There are many quotes, sayings or maxims out there that you can choose to live your life by, many choose more than one, I am one of the many but for the context of this life experience the one that goes “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” In the context of the life experience lessons it teaches, I Perceive myself to be the wiseman that learns.
This story takes place in either the spring of 2013 or the fall of 2014, which puts me in the second semester of either 7th or 8th grade. I was a member of my school’s bowling team. The team didn’t compete and we never held contests of skill between teammates, in fact I distinctly remember every that every Tuesday (or maybe Thursday.
.Whichever day the bowling team met), once we got to the bowling alleys, Mr. Meadows would deeply and annoyingly exclaim “Be quiet and no horseplay” which essentially meant that we weren’t allowed to be competitive with each other as we’d get too wound up and Mr. Meadows would bring down the boot. This story begins after a bowling meet ended and, for reasons I don’t remember, neither of my parents were available to drive me home, so a Taxi was called for me. The driver of the taxi was an older man, or at least a grown up in the eyes of my 13 or 14 year old self. He was a thin pale man with a 7 o’clock shadow and a thick mustache,which hugged and curved with the sides of his mouth, think Mad Dog Tannen from ‘Back to the Future Part 3’, his face had pockmarks and sunken eyes, he wore an oversized dark blue or black sweater and a beanie with torn up jeans, you could tell that this man had seen much better days, and because I was just starting my teenage years, and because I thought it was cool at the time, I asked him if I could sit shotgun.
In what seemed like exhaustion and annoyance, he nodded, I sat down, and we set off on the 45 minute journey to my house. “You in school” he asked with a hollow and tired voice. “Yeah” I said. “You here by yourself?” he asked in the same tone. “No, i’m here with the bowling club” I said sort of nervously. “You having fun?” he said with a little more effort than before. “Yeah” I responded again. The conversations stopped there for a while and I looked around the cab.
It smelled like a mixture of cigarettes and what I now presume to be a form of liquor, there were trash and baby supplies scattered about but it was evident he made an effort to clean up a little bit. Eventually he broke the silence and asked: “you gotta girlfriend?”. “No” I hesitated. “Well….” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes “Want one?” he asked, presenting the pack to me.
“Nah i’m good” I said, trying to sound nonchalant, as if strangers offering me cigarettes was a regular occurance. After pulling and lighting a one for himself he said: “Okay, well- here’s a piece of advice….
“, he paused as we stopped at stopped at a stop light and turned to look at me with his sunken and almost lifeless looking eyes and the cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth “Stay in f-ing school”. He said this in a way I will never forget. He went very heavy on the F. “.
..okaay…” I said as I turned my head away from him and towards the window.
“Im serious kid, it’s important” he continued in a slightly aggressive manner.”Okay” I said quickly, without moving my head. He inhaled deeply from the cigarette.”I messed my life up- I could’ve avoided so much bulls-t” The man said sounding even more hollow than before while sucking deeply yet again on the cigarette.
He held it and looked at it for a moment before the light finally turned green and he disposed of the cigarette through the window. I didn’t say anything else, I just kept looking straight ahead as we drove through the congested desert’s roads. While we were getting closer to my house, it seemed the man smoked all that his body would let him.
With only sounds filling the cab belonging to the neighboring traffic, the occasional flipping of the man’s lighter, and his deep inhales from the cigarette. We finally reached my empty house and I paid the man with the money I had earned from our garage sale the previous week. With the most life I had heard in his voice all night, he exclaimed “Have a good night”. In return I murmured slowly”You too” as I stepped out of the messy Taxi and closed the door behind me. I watched the man drive off until he was completely out of sight before I turned and went inside.Throughout your life, you’re told to stay in school countless times from countless people using their own vague methods in an attempt to convince you to finish school and get a career or something similar, and your response is always an annoyed “ok”. But no amount of parent’s of relative’s babblings will ever be as effective as this one taxi driver, whom I don’t even know the name of, saying it to me four or five years ago at a red light in Phoenix.
But it’s not what he said, it was his face. His tired eyes, the poch marks, the cigarette hanging from his mouth. This was a time he maybe felt alone or helpless, to tell some stranger, a kid, a truth he had the misfortune of learning the hard way, a truth that the kid was likely not even able or willing to grasp, but what I knew from looking at him, as the light came and went from the overhead street lamps, was that he really did mess his life up. I didn’t know his name, or anything else besides he works for a taxi company in Phoenix, but the emotion and struggle his body, mind, and entire being put out told his story for me. He had the face of man that had been through more anyone should, he probably had a kid, a kid he may not have wanted, but either way his life has gotten complicated in ways it’s obvious he can’t deal with, and driving that cab and smoking those cigarettes may be his most relaxing part of his life. When I was in that taxi, I remember that all I wanted to do was get out and away from the man, he looked, sounded and smelled like everything your parents tell you to avoid in life. His presence was riddled with mistakes, but when I looked into his eyes, I saw a future I didn’t, I saw a man who I did not want to become, a tired, old man. For all I know now, im as old now as he was then but whenever I think about him, he seemed older, he will always be older.
It was then, in that taxi, that I realized: when you’re told to finish school, we semi-strongly agree because we’re told of the opportunities it will open up later, but if we knew, if we could see, what not staying in school invites into our lives and what we may become I believe almost everyone would not even see not finishing as a possibility. So thank you to the taxi driver, whose name I will likely never know. You made your point very clearly.