On a chilly winter's night I was having a very good night. February ended at the stroke of midnight a few hours ago. All the drivers were having a good night. It was busy but not out of control. I was on time for my time calls, got my other fares in good time and to their destinations well. The tips were flowing like a river. It was one of those nights that a driver wishes were the norm. You could actually make a good living if every shift were like this.
I was on my way to pick up someone at one of our hospitals when my cell rang. Most of the time I give the phone a passing glance and ignore it. I glanced at the phone in my cup holder. It was my father's phone. It was also the middle of the night.
With my heart racing I turned on the speaker phone.
"Hello?" I asked.
"Patrick," it was my step mother, her voice was shaking, "Patrick, your father died of a heart attack a few hours ago."
"Oh no. Oh no. Oh god. He's dead?"
"Are you okay? Do you need anything, Ellie?"
This short back and forth went on for about a minute and we said good bye. I pulled over and bit my lip to choke back tears that did not want to be held back. I grabbed the radio, took a deep breath and said,"Car 22 to dispatch."
"Dispatch to 22, go"
"Um, dispatch, my step mom just called, my dad is dead." I couldn't come up with anything else to say.
There was a pause.
"Dispatch to 22, gas it up and go home."
I bit my lower lip hard to keep the sobs out. "10-4, thank you".
The alpha desk dispatcher got on the private channel and said, "Pat, I'm so sorry." The beta desk dispatcher sent me a text expressing nothing but concern.
By the time I was done fueling up the cab, I could taste blood from my lower lip. I sat in the gas station and did my paperwork so all I would have to do when I came to base was drop my envelope in the safe and give dispatch my keys.
I pulled into base and walked in to the drivers area, handed dispatch my keys and make my drop. Another driver was in there doing his paperwork at the desk and he just looked at me not knowing what to say. He nodded his head with a sad smile and then shook it a little. The dispatchers said words of kindness that I do not completely remember because I was so focused on holding it together. One of them gave me a hug and I was limp and cold. I did not have much to say. When I spoke my voice trembled. I was trying to hold it together.
As soon as I walked out the door, the night air filled my lungs and the sobs came out and would not stop as I walked to my car and placed my head against the steering wheel for a few minutes.
The next day our operations manager would call me and assure me I could take all the time off I needed. He told me about times in his life where he had loss. He did better than many ministers I know in times of loss and we are trained for that stuff. It was a phone call that was like a salve to a bleeding and crushed heart. Dispatchers and drivers checked in on me through phone, text, email and social media.
In a time where many of my friends just disappeared, in a time where I felt alone in pain, the people of this job I had been with for less than a year would not let me feel alone. It made me want to go back to work and resume normal life.
A week later I would return to my cab. When I came in there was a card. The card had almost every white space filled with signatures and words of comfort and love. For the next week anytime a driver would pull up next to me, they would see how I was doing. The same was true of dispatch and operations. It was not for productivity sake. They gave a damn....about me. That is not something I am used to.
I have almost every word in the card memorized. The card is in my clipboard every day I drive. When I feel alone or need motivation to get through another night, I stop and look at it and remember that people care enough to reach out and that here, of all places, in a cab company, I matter. They matter to me too.
As a side note. When I was a little boy, my dad drove a cab. He used to write me letters from the cab and tell me some of his adventures. They burned in a house fire in 2001, but I remember some of them.