Thursday April 22, 2010: How The Other Half Lives

God knows I’ve had my share of self-pity parties over the last year or so.  I think, now and then, we’re all entitled to curl up in the fetal position and and cry softly in the dark.   I think it’s part of the human existence.   Yes, we are entitled to do that, as long as, after a given period of time, maybe an hour or two, we get up,  stand up straight, force a smile onto our faces, and bravely face the world once again.

But now and then, you have an experience that allows you to meet people who live on worse, or at least comparable, worlds than the one you may occupy.  These encounters, I’m convinced, are God’s way of gently pointing out that it could be worse.

Just to sum up, in a very few words, my own situation,  just for the purpose of comparison.  In the past year, I lost my job and my girlfriend.  Moved from Happy Valley to Orlando, hoping to grab an open position at the Public Radio station there.  Didn’t get the job.  Worked for WMFE instead, in a part-time, temporary position.  Realized two things: Thing 1.) when the job ended, I’d be stranded in a city with a 12 percent unemployment rate, and Thing 2.) I really disliked Orlando, discovered that Happy Valley really is home.

Returned to Happy Valley.  Current situation: about to start a full-time job here, but still very underemployed, living in a rundown trailer, and until I can generate sales in my new job, will still be just barely hanging on to the low side of fiscal solvency.  I look around and see others my age happily (or at least tolerably) married, raising kids, thinking about retirement.  So, that in a nutshell is where your host is at the moment.  I know, though, that through hard work, keeping a positive attitude and faith in God, my situation is temporary.


One great way to meet people who have it worse than you do is to drive a taxi for a few days.  Then you see the folks who have really fallen through the cracks.  For example, on Sunday afternoon, the dispatcher directed me to the home of a regular customer.  I found him living in a colonial style home in a nice neighborhood.  The house needed a bit of attention — nothing much, just a touch of paint here and there, and some very minor repairs.

He’s an affable guy, I’m guessing somewhere between 45 and 50, and weighing, probably, close to 300 pounds.  Since this was the first time I’d picked him up, he explained the mission:  take him to a local restaurant and bar, where he would pick up three six packs of beer, and then return him to his home.  And he’d need some help.

If you’re not familiar with Pennsylvania’s quaint alcoholic beverage laws, here’s a brief primer:  beer for home consumption cannot be purchased in liquor stores, convenience stores, or (with rare exceptions) grocery stores.   It can only be purchased at a beer distributor, and then only in cases or kegs, or in bars or restaurants that offer carry-outs.  And then, you may only carry out two six packs at a time.  So my job was to accompany my passenger into the bar, and carry out the third six pack for him.

In our short journey, he told me of his life.  He’s a former professional, “between jobs.”  He quite happily admitted that he’s an alcoholic.  His apparently daily routine is to take a taxi to the bar, buy his three six packs, and take them home, where he and his elderly father spend every afternoon watching TV and getting blotto.  That is what he does.  Every day.

And although he seemed quite satisfied to live that way, it’s beyond my imaginings how someone could allow himself to fall that far and be okay with it.  At some point, I guess, he just drifted into this routine, and now just wallows there.  I like the guy.  He’s intelligent, friendly, and well informed.  But what a waste of a life.

After I dropped him off back at home, I realized that he’s just one of the many, many people who exist at a level just below radar detection.  They’re there, everywhere, just trying to cope.  They’ve essentially dropped out of life as we know it, and now just exist…. numbing the pain and waiting to die.  This guy, as long as he lives as he does, stands no chance of getting married, of re-entering the professional world, of regaining his self respect, or the respect of others.

How easy would it have been for me to slip down the drain like that? At one point, quite easy.  But I think there’s some sort of spark inside that, even at the lowest points, has made me get up every day, force a smile onto my face, get out there into the world, and do what I can to reverse the situation.  And now, even though I have a long way to go before I get back to a point where I can live the way I’d like to (and I may well never get back to the point where I was just four years ago) for the first time in a year, things are now moving in the upward direction.   No more free-fall, and no more stagnation.

There are other stories, other lives of desperation, other individual cases I’ve seen in just the few weeks in which I’ve been a cabbie, and I’ll share some of them as we go along.  I’ve been amazed at the differences in how people cope with what their lives have handed them.  And I’m convinced that the difference lies in attitude and faith:  Faith in God, and faith in oneself.

Today’s Curiosities


6 thoughts on “Thursday April 22, 2010: How The Other Half Lives

      1. 2nd mother hen signing in late to this blog post… sorry, I’ve been at a convention of professional organizers and there was something said about time management and Facebook time…(not sorry I was at the convention, sorry I got to the blog post late…) but, yes, your mother hens work independently and in unison to maintain your upward spiral, and are happy it’s on the upswing! (yes, we do talk about you behind your back… and would be on it like white on rice if we detected even the slightest backslide! We’re all 3 here for you whenever you need us, and even when you don’t think you do!

  1. Steve, you are like a dog who goes outside in the rain and simply then “shakes himself off.” You have the GIFT–albeit hard to do–to be able to possess the ability–and the inherent talent–to stem the malaise that so many succumb themselves to. Keep it up. You’ve got a lot of “rooters”!

  2. Sounds like your cab driving job serves a purpose…to help you see what could have happened to you and how fortunate you are… Bloom where you are planted! Resilience is a wonder trait!

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