Tuesday, June 26, 2007

No.4: The Homeless

I entered a cab one morning, I directed the driver, I sat back and proceeded to assess my workday, meetings, things to do, solutions, problems etc. In the midst of my inventory check I realized I was no longer in the cab. My mind was oblivious to what was directly in front of me. I was unconscious of the space I occupied and the motion around me was an insignificant peripheral blur. It was in this moment I decided to be in the cab.

He was angry, verging on violent from the moment I entered. Initially, I was concerned for my welfare but more importantly I wanted to know. “Why are you angry?” I asked. “Who wants to know?” he retorted, his abrupt resistance startled me. Restless in his seat, hunched over his wheel, this life appeared intolerable for him. He complained erratically about the injustice of the homeless in “a city as rich as Toronto” and he was angered by the personal responsibility he felt on the occasions when they could not afford his fare. “People don’t care enough to do something about it”, he objected. He was on the front line of a war against intolerable social conditions. What appeared to be the ranting of a sociopath was actually a man expressing compassion, frustrated by a social predicament that on this day had erupted into a one-man political protest.

I asked him to explain, in the hope that listening would help him. In time he elaborated on his daily experience of having to reconcile his benevolence with his livelihood, infuriated he said, “They ride and then they don’t have enough money. What am I supposed to do? It happens all of the time. Why am I the guy who has to fix this? Why doesn’t somebody else do it? It’s all going to shit.”

As we arrived at the foot of my home my three-year-old daughter and my four-year-old son ran toward the taxi to greet me. The approach of their joyous faces was a dramatic contrast to the persistent look of the irritated man in the front seat and my first inclination was to protect them. Instead, I opened the door with a request of the driver, “It looks like my children would like a ride.” He nodded with approval and grunted, “Get in” adding under his breath, “Children are good. Family…” his voice faded into an unintelligible murmur. His posture in the seat shifted. For the first time his grip on the wheel relaxed. He proceeded to drive us around the block with my exuberant children on either side of me. What was an everyday task for him was a unique first experience for them. It was an unexpectedly long ride as we navigated our way through the neighbourhood’s one-way streets. We returned to our starting point, I thanked him and as my children scrambled out of the back seat I asked, “So should I tell them there is no hope?” “No”, he paused and repeated, “No”, this time in a more yielding tone. I believe for a moment the taxi driver and I were on the same side.

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