One of the most memorable cab rides I have ever taken was riding to downtown Atlanta from the airport. Rain started as we got into the downtown area. I noticed that the driver did not seem comfortable with the cab. For example, he did not turn on the windshield wipers until we could not see out the front windows.
When we came to an intersection, I heard screeching and turned to see where it was coming from. The noise was coming from the car I was in! We were careening back and forth across the highway in a skid. I thought we were going to hit two different cars, which had stopped ahead at the intersection. Somehow the driver got the car turned in the direction of a deep row of hedges, which softened our impact.
A cab behind us stopped and sheltered us from other cars until my cabbie was able to get the car started. We backed out of the shrubs and were no worse for the experience.
However, when we got to our destination hotel, the cab driver told me I was his first customer. He said he was unfamiliar with the cab and knew nothing about the bald tires and bad brakes and thus was uncertain how to handle the cab in difficult circumstances.
He told me that he was parking the cab in the hotel lot and calling to tell his employer that he was quitting immediately. I was his first and last cab fare!
We all have our breaking point in any job; I happened to be riding along when this cabbie realized “enough was enough.”
You don’t have to go online to find good jokes or watch David Letterman to find laughter. Simply strike up conversations with people you meet going about your daily activities.
For example, recently we sat down to eat in a local restaurant. I had gone to the restroom and when the server came over to get our drink orders, my wife said, “We’ll both have water and I’ll have iced tea. I don’t know what he’ll drink.” The server responded, “So what’s he going to do with the water?”
While in Beaufort, South Carolina, last week, my wife and I were eating in an outdoor section of a restaurant. A lady sat down close to us accompanied by a beautiful dog. As we sat eating and watching the dog sitting on the floor by its master, I was impressed by how well-behaved she was.
So I said to the owner of the dog, “Your dog is more well-behaved than most children.”
She said, “Thanks. That’s why my boys are in daycare and the dog is with me.”
You don’t need humor writers or humorists to have something to laugh about. Talk to people and listen for their punch lines. You can’t improve on real people with spontaneous funny dialogue.
In 1895, Booker T. Washington delivered a speech before the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta that later came to be known as the “Atlanta Compromise.” His address was one of the most important and influential speeches in American history, establishing Washington as one of the leading black spokesmen in America.
In the speech, he tells this story:
A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: “Water, water. We die of thirst.” The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second time, the signal, “Water, send us water!” went up from the distressed vessel. And was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A third and fourth signal for water was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River.
Often times we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives; we keep looking for an opportunity to make our lives better elsewhere. Perhaps we simply need to “let down our buckets were we are.”
My five-year-old grandson was eating his favorite sandwich–peanut butter and Nutella–at our house Wednesday, so I sat down to keep him company.
As he was eating, he looked up at me and said, “Papaw, I know everything there is to know about space.”
I said, “Well, Knox, that is very impressive. What all do you know?” He proceeded to tell me how many planets there were, which ones were the largest and smallest, how the universe relates to our solar system, among other facts.
Of course I do not know enough about space to know if he was factual or not, but he related the information with such authority that I assume he was right.
When he finished and took another bite of his sandwich, I followed up with additional questions, just to keep the conversation going. (My family says questioning is one of my fortes.) One question I asked was, “Why is the moon different sizes during each month?”
He stopped eating and was silent for at least twenty seconds; I could see the wheels turning in his curious, bright, five-year-old brain. Finally he turned to me and said, “Well, Papaw, I guess I don’t know everything there is to know about space after all.”
I learned about humility from Knox. If only as adults we would be able to admit it when we don’t know everything; if only we’d have the wisdom to keep quiet on a subject; if only we would learn to say simply, “I don’t know.” Needless talk might diminish and we could search for real answers to our problems.
The elevator is a great place to converse with a stranger. You are in a confined space, often within a comfortable distance to engage in conversation. You don’t want to be impolite and ignore the person, so you smile and ask an innocuous question.
This past Saturday, while attending the NCAA Regional Men’s Basketball Tournament in Louisville, my son and I were in the elevator at the Brown Hotel. We got on the elevator with a well-dressed older couple. As the doors closed, I smiled and asked, “Where do you live?”
The gentleman’s answer was, “Here.”
Since it was a Saturday morning, I assumed that they must be attending a special event at the hotel, so I said, “Are you here for a wedding?”
I thought he said, “This is where we married.”
I then said, “Then you are here to celebrate a special anniversary?”
“No,” he said, a little exasperated at my confusion. “We are getting married today at 4:30!”
Wow! I wasn’t expecting that answer from a couple probably in their mid- seventies. My son and I then shook hands with the beaming couple, congratulated them, and wished them success. We chuckled as we left the elevator, a little embarrassed and yet inspired by the obvious optimism and happiness of this couple.
Don’t ignore people on an elevator. You just might get your energy boost for the day by engaging in conversation with the stranger next to you; whether the elevator is going up or down, you might find yourself uplifted.
During the summer of 2010, my wife and I spent several weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We frequently traveled by taxi. Most of the cabs were pretty old and poorly kept. However, on one occasion we rode in a cab that was very different from the norm. This cab was a bright red late model car and was spotless inside and out.
As we got in the cab, I commented to the driver on how nice the cab was and that he obviously took pride in his work. He responded favorably to that comment and we began a conversation. As we rode along I asked about his schedule of work. I also asked how many hours a day he drove the cab and if he were a native of the city. As we talked, he seemed to become more comfortable in sharing personal information and I continued asking questions.
I learned a lot about him. He only worked when he wanted to since he had retired from the police department. He had worked mainly in the special forces of the department. Then he mentioned that he was a marksman and had actually been trained by Americans in Bangkok. As I was pondering this information, he began pointing out locations where he had been sent because of a murder or a robbery in process. His job was to shoot the perpetrator.
We passed one building where he casually said that he had shot and killed four people. So as calmly as possible, I asked how many people he had killed in the line of duty. His answer was quick and concise. He said, “Overall, I have killed 84 people.” This information really shook me. My cabby was a trained and experienced assassin! I was grateful when we reached our destination.
This experience demonstrates not only the value of questions, but especially that the most interesting and memorable information is several questions deep.
A dear friend of mine in his eighties, Clancy, fought in the Battle of the Bulge during the winter months of 1944-1945. Recently, he recounted for me his several weeks on the front lines of that famous battle.
He told about his company pushing forward in a forest area to attack the enemy. He recalled the constant bombing that he and his fellow soldiers were exposed to. They never knew when the bombs were coming and had no idea where they would explode. The constant noise was deafening. The cold temperatures were numbing and made it hard to pull the trigger on his rifle. Sometimes he saw individual soldiers he was shooting and sometimes he just aimed and shot, hoping to secure his own safety.
Foxholes were the only source of protection and that was minimal. The enemy had concrete bunkers, which were difficult to penetrate so our troops always felt that they were at a disadvantage.
The most telling exchange with Clancy was his lack of specificity about some of the events. For example, he did not remember even an estimate of the casualties among the 500 men who were fighting in his particular part of the battle field. His response was simply, “Most of the soldiers.” He did not recall in specific details any of the many close calls with death he experienced.
He was vague about how they survived the cold temperatures, lack of living quarters, the constant barrage of enemy fire, and the poor sanitary conditions. As he was pausing to consider these kinds of questions, his daughter who was listening said, “Dad, do you still have nightmares about it?” His pause followed by a simple “Yes” after sixty-seven years was a quiet tribute to the horrors of the war.
The human mind is able to shut out the horrific and couch the memories in general terms. There were 81,000 American casualties in the forests of Belgium during that battle. Clancy’s story is a reminder of the debt we owe the men, often very young, who fought in this battle that was the turning point in the war.