It began as a regular enough cab ride.
I needed to get from point A to point B and no one was available to drive me. Well perhaps a slight irregularity in the music selection I’d chosen for my overall commute, the Magnificat. Personally, I’m not particularly religious, but I have a strong attraction to sacred music – evidenced here and there about this blog. I don’t really have “getting pumped for the start of the day” music, I’ve got “overdeveloped sense of entitlement” music that can serve a similar purpose.
Were I head of state, I’d have the opening of the Magnificat played when I entered a room. Sort of like Hail to the chief, but even grander. Who needs an armed forces band when one can get an orchestra, horn flourishes, and a chorus. Maybe I’m an emperor without an empire, or a prince without a principality, but I can still play the Magnificat while walking around the streets of New York City. As I said, overdeveloped sense of entitlement – or taking the Calvin and Hobbes life with a soundtrack comic strip a bit far.
So anyway, I’d decided to repeat a particularly well crafted piece, its entirety,:
Suscepit Israel puerum suum recordatus misericordiae suae.
He has taken under his protection Israel his boy, and remembered his mercy.
The soprano-alto combination is just generally brilliant, and just because I can, I’ll throw in the general moving-ness of Et misericordia also from the Magnificat and So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen from the St. Matthew Passion. (Given what follows, Bach as a bookend is utterly necessary.)
I happened to be taking this cab ride with two other people, strangers who were also going to be dropped off. Myself and another gentleman sat in the back seat, and one passenger sat in the front seat next to the driver.
Upon entering the cab, the passenger in the front seat began to complain. Loudly. I didn’t see what had happened, and the way his complaints were going, I guessed he had sat in something unpleasant. Was it just a wet spot left by an ill placed umbrella? My commute had begun with a pretty uproarious thunderstorm, so that was a possibility. Was it some unpleasant liquid that would leave a stain? Fourth of July weekend, maybe some passenger had partied a little too hard earlier in the evening. But I didn’t smell anything untoward.
The cause of complaint became apparent, sitting in the cab just outside the dispatch office. While entering, part of an article of clothing snagged on something on the cab door and had ripped. There’s a hole in my $200, name-brand designer article of clothing. Cursing and fussing directed at the dispatcher, whose window overlooks where cabs pick passengers up. Then cursing and fussing directed at the cab driver. I’m not sure who he wanted $200 from, but there the definite implication of being owed $200 for a mishap that was, to his mind, clearly the fault of the cab company, dispatcher, and cab driver. What if a child had been with him? What if the cause of the torn shirt caused bleeding? There were not questions posed as in a Socratic dialogue, “Yes, that is very true, but may I ask another question? What do you consider to be…”.
The situation calmed down somewhat, but not entirely and certainly not a good start to the journey. During the course of the cab ride, Angry Passenger’s near-fury at the tearing of the shirt did not subside. Angry Passenger proceeded to make cell phone calls where he shared his displeasure in vivid terms. I would beat up the cab driver, but jail. And also, the “If I had my gun I would…”.
I was going to write veiled threats of violence, but it is hard to describe a profanity laced expression of anger in that way, via cell phone conversations with third parties, as veiled. This was not a pleasant cab journey for me and I wasn’t even the target. And unfortunately passenger to my left was getting dropped off first. So me, not so veiled threat of violence guy, and cab driver for part of the journey. Not exactly how one wants to conclude a commute. We did happen to pick up two additional passengers, a pair of friends, on the way to veiled threat of violence guy’s destination. I got bumped to fourth in line to be dropped off, but was happy to have company.
Threats-guy was dropped off and insisted on not paying, and the cab driver let it go. I thought a wise decision. I still don’t know if the whole show of anger was just a method of getting out of paying for the ($4 without tip) cab journey, or if this was genuinely the threats-guy’s way of proceeding in the world: get angry, express threats, including the threat of beating up people who displease and/or threatening to use firearms.
And maybe I’m taking what was really customer dissatisfaction mixed with hyperbole too seriously, but I’ve underestimated the prospect of two strangers engaged in a dispute breaking out into outright violence right before my very eyes before. With oddly similar thoughts during the buildup to actual violence in that instance: Is this really happening? That person didn’t really just threaten violence did he? Maybe I misheard him – or maybe I misunderstood something innocuous for a threat of violence? Or mistook that statement for this situation headed in a direction it clearly wouldn’t go in? And then sure enough, I was distressingly near a fight on an LIRR train. What’s more, $200 shirts weren’t involved in that instance. (I’ve had stretches of time in bubbles where I’d forgotten that people used certain, fairly untowards methods of expression full stop.)
I want to tie this tale up with a bow. And maybe it is something as simple as, angry guy was a jerk and direct, customer-facing jobs can be incredibly difficult in ways that office-all-day people don’t appreciate enough. But I’ll use as a bookend something, perhaps, more hopeful. From a genius of music to one of the written word, the story of Maya Angelou’s encounter with a famous recording artist (hat tip to the friend who shared another program featuring Maya Angelou where I first heard this story; this quote via Business Insider).
“I didn’t know who he was. He was into a big row with another young man so I said to him, ‘May I speak to you?’ and he was cursing, whoo. And I said, ‘When was the last time anyone told you how important you are?’ Did you know people stood on auction blocks and were bought and sold so that you could stay alive today?’
And finally he heard me and stopped talking and started to weep. I put my arms around him and walked him back into the arena and he quieted. I went back to my trailer and Janet Jackson came running in and said, ‘Dr. Angelou, I don’t believe you actually spoke to Tupac Shakur!’ And I said, ‘Darling, I don’t know him from 6-pack.’ I had never heard of him.”