10.13.2010

The Good Samaritan

Notes on a man I met in New Orleans after Yvonne’s wedding:

I called a cab to take me to the airport, but there was already a cab from a different company parked out front. The driver told me that two women who were staying at my hotel were leaving for the airport in ten minutes, so I could join them and save on the fare. He was an Egyptian named Omar. While I was on the phone telling JP I was leaving for the airport, Omar grabbed my suitcase and put it in the trunk. The New Yorker in me was paranoid that the two women did not exist and that he would drive off with my bag. But like Andrea on an Italian submarine, I ignored my inner voice and got into the cab.

The women recognized me from the day before. “I think I saw you in a suit.” I told them I was in town for a wedding; they told me they were on a service trip for their alma mater, building homes, but that they gave themselves a night at the Green House Inn as a reward at the end of their week. They were on the way home to Philadelphia, and I told them I went to school there. They corroborated my story to Omar that the hotel is great, that the pool really makes it, and that the charge is about $150 per night. Omar was shocked that I paid that. “That’s too much! No one would charge that! There are people who don’t make $150 in a week!” I couldn’t tell if he was angry or just loud. But when the women told him the same thing, he said he thought about taking his wife there for a weekend getaway.

The gray clouds that lingered over the city all morning opened up to a drizzle as we were leaving the Garden District. The highway was backed up. Omar thought there must have been an accident because Sunday afternoon traffic was unusual. His suspicion was soon confirmed when we saw a Mercury Grand Marquis that had spun out and crashed into the concrete border or the highway overpass.

“Just a little rain like this is worse than a real rain because the road is SLIPPERY!” Omar explained, in logic that sounded like my mother’s.

Traffic crawled by the crashed car. Its rear jutted into the right lane of traffic. This caused the whole road to slow as cars scrambled to steer clear.

Omar said, “What: he can’t move the car?”

“No one can help push the car out of the way? Even if it is not drivable, three guys can help him push it out of the way!” Omar saw the solution. It always seemed like he was yelling at me.

“The problem is no one will DO it. They see how this is blocking the whole highway.”

The women and I agreed with him, and then:

“Is no one thinking like we are thinking?” I told him maybe not. “Are we going to have to help him?” Omar asked us in a way that implied it was time for him to take control.

As we approached the Grand Marquis, Omar moved into the right lane and pulled over to the shoulder right after we had passed it. He rolled down my window.

“HEY! You need HELP?” he yelled across me to the driver of the car, a young Latino man pacing with his cell phone. I didn’t think he understood. He smiled and said, “Yes.”

“Is it DRIVABLE? CAN YOU DRIVE IT?” Omar asked. Again the guy said yes. Omar jumped out to take a look.

The women and I sat in the cab. I turned and told them, “It looks like the service component of your week is not finished yet.” They laughed and we all remarked on how unexpected the situation was, how it was one more story in their week’s adventures, and how kind Omar was to stop. When we turned to see what was happening behind us in the stranded car, Omar was in the driver’s seat, righting the car so it was out of the way of traffic.

“And the guy couldn’t have done that?” I asked like a jackass, concerned about catching my flight home. I thought our work was done, but we saw Omar motioning with his hand outside the window. He was waving us forward.

I asked, “What does he want us to do?”

“I think he wants you to drive!” the woman behind the driver’s seat said and then erupted into high-pitched laughter.

“Are you kidding me?” I said, but even as I did, I was sliding across the seat and turning the key in the ignition.

I tried to find the hazards but couldn’t. I was more frantic than I needed to be, but I was driving a cab with two strangers in a city I didn’t know. There was a lot of subsequent laughter and me cursing and general incredulity. We couldn’t figure out the endgame.

“We have his CAB!”

“Where the fuck are we going?” was my question as I kept one eye on the increasingly rainy road but mostly tried to decipher Omar’s plan by watching him in the rearview.

The accident had happened on an overpass with a small shoulder. We figured that Omar was trying to get the car off the bridge and onto an area that had a real shoulder. After about a half-mile we reached the end of the overpass and saw Omar signal to pull over towards the grassy side of the road.

After I stopped the cab, the women asked what my name was. At this point I guess introductions seemed in order.

When Omar returned, the brunette said, “Sir, you are a good Samaritan.”

He shrugged off the designation. “All the time I hear people talking and talking about the problem and I say, ‘This will not solve the problem.’ You need someone to do something. We have to look out for everybody.” I told him we needed to get him on the oil spill next.

The rain became heavier and the road more difficult to see. “I told them, ‘Today we will have heavy rain.’ People said it has been cloudy all weekend and it didn’t rain, and I said today it will rain. My prediction is coming true.” We thought we might be delayed. “Will it rain long like this?” asked the blonde woman as we entered the airport.

“I said it would rain, but how long? I don’t know, but after a quick call,” he pointed his finger upward, “I can find out. I can predict sometimes, but He controls it.”

I should have asked the women’s names, but I didn’t. They were the first drop-off. We wished each other safe flights. “Brian, you’re one of our stories, now.”

Likewise, Madam.

******

I told two Denverites this story. One girl, originally from New Jersey, said, “Did you tip him after that? I would never tip him!” One girl, originally from North Carolina, said it made her want to move back to the South. I gave Omar a huge tip.

1 comment:

Hannah said...

As a New Jersey native, my first thought was "I hope you gave him a huge tip." Glad we're the majority of NJers.