Monday, June 7, 2010

Schooled

There are something like 250 colleges and universities in the Boston area, and in May and June they all let out. The streets are swarming with kids pulling suitcases. It's time to go home for the summer, and they are all looking for a ride to the airport. To a cabbie, it's like watching salmon spawn, they're everywhere. If you can't make money at this time of year, you're either drunk or not trying.

This guy was older. He was well-dressed, almost professorial. He also didn't have a suitcase. So there was a twinge of disappointment when he got into the cab--a feeling confirmed when he said he was going to an address just a couple miles away. But he was polite and enjoyable to talk with. He spoke with a lilting British accent, which made him sound a bit like actor Michael Caine.
He said he was a professor of economics or something at the Harvard Business School.

"Excuse me, would it be possible for you to wait outside while I drop these papers off?"

Absolutely.

"I'm afraid I'm running a little late," he explained. "I have a plane to catch, but I have a few errands I need to run first. I'd be grateful if you would drive me around. There'll be a good tip in it for you."

Great. This may not be such a bad fare, after all.

After the first stop, he then said he needed to go to his office, a walk-up in the middle of Central Square, an odd location for a professor at Harvard, but who knows? Central Square has been coming up over the years. Still, its proximity to a shelter has always made it a hangout for derelicts, earning it the nickname of "Mental Square" among locals. After four or five minutes, he emerged. By then, the meter had tallied $15.55.

From there, he gave directions to his apartment, a place in Back Bay not far from Kenmore Square. After 20 nervous minutes ($10 in wait time), he came down carrying a shopping bag. Again, it seemed a strange way to pack, but driving around Boston you learn that a lot of academics are oddballs.

Now there's $35.50 on the meter.

"Thanks so much for your patience. You've been an enormous help. I assure you, I am headed to the airport, but I have just one more errand to do."

What's that?

"I need to go to St. Elizabeth's Hospital. I have to visit my mother before I leave. I need to make sure her care is arranged for while I'm away."

I understand.

"Just wait outside the main entrance. My plane departs at five-thirty so I shouldn't be long."
Ten minutes passes, then 15, 20, 25... He better hurry or he'll miss his plane altogether if we get stuck in traffic. Thirty minutes passes. Thirty-five minutes.

Dammit. Did he leave anything in the cab?

No. Nothing.

He carried the shopping bag with him. Ohhhh.... you motherfucking moron.

The meter now reads $58.15.

What now? Wait and hope the guy eventually comes out? Go inside and try to hunt him down? Call the cops? Sit on the curb and cry?

Really, there's nothing to do. Just clear the meter, put the car in gear and hope you can make it up.

And if anyone asks, you can say there is another way to lose money this time of year.