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Boston Cab Driver Trained

Harvard Square cabs, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Across the river from Boston
Photo by DBaron

For years, I’ve proudly driven around with the homemade bumper sticker on my car that reads:
Boston Cab Driver Trained. I was born and was taught to drive in Boston. Only rarely here in northern California do I look in the rear view mirror to see something other than the uncomprehending stares or the curious, puzzled tailgaters:  a whole car full of people or a couple together, leaning forward and laughing like crazy. These are my peeps, I think to myself. They’ve been to Boston. They know.

Maybe it’s changed over the years, but cab drivers in Boston are aggressive and can be very vicious. It's one thing to be fast, another thing to playing offense behind the wheel. The insanity is compounded by Boston's paved over cow paths that lack even a minute semblance of urban design. The Bostonian personality is something that recently came to light with this year's Boston Marathon tragedy:  Bostonians are tough, determined people. If ever there was a people who could be likened to relentless barnacles in pursuit of whatever they want, it's Bostonians. Winter and lack of parking’ll do that to ya. We are survivors.

As a survivor, of sorts, I write today--Memorial Day--to honor the memory of someone; kind of a loved one but it's not clear enough to declare it that way. I don't even know if he's still alive. When Leonard came into my life, life changed. Not for the better, but different, very different than the "suburban parents not-particularly-happily-married" existence I knew. Leonard wasn't officially my step-father, but I think of him that way. He taught me how to drive. My uncle reminds me that culturally as a Korean War veteran, Leonard didn't come home a hero. He came home to a society that felt his war contribution was "insignificant," or worse he was criticized for having participated. It was not the experience other wars' veterans' knew. Because I am not of those eras, I can't criticize but on an individual level, I can always be thankful for what a soldier does in concept when the choice to join the military is his or her own.

Leonard was an okay guy, but he talked too much. One of his great life pleasures seemed to be having willing listeners to listen to his vast knowledge (about an alarming number of topics!). In addition to post traumatic stress disorder traits I experienced in him, he seemed to emotionally crave listeners for his stories. Over the years, it made him hard to be around. In that, he was like my father but Dad created that wall with cigarettes instead. Leonard claimed to have a rich Beatnik past and to have known Joan Baez, Jan Joplin and others whose lives helped frame and define the 1960s. When you first met Leonard, he was an amazing and very interesting person to be around.

In the early 1980s Leonard drove cab in Boston and often complained about corruption. I believe the ethnicity of cab drivers is much more broad now, but I am sad to find stories that tell me families who support themselves with this profession still live as much on the edge of poverty as we did. And my mother worked as well. It's just not enough and hasn't been enough for decades. Many nights while he was out driving, my Mother would ask me to join her in meditating on an altar to summon the energies of Fortune in hopes he would get a great fare (or three) for the night. What he brought home would define whether we could stay where we lived or face living out on the street.

After a certain age, I became disillusioned with Hippie approach to helping us earn a living though  believe it's been a contributor to how I landed a career in technology. Just like the mysticism and fate-petitioning I'd grown up with, you still can't touch software but its experience sure is a hell of a lot more lucrative. The era of cloud computing is just perfect for somebody who grew up like I did.

The years with Leonard helped define the firmer edges of who I am. And there were important moments he was present for as I grew up. He supported my mother's relationship with me (once I went to live with Dad, weekends were it) very reliably. From the bus station downtown to home was where the driving lessons came in. In the final balance he wasn't great for my mother, but it's never all bad. The memory is mixed but today, I honor its voice.

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