In my ten years at Ernst & Young and NEFE, I must have taken five hundred trips to different cities and different states. Many times I took cabs. Most of the time, cab drivers were quiet types where the only interaction was to tell them where I wanted to go and settling up the payment at the end.
A few times I could get a cab driver to talk about the local politics. I met a Marxist in Austin Texas where I went for a presentation at Dell Computers. Another time I had a van in Dallas that had totally destroyed shock absorbers on one side of the van, leaving it listing at something like 30 degrees. The driver there was very apologetic, told me he’d get me there safely, and when he did, gave me his card so I could have him and his death wagon take me back to DFW when I was leaving town. Then there was the driver in Newark who took two hours to get me from Newark Airport to a hotel two miles away. He spoke almost no English, refused to call for directions, and just kept taking the same three routes. I thought maybe I’d meet Jimmy Hoffa before it was all over.
In our travels, we haven’t had much need of cab drivers, but until this trip, one stood out as a real character and he’s someone we’ll always remember. We were in Barcelona at Parc Guell and needing a ride back downtown to our hotel.
This cab driver was a crazy man. He was funny, and when he discovered Mary Ann spoke fluent Spanish, he got going with telling us his whole life story. His car was outfitted with a multiple-CD player which he used to switch back and forth to different tunes as something of a soundtrack for all his life’s escapades. One thing I remember distinctly were the years he spent in England as a chef, cooking boring food. “PO-TAH-TO, PO-TAH-TO, PO-TAH-TO EES ALL I COOK DAY IN DAY OUT”. He was just terrific and we were hurting from all our laughing. He got us to our hotel and drove up on the sidewalk right up to the front door of the hotel! What a character he was. What a memory he gave us along with the ride we paid (and tipped generously) for.
Nayef Sbeity wasn’t as loud and colorful as our Barcelona friend, but from the moment we got in the cab, we sensed something different. Classical music was playing, a concerto by an obscure contemporary of Mozart (not Anton Fils – see my Louvre blog) . He was well dressed, though his cab wasn’t some kind of limo. Just a typical cab, though this man had no fewer than two GPS’s at his command along with the latest computer connections, including his iPod to get radio reception or play whatever he wanted.
We had just left the Louvre in pouring rain, and as I related in my blog for that day, his was the only cab among many that had space. He flashed his headlights, we turned into traffic and off we went.
I don’t remember what got the conversation started. It must have been something one of us said. But Nayef (we didn’t know his name yet) offered up a very thoughtful pearl of wisdom. He said:
“To be honest with others, you must first be honest with yourself.”
And then a few minutes later, he offered
“People ruin their health to raise money . . . and after(ward) they spend it to recover their health”
This was a real philosopher who was driving us. A spiritual guide with great wisdom. I said something to this effect, and then he pointed us to the pockets behind the front seat and told us to take a copy of what was there. And here it is:
As with our friend in Barcelona who lifted our spirits to a state of hilarity, Nayef Sbeity gave us his quiet wisdom to help us attain some of the peaceful understanding that he seems to have achieved in his life and then set to paper. Nayef’s gift will be an enduring artifact of this already-memorable trip, something we’ll keep always.
* When we’re back on Colorado, I’ll scan this properly and load it in place of the photo.