I changed someone’s life last Tuesday. Nothing dramatic, really. It was a Philadelphia cab driver during a five minute cab ride. I was down there for a work meeting and after that meeting, I met up with a friend for some dinner. Afterwards, I hopped into a cab and headed to the train station and as soon as I plopped myself down onto the back seat of the car, I could hear Three Dog Night singing “Easy To Be Hard” on the radio. I commented that you don’t hear that song much on the radio and the cab driver commented that he wasn’t sure why it was playing, that tonight was usually the night they had their Motown special. After hearing that statement, I then relayed my own newly found discovery about The Funk Brothers (see my post below on “Standing In The Shadows of Motown”) and he was just amazed, saying, “are you fucking kidding me, man? I love Motown! I can’t fucking believe I didn’t know that!!” After I let him know that I was not, in fact, fucking kidding him, he then went on to surmise, with vigor, that there could only be one reason why The Funk Brothers were not the most famous band in the world and that reason was the color of their skin and how it wasn’t fair they were not well known, etc. Now, knowing the train station was close, I didn’t have time to debate him on an issue in which he was clearly wrong (race is not the reason), so I just pushed out a quick “hmmm” and let it be.
Seconds after that, though, he went on to tell me a specific story about his upbringing in a nearly 100% Irish section of Philly. He was about five years old and was out playing with some of the other kids in the neighborhood, when an old Irish lady told him that “Italian greaseballs” didn’t belong in the neighborhood. He swore that since that day, he would never judge anyone based on their ethnicity or the color of their skin, a fine trait to possess, and one which I staunchly believe in myself. His next quote got me going, though: “I don’t care if you come down in a fucking UFO and have antennas on your head., man. I don’t care if you wear a god damn fucking burlap bag to a black tie party, buddy. I ain’t gonna judge ya.” Laughing, I told the guy that I actually would prefer if someone came down in a UFO to talk to me. He laughed as if he’d just discovered the sweet drug of laughter and the passion of getting a kick out of something. He continued laughing and as we pulled into the station, I gave him five bucks and told him to keep the change. He said “thanks buddy. Whenever I hear a Motown song now, I will think of you. Thanks for telling me that.” I retorted with my own thanks, thought nothing of it and went into the station.
It wasn’t until an hour later when I started thinking about what he said. If what he said was true, that he would think of me every time a Motown song came on, that would really be something. I can picture the guy telling his family, his friends and his customers all about his new-found knowledge, him being proud to know it and spread it and then thinking of me. A positive memory of a foggy night in Philadelphia. In some small way, during a five-minute blip on the huge, vast, lightening fast radar of life, I made a difference with someone.
This might be a melodramatic statement to make, I grant you that. Changing people’s lives, though, doesn’t have to be some kind of huge impact gesture or something – you don’t need to leap into a bustling street to push someone away from an oncoming bus to change their life. Everyone on Earth, simply by being born, changes two people lives. Those are your freebies, like collecting $200 for passing Go in Monopoly. The rest is up to you. I used to think that having a cool car or an interesting job would make others interested in me. While I suspect it worked with a select few, the smart ones know better. They know that those things make no difference whatsoever, unless you’re the one who invented the seat belt for the car or your job was to teach under-privledged adults how to read. Those things make a difference. The car you drive and (most of) the work you’re paid for are stories. So yeah, I hope that guy thinks of me when he hears Motown or tells his friends about his new discovery. The knowledge imparted during what should have been an otherwise mundane cab ride can make a difference. Knowledge and how you share it, and who you share it with is a powerful weapon. Looking back, I’d much rather have shared that info with this man than to drive any cool car I’ve ever owned. My words may leave a legacy, cars only leave me with debt and pollution.
A few months ago while on a business trip to Montreal, I discovered that co-worker of mine spoke French somewhat fluently. I was so jealous. I felt so smugly “American.” Yeah, I took Spanish in high school but at that time, I didn’t care. Suddenly in the heart of Montreal, I cared. I wanted to be able to converse in a different langauge, too. To have more knowledge. I vowed to myself on the plane back to try and learn a new language. Last weekend I finally picked up a book on how to speak Greek. Yes, probably one of the toughest languages for an adult to learn. Why Greek? Well, part of my family is Greek and I always wanted to know what they were saying in Greek around us when I was younger. I’ll never know what they were saying, but if I know Greek, maybe my kids will wonder what I’m saying and maybe they’ll seek the knowledge, or at least be curious and jealous enough to pursue their own knowledge. This won’t be easy. I’m only on page five and I’m already fairly lost, but I’ll keep trying. I’m in no hurry. I’m sure I’ll get impatient (generally, I want it all NOW NOW NOW), but I’m gonna try…….we’ll see what happens.
Today’s hilarious news bit of the day. My favorite quote of the month comes from this story – “By the time the afternoon lessons began, there was no hiding what they had done.”
Song now playing: Mudhoney – “Suck You Dry”