I love this job! It has often afforded me the opportunity to take a peek into other’s stories and discover the person behind the moment of meeting.
There was the Country & Western Singer struggling with alcohol and yearning for one more admiring crowd with whom to share his talent. Then there was the high wire electrician who I met on his daily rounds caring for an elementary age daughter, assisting in classes and helping out at his church. How did he come to such a tame existence, you may ask? He was blown from a high electrical platform in a Georgia nuclear plant when someone accidentally caused the core to drop into the reactor. Kzroom! I met him at what turned out to be the end of is life after he struggled and finally succumbed to radioactive burns for over ten years. He was a kind and heroic soul. There was the baseball scout and world traveller who I met between a trip to Vietnam and planning his next trip to Paris. Voracious reader, he researched broadly his next adventure. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and chose to heroically meet it head on, without chemo, and make his final journey in style. I have chauffeured ex-talkshow hosts, University Professors, County Deputies, massage therapists, cosmetologists, teachers, ministers, talented and industrious street people and many hourly workers about their daily role serving others in the Grand Valley.
Yesterday, however, I met another unusual rider. He boarded on a previous run to be delivered to a Walmart Neighborhood Grocery. As he returned home we began a brief conversation. I asked how long he had been riding a wheelchair. “Several years,” he replied. He complained about the ravages of old age, a recurring theme among transit passengers. “I worked for a Silicone Valley aerospace company,” he replied. “Was head of HR, drew a six figure salary.”
I looked at his disheveled figure, crumpled in an electric wheel chair with white plastic grocery bags strung over the handles. What a comedown I thought. Six Figures to subsistence living. “What Happened,” I asked as I unloaded him.
“Had a heart attack, then another. I tried to return to work but I couldn’t keep up the pace. I become a victim of diabetes having lost his right leg just below the knee. We lost our home and likelihood of other employment. The bottom just fell out. It happened relatively fast. Subsequently we decided to leave California and move closer to kids. So here we are.”
“Here he is,” I thought, “living in a subsidized apartment in a strange new world scraping by on a monthly disability check.”
“I’m 74,” he continued. No one wants to hire me at my age.
“I can see how it feels the bottom dropped out.”
I finished releasing the anchors on his chair so that he could move toward the lift. I stepped to the door. He turned his chair and three of the six bags he was carrying caught on the safety bar ripping holes in their bottom, a cruel emphasis to his discouraging tale.
I picked up and repackaged his meager food items, positioned his chair on the lift and helped him de-board. Chairs are the least favorite devices to transport. Drivers have to be very careful and attend to strict procedures to assure safety. Once on the sidewalk my new friend turned and drove off promising to see me another day.
At 77, I understand his observation of old age. I often feel like I am teetering on a quivering precipice uncertain about the future and wondering how much longer I can hold the line. The meeting of our stories, however, was strangely affirming, reminding me to appreciate life daily for as long as it lasts.