Taxi driving in '77-'8 in St. Louis was a true education and one of the bright
discovery chapters of this lifetime. I witnessed many sublime sights and met more
different kinds of people than I ever had before.
The job came into my life quite suddenly. I had been depressed during the first
part of 1977. Adi K. Irani, Meher Baba's Secretary, had come to Chicago and I'd
persuaded my dad to drive the three hundred miles with me to see him.
During a private interview, Adi had closed his eyes for some time, as if in meditation.
Upon opening them again, he had looked at me in a kind way.
"Do not worry," he had said. "Everything will be all right. You will get a better job."
Now, I hadn't been aware that my difficult station in life had anything at all to do
with my job, which at the time was filing papers in the back office of the 1900-unit
apartment complex my father managed. A month after my visit with Adi, though, the
complex was sold and I got laid off.
Not long after that my friend Tom Fiske, from the Holy Order of MANS, the
mystical-Christian community that was my "surrogate Baba group" for a year
or two before the St. Louis Baba Group started, said, "Hey, let's go down
and get a taxi to drive! We can share it. One of us can drive days and the other, nights."
We went to the Laclede Cab Company, at that time the elite taxi outfit in St. Louis,
and both proceeded to flunk the very intimidating "knowledge of the city" test.
So we went down a couple prestige notches, to Checker Cab. All the
companies have seedy-looking office spaces in low-rent districts, so Checker's
didn't look much different from Laclede's. But its old, green-and-yellow cabs
were not as shiny as Laclede's newly-painted red-and-black ones.
There was one thing, however, in Checkers' favor. They let us go to work!
Prior to Tom's invitation, I'd never felt that driving a taxi would be
safe. Now Baba seemed to completely wipe out these feelings. I went out, a
day or two later, to train for the job with a light-skinned, African-American
driver named Pete.
Pete had me drive to one of the many Checker waiting stands that were
scattered throughout the metropolitan area. This one was on a busy street
on the near North Side, the African-American side of St. Louis' dramatic
racial divide. It overlooked a neighborhood of palatial mansions in a
There was a light snow on the ground. The big homes looked
lovely. I hadn't even been aware of the existence of this neighborhood. I had
grown up in a homogeneous, primarily Jewish suburb, and my stint as a taxi driver
proved to be a passage to a universe beyond that former shelter of my ego.
The dispatcher on the radio, his voice competing with the crackle of static, was
calling off stand numbers. If you were waiting on the stand he called first, you
responded immediately with your cab number: "Seventy-one on stand six." When
you did, that fare was yours.
If no one was on the stand closest to the pick-up address, the dispatcher would
call a second, nearby stand number, then a third. After that, he would open the job
to bids and the closest bidder would get it. Such etiquette helped civilize the taxi
business. Now and then, of course, some driver would be suspected of lieing about
We waited about half an hour. In that time, Pete bid on a couple jobs
we weren't close to and didn't get. By then I'd gotten an idea of the radio
procedure, and he gave me the microphone, saying, "When I tell you to, just push
the button, say 'Number 71 on stand 19', and let go of the button."
A minute later, the dispatcher called, "Stand 19."
Pete said, "Go ahead."
I felt like I was addressing the entire world with a momentous pronouncement.
I said exactly the words I'd been told and let go the button, all with the clumsiness of
any kind of virgin action in real time.
"Pick up at 5821 Cabanne. Going to the Jefferson Hotel," the dispatcher
"Say 'ten four'", Pete told me.
"Ten four," I said, fully embarked now on this new adventure, and pulled away.
The next evening, I went out alone, picking up the taxi from Tom, who
had done the day shift. Almost immediately, after driving downtown
to begin my shift, I was told to pick up a fare at the Gateway Hotel, a "grade B"
truckers' hotel a few blocks from my stand.
It was about 8 pm and dark. Pulling in front of the hotel, I saw three
shadowy figures file out of the poorly-lit lobby. They opened both curbside doors.
Two of the men got in the back, the third in front. I saw, as they got in,
that they were all Chinese.
"Where would you like to go?" I asked, smiling.
The man next to me smiled back, and spoke a sentence in Chinese, that I
of course I found totally incomprehensible. I turned my head and tried asking
the 2 men in back, who also smiled and answered in Chinese.
I glanced at the DON'T WORRY BE HAPPY card I'd stuck on the dashboard.
Baba, of course, looked delighted with the situation. There followed more
bilingual conversation, looks, shrugs...and then the four of us sitting in total
Then I noticed that the man next to me was holding in his hand a
matchbook. It had on its cover an ad for a Mongolian restaurant. I saw that
the restaurant had an address across the Mississippi River, in Illinois, a few
I pointed to the matchbook.
"Is that where you want to go?"
"Ah," the man said, his face relaxing into a sun-like smile. The
language barrier had been broken. My cab-driving career had begunwith a big
The day-to-day memories have begun to fade, but landmark experiences
linger, the melding flavors of that year of discovery, a dialogue with people from
every side of life: old ladies carrying shopping bags home from market; an old man
who collapsed and who I half-supported, half-dragged up to his wife in their
apartment; a woman who "anointed" my forehead with Holy Oil; the white smoke
from industrial chimneys, which I thought of as representing the prayers of all the
city residents, going up to God; prostitutes from "the stroll", as it was called, going
One night during a period when I was acquainting myself with the New
Testament, and I'd taken my Bible along to read during waits. One of my trips that
night was driving three Pentacostal ministers, arriving in town for a national convention,
from the airport to their hotel. I had recently been thinking about the phenomenon of
"talking in tongues", and got to ask these gentlement some questions about it. They
were impressed, and I was astounded, when I opened my Bible, cold, to the page
where Jesus talks about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, one of which was talking in
I used to talk about Baba or God to people frequently. I was so enamored with
God in those days that very few other things existed for me. Baba was exciting! The
Divinity of the Universe! What else was there to talk about? I may experience some
embarassment if I have to re-live this period again during the Afterlife.
One time I drove a cab full of people, during a severe blizzard, from the
airport to hotels downtown. It was one of those nights when people would beg you to
let them in so that they didn't have to sleep at the airport.
The people packed into the cab were mostly strangers to one another. My heater
wasn't working, and I drove, carefree, if I remember correctly, talking about God the
whole way down Interstate 70. Though I don't know whether I've brought people
closer to God very often in my life, I'm pretty sure I had some of them praying that
It was a year of learning the byways of the gross world..and seeing
them as Divine. I could especially feel Baba's Protection of the world, His Grace,
during Rush Hour downtown. I feel I was given a genuine experience that in all the
unmitigated chaos, Divine Grace and not the system of stoplights, police, highway
lanes, and such forms of human organization, enabled the city to continue for another day
without the principle of entropy simply breaking the whole thing to pieces. Man's efforts
at order play their part, but clearly, they were, by themselves, not enough.
And always, downtown, the buildings like differently-shaped cakes,--
Birthday cakes, for every day was Birth Day. The trees, each an immigrant
from the Great Forest, whose Spirit still breathed in them; the fountains, Eternity's waters
springing forth into Time. The gargoyles, nudes, and arabesques adorning the art-deco
'20s and '30's buildings--even a pyramid and sphinx atop one strange, neo-classical-
cum-Egyptian skyskraper. Everything, everything, ordinary yet strange, common and
Divine. And me, the eternal driver, the ferryman of myth, taking God's children from place
to place, and even trying to do my little part in taking them Home.
My career ended one day as abrubtly as it had begun.. I had been starting to realize
that my efforts to save enough money for my first Pilgrimage to Meher Baba's Samadhi
at Meherabad, India, by driving my cab, would never get me there at all. One day, after
taking my taxi in to the garage for 2 days off, I went to a park and sat under a tree.
Suddenly, a thought just slid into my head: "If you go to work on a Mississippi River
towboat, you'll have the money in a month."
Was it the grace of some Saint? I'll never know. I drove straight to the National
Maritime Union Hall, though, paid my union fee, and filled out the necessary papers.
After two days of sitting in the hall and waiting, I was off to nearby Alton, Illinois,
to get on a boat. The job paid $1750 a month--quite a bit of money in 1978!
A month and a half later, I was indeed bowing down at Meher Baba's Samadhi.