He’d been a cab driver for 42 years, he told me. A third-generation New Orleans Italian, born and raised in the 2200 block of Rampart. He’d just turned 60.
“Just one more year and I’m done,” he told me.
He told me a lot that Wednesday morning. In fact, he didn’t stop talking from the time he picked me up at Chartres and Franklin to my final destination at Louis Armstrong Airport.
He talked about how the city has changed over the years. And how it hasn’t.
He shared stories about judges who made late-night visits to the Monteleone with ladies who weren’t their wives. Or daughters. Or nieces. Or, perhaps, ladies. About the strippers who used to change in his cab “until City Hall had to go and install cameras.” And then he told me this story:
I picked her up one night about 10 or 15 years ago. She was an older lady. Lived on Napoleon Avenue. She came out in a full-length fur coat. Real put together. And she was the age when it takes a lot of time to get put together.
She got in the cab and asked if I’d take her to Biloxi. Hell, I’ve taken people to Houston before, so I told her, ‘Sure.’
We drove to Biloxi and she gave me this address. It was a house. A real big house. When we got there, she got out and went and sat on a rocking chair on the front porch. Didn’t ring the doorbell or anything. Just sat on the porch. After a few minutes, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a cigarette. She smoked it, rocking back and forth and back and forth until it was all gone.
Then, she got up and walked over to one of the columns in front of the house. She hugged it for the longest time. Eyes closed. When she was done, she got back in the cab and told me I could take her home. So, I did.
The whole way home, I’m literally bouncing in my seat. I mean, I’m Italian, I wanted to say something. But I didn’t.
When we got back to Napoleon Avenue, she paid her fare and tipped me 40 bucks. ‘Thank you, son,’ she said.
She called me ‘son.’ Did you hear that? ‘Son.’
By this time, we were idling outside Terminal C. The cabbie got out to hand me my luggage.
“That’s a beautiful story,” I said.
“I know, it’s my favorite,” he said. “Forty years of driving and she’s the fare I’ll never forget, even though I’ll never really know what happened.”
“Maybe that’s why it’s beautiful,” I said. “We live in a world where we feel we must know and understand everything. And, when we don’t know, we just make something up. You’ve left the story alone in its mystery, just like you left the lady alone in hers. That’s beautiful.”
“Well, whatta know,” the cabbie said. “Wait ’til I tell my wife. The writer from Chartres Street said the beauty is in not knowing.”