For 28 years, three months and twelve days I drove a New York 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 particular type of fare is so vivid that 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 traffic light at 68th
Street, just opposite New York Hospital, when I spied a well-dressed man dashing
down the hospital steps. He was hailing me. Finally the man reached the taxi and
jumped in. 'La Guardia Airport, please,' he said. 'And thanks for waiting.'
As always, I wondered about my passenger. Was this man a talker, a newspaper
reader? After a few moments, he started a conversation. It began ordinarily
enough: 'How do you like driving a taxi?'
It was a stock question, and I gave him my stock answer. 'It's okay,' 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 wouldn't change jobs if I had to take a cut of a
hundred a week.'
I had never heard anyone say such a thing. 'What do you do?'
'I am in the neurology department at New York Hospital.'
I have always been curious about people, and I have tried to learn what I
could from them. Maybe it was that this man 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, and I plunged ahead.
'Could I ask a big favor of you?' He did not answer. 'I have a 15-year-old
son, a good kid. He is doing well in school. We would like him to go to camp
this summer, but he wants a job. Now a 15-year-old cannot get hired unless his
dad is 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 does
not 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 terminals, he said, 'Well, the medical
students have a summer research project. Maybe he could fit in. Have him send me
his school record.' Then he gave me his particulars hurriedly written on a piece
That evening, around the dining table, I pulled out the scrap of paper from
my shirt pocket. 'Robbie,' I announced proudly, `this could be a summer job for
you.' He read out the name and address and laughed loudly. My wife too started
cracking jokes. My daughter joined in the fun. After I nagged, cajoled and
yelled, Robbie sent off his grades the next morning. Two weeks later when I
arrived home from work, my son was beaming. He handed me a letter addressed to
him on richly embossed paper. The letterhead read: Fred Plum, M.D.,
Neurologist-in-Chief, New York Hospital. He was to call Dr. Plum's secretary for
Robbie got the job. After working two weeks as a volunteer, he was paid $40 a
week for the rest of the summer. The white lab coat he wore made him feel a lot
more important than he really was as he followed Dr. Plum around the hospital,
doing minor tasks for him.
The following summer, he worked at the hospital again, but this time he was
given more responsibility. As high school graduation neared, Dr. plum was kind
enough to write letters of recommendation for college. Much to our delight,
Robbie was accepted at a prestigious university.
He worked at the hospital a third summer and gradually developed a love of
the medical profession. When university graduation approached, he applied to
medical school, and Dr. Plum again wrote letters attesting to his ability and
character. Robbie was admitted to New York Medical College and, after getting
his M.D, did a four-year residency specializing in obstetrics and gynaecology.
Dr. Robert Stern, the taxi driver's son, became obstetrical-gynaecology chief
resident at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre in New York City.