Imagine walking into a Chicago hotel lobby holding a taxi receipt in your hand. Then imagine rifling through your carryall to locate your wallet so you can file the receipt. If you can, try to imagine how I felt recently when I realized my wallet was still in the taxi. "Well, I've just bought the farm," I remember thinking. With a lost look on my face, I conveyed my dilemma to a police officer at the hotel. "There's always hope," he said. "Let's call the cab company."
He dialed the number on the written receipt and handed me the phone. The dispatcher listened sympathetically. "Ma'am, we dispatch hundreds of cabs every day. Without the cab number, I can't find the driver, but I'll take your cell number, broadcast it and hope the driver responds."
Call me jaded, but I didn't give it a smidgen of hope.
Bobby Richmond, concierge at the Union League Club where I was attending the National Federation of Press Women's annual conference, leapt into action. He ran to look at the hotel's video camera — which did a fine job of capturing me, but not the taxi, blocked by an awning. My heart sank into my shoes. How would I find the strength to give a book presentation to the Chicagoland Rotary Club, which was planned for that evening? I was to leave within the hour.
Beyond that, I was also scheduled to leave for a three-week trip to Israel and Lithuania. Departure was just nine days away. I envisioned the nightmare of trying to recover lost items, as I had done when my wallet was stolen two years ago.
My phone rang five minutes later. I answered, and a man with an extremely heavy accent asked, "Is this Nancy?"
My hearing loss made it impossible to understand him, so I handed the phone to Bobby and stood at his elbow, telling him to assure the driver that a reward awaited.
When I saw the driver pull back in front of my hotel, I ran to the cab and flung open the door. The back seat was empty. Confused, I looked at the driver. He politely asked, "What's your name?" I sank into the back seat with relief, identified myself and took back the wallet. I realized immediately that nothing had been disturbed.
I offered the driver $20. He held up both hands and shook his head. I thought that perhaps he believed it was too much, so I offered him $10. His hands went up again, and his head moved side to side. After showing him $5, he smiled and said, "No, nothing." For once in my life, I was speechless. I thanked him, got out of the cab and watched him melt into the bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Back in Richmond, I decided I had to find out who the driver was. After several phone calls, I learned that Austin Nwaokai, driving Cab No. 4861 for the City Service Taxi Association, was the man who helped me out.
I also learned, from Larry Larson, an inspector for 25 years at the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, that there are about 7,000 cab drivers in Chicago. Larson's advice: "Ask for a metered receipt. It has all the pertinent information." Larson went on to relate how a few hundred items are left in cabs every year and returned. "We've got a lot of good cab drivers out there. Once we had $400,000 worth of jewelry returned by a driver."
That was something I needed to hear. The aforementioned police officer, who has seen his share of bad things, reminded me to always be hopeful. A stranger's single act of kindness proved him right.
©Nancy Wright Beasley 2010. All rights reserved.