He was young, lean, and even with a duffel bag over his shoulder his back was straight. You could tell he was military. When he got in the cab I asked if he was on leave. He said yes and he could not wait until he got home see his mom and his sister.
He told me about some Army contest he was training for. It sounded similar to a triathlon but even more grueling. He did not think he was going to place well, but he was going to give it his all.
Along the way we talked about family, home cooking and coming home. We had laughter and conversation and it was a good fare in the midst of a long night. It was a pleasant ride in the middle of the night until we had something like a scene from a bad movie happen.
On a dark and quiet street 3 men came out of the shadows. Two blocked the lane on the left side and one stood in front of the cab holding something that looked like a large metal pipe. They were all wearing hoodies with the hoods up and bandannas over their faces. All you could see was their eyes. The whole scene was bazaar and surreal.
My heart did not race. I was not angry. I was not scared. There was little hesitation as I told the young man in my back seat to keep his head down and floored it. I knew that if the man with the pipe did not move I would strike him at about 40 MPH. Anything 40 or over on a pedestrian is a potentially lethal hit. He stood his ground, so did I. In the split moment that all this transpired our eyes were locked on each other. I saw fear and confusion in his. At the last possible moment he jumped out of the way and threw his pipe at my cab. I kept moving and told dispatch what happened over the radio so they could alert police.
The young man in the back rose his head up and asked,"What the hell was that?"
"I don't know. You okay?"
"Yeah," he said, "You are an ice cold mother fucker."
"Until tonight I thought I was a pacifist."
"Well, I'm glad you were wrong."
There was a pause and I tried to bring conversation back to where it was and we both politely played along, but there was no life in the conversation. The mood had changed. Neither of us wanted to dwell on or speak about what just transpired. We were also too lost to know what else to talk about. Then he said it. He spoke of the thing we were not talking about just blocks from his house.
"Everything's normal after moments like that, but it don't feel the same. Does it?"
"No. It doesn't."
"It's like coming home. The house will be the same. My room will be the same. My sister will be a little more grown up, mom may have a new hairdo and my friends will still complain about classes at JJC. It's all normal, but my moments make it all different."
"What changed for you?"
"I was overseas for three tours. I saw people die. You don't want to talk about it. No one wants to hear it. It's uncomfortable for a mom or a sister or a college student to know what it's like to be shot at while laying cover fire and the next day your buddy loses a leg not being careful by a parked car. That was then. It was a moment in my life. But no matter how normal things are, it doesn't feel the same."
We pulled into his driveway. He paid me and tipped well and thanked me for being ice cold and went inside with his duffel over his shoulder.