The Stranger Who Changed My Life: The Taxi Driver and the Doctor

When a taxi driver asked one simple question, he transformed his family's future.

By Irving Stern from New York Newsday | for Reader's Digest magazine

Cab driverFor 28 years, three months, and 12 days, I drove a New York City taxi. Now, if you were to ask me what I had for breakfast yesterday, I probably couldn’t tell you. But the memory of one fare is so vivid, I’ll remember it all my days in this world.

It was a sunny Monday morning in the spring of 1966. I was cruising down York Avenue looking for a customer, but with the beautiful weather, it was kind of slow. I had stopped at a light just opposite New York Hospital when I spied a well-dressed man dashing down the hospital steps. He was hailing me.

Just then, the light turned green, the driver behind me honked impatiently, and I heard a cop’s whistle. But I wasn’t about to lose this ride. Finally, the man reached the cab and jumped in. “LaGuardia Airport, please,” he said. “And thanks for waiting.”

Good news, I thought. On Monday morning, LaGuardia is hopping, and with a little luck, I could get back-to-back fares. That would make my day.

As always, I wondered about my passenger. Was this guy a talker, a mummy, a newspaper reader? After a few moments, he started a conversation. It began ordinarily enough: “How do you like driving a cab?”

It was a stock question, and I gave him my stock answer. “It’s OK,” I said. “I make a living and meet interesting people sometimes. But if I could get a job making $100 a week more, I’d take it—just like you would.”

His reply intrigued me. “I would not change jobs if it meant I had to take a cut of a hundred a week.”

I’d never heard anyone say such a thing. “What do you do?”

“I’m in the neurology department at New York Hospital.”

I’ve always been curious about people, and I’ve tried to learn what I could from them. Many times during long rides, I’d developed a rapport with my passengers—and quite often I’d received very good advice from accountants, lawyers, and plumbers. Maybe it was that this fellow clearly loved his work; maybe it was just the pleasant mood of a spring morning. But I decided to ask for his help. We were not far from the airport now, so I plunged ahead.

“Could I ask a big favor of you?” He didn’t answer. “I have a son, 15, a good kid. He’s doing well in school. We’d like him to go to camp this summer, but he wants a job. But a 15-year-old can’t get hired unless his old man knows someone who owns a business, and I don’t.” I paused. “Is there any possibility that you might get him some kind of a summer job—even if he doesn’t get paid?”

He still wasn’t talking, and I was starting to feel foolish for bringing up the subject. Finally, at the ramp to the terminal, he said, “Well, the medical students have a summer research project. Maybe he could fit in. Have him send me his school record.”

He fished around in his pocket for a card but couldn’t find one. “Do you have any paper?” he asked.

I tore off a piece of my brown lunch bag, and he scribbled something and paid me. It was the last time I ever saw him.

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  • Your Comments

    • o

      Lovely…

    • Tindel Diab

      I don’t get it. Maybe it’s not complete.

      • Mangalore

        Maybe your reader doesn’t show you the link to the second page.

        That evening, sitting around the dining room table with my family,I pulled the scrap from my shirt pocket. “Robbie,” I announced proudly, “this could be a summer job for you.” He read it out loud: “Fred Plum, N.Y. Hosp.”

      • Travis Woodhouse

        It changed his life because the chance meeting with the doctor afforded his son, and later his grandchildren great opportunties..

    • Mariam

      But what does this story have to do with the drivers luck?

    • trm

      How did the stranger change his life ? Is it an incomplete story ? The taxi driver never met him again ?

      • Mangalore

        Maybe your reader doesn’t show you the link to the second page.

        That evening, sitting around the dining room table with my family,I pulled the scrap from my shirt pocket. “Robbie,” I announced proudly, “this could be a summer job for you.” He read it out loud: “Fred Plum, N.Y. Hosp.”

        My wife: “Is he a doctor?”

    • Ohoyo Tohbi

      Very very cool. :D

    • M. Christina Freidhoff, Entre.

      What a wonderful story . Thank you all for sharing it !