”
Could it be true that there’s a silver lining in every cloud? It’s hard to imagine anything good coming out of September 11, but in this case at least, it saved Mark from having to return to a job that made him miserable and allowed him to pursue a career that is more rewarding for him. By the time we arrived at the airport, I was so glad I’d chosen not to wait for a cab, but had Mark as my driver instead. I was more than happy to slip him a good tip on top of the fare. He startled me with a kiss on the cheek, and wished me a safe flight home. He gave me his card in case I need a driver the next time I’m in Florida, but he needn’t have. He had already left a lasting impression on me. I’d say this career suits him just fine.