Staring at Death — A Tale of Two Passengers

The young guy was fired up. Not at me. But at Arabs. He was Hispanic American and he let me know in no uncertain terms that he hated Arab Uber drivers. He lives in an apartment complex, and, apparently, they have canceled on him a few times when they couldn’t find his apartment and he couldn’t understand them when calling to give them directions. In fact, he’d just had another one prior to me cancel. Problematic pickups go with the territory at apartments. Hell, I had been tempted to cancel on him because finding him in the labyrinthine complex was such a pain in the ass — I just happen to be more patient than a lot of other drivers. The navigation app had led me to two chained gates before I found the main entrance to the complex and then drove around until eventually finding him.

Now, I don’t know if his tormentors were Arab, but he at least thought they were. He struck me as the kind of guy who thinks anyone who lives to the southeast of Europe is a raghead — Arab, Persian, Afghan, Sikh, Indian, and Pakistani were all probably the same in his book. Luckily, it was a short ride because he was spitting vitriol about Arabs and Muslims the whole way. I felt like saying something to the guy, but I wasn’t going to change his worldview in a few minutes, and I didn’t feel like getting punched in the back of the head. I dropped him off in front of a bar, and when he was getting out, he thanked me for the ride, and I joked it was lucky for him that I’d actually found him through no particular skill of mine. He saw it in a different way:

“Lucky for me you weren’t a fucking Muslim, you mean. Thanks again for the ride!”

As I watched him disappear into the bar, I wished I’d told him how trivial his “problem” was in the grand scheme of things.

Things get serious

You see, right before him, I had picked up a Lyft passenger from an apartment complex right down the road. The guy lived in a gated community, and he had called me with the gate code right as I pulled up. He sounded a little drunk and it was only about 7 p.m. on a Thursday — probably pregaming for a night out. Luckily, another car was going through the gate so I followed it in and told the passenger I’d be right there and hung up.

His passenger pin showed up on my digital map not far inside the gate, so I assumed he’d be out in a moment. I parked next to the curb with the engine running and waited. And waited. And waited. I waited over five minutes.

That’s what I dislike about Lyft — they give the passenger five minutes to show up whereas Uber changed their driver wait time down to two minutes and when it expires they start charging a late fee per minute with an option to cancel after 4 minutes have expired. As we rolled into minute six, I was tempted to cancel, but I called the passenger figuring if he didn’t answer, I was out of there. He picked up and I told him I was still waiting. He said he was on the other side of the building. I had to explain where I was because he thought I was somewhere else.

I have to admit I was annoyed because I had told him five minutes ago I was pulling up. Did he assume I was driving around aimlessly?

Shortly after, the guy climbed into the front seat and apologized. I made him to be in his mid to late thirties. He’d definitely had a few adult beverages and his eyes were bloodshot. I started the trip and began driving. He was heading to Christie’s Cabaret, a Tempe strip club. A bit early in the evening I thought, but whatever.

A grim prognosis — Lyft passenger stares at death

I began chatting with him and he inquired how the driving had been going. Not bad, I replied. Man, there was a weird energy about him, but he didn’t seem to be batshit crazy, so I asked how his day had been. He gave a sardonic laugh and got quiet for a few seconds, and then I realized he was getting emotional. He looked me in the eyes. Uh oh, I thought. I wondered what had happened, and a number of unpleasant possibilities flashed through my mind…

“Not too good, actually,” his voice quavered. “I just found out today — just a little while ago — that I have six months to live.”

…except for that one.

Holy shit.

The doctor had just told him he had Stage 4 colon cancer.

What the hell do you say when someone segues into that revelation? There’s nothing in the driver’s handbook for that one. The red eyes made sense now — besides drinking, he’d also been crying.

“You’re the first person I’ve told,” he confided.

Fuck.

The revelation left me stunned and weirdly honored. I didn’t know this man from Adam, yet he had shared something so deeply personal with me. I also felt a responsibility for this vulnerable stranger to help him in his moment of anguish.

Yet, even though I’m an empathetic person, I was still caught flatfooted. It was tough to talk to him without throwing out empty platitudes, but what do you tell someone who’s just been given a death sentence? Hang in their, buddy! Someone somewhere has got it worse than you do.

I just listened to him and tried to be supportive without making him feel uncomfortable, which was hard. It was difficult not to descend into long pauses or fall back on those empty platitudes and repeat them.

Left reeling

What a body blow for this guy to absorb. He was only 40. A scientist. Divorced. A father of two young teens. He had life insurance to take care of his family, but he was having a hard time thinking about his kids growing up without him. I felt the weight of his world pressing down on me but nowhere with the crushing pressure that rode on his shoulders. We all know in theory that today could be our last day, but we blithely go about our daily lives assuming there will be a tomorrow and that there are still a few decades left on the tread of our tires. This guy had just had his expiration date stamped and wouldn’t be ringing in 2019 with the rest of us.

And that’s why I guess he was heading to Christie’s. The Universe, with its giant foot, had just kicked him as hard as it could in the balls like it was going for a 60-yard game-winning field goal, and he didn’t know what else to do or where to go to escape his newly confirmed mortality. I suppose being surrounded by young, beautiful, semi-nude women was probably the most life-affirming thing he could think of at the moment to get his mind off his situation. Sadly, I imagined that reality would quickly dispell that illusion once he started drinking again and inevitably started talking to them — hopefully, he picked the right dancer to reveal his condition to because not every stripper has a heart of gold. Reality would inevitably come crashing back down on him like a massive, breaking wave and wipe him out.

Offering a glimmer of hope

Get a second opinion I told him earnestly. I explained how my buddy had developed the same type of cancer (Stage 3), and the first doctor pretty much made it seem hopeless. The second doctor was an acclaimed specialist and he was far more optimistic and helpful. Years later, my friend is healthy. I told the guy I didn’t want to give him false hope, but I’d also read about a Stage 4 colon cancer case where the guy miraculously survived and is currently cancer free (When I googled it, the 5-year survival rate for Stage 4 is 11 percent). And I told him when they’d discovered my dad’s colon cancer, it was already outside the colon wall, which is extremely bad news — in fact, his oncologist had told me the prognosis wasn’t good at all and best-case scenario, he’d be lucky to make it five years.

My passenger asked me how long my dad had survived, and I told him twelve years and it wasn’t even the colon cancer that got him; it was being a stubborn old man.

“I would take twelve years in a heartbeat!” he said.

Parting ways

I don’t even remember how the conversation turned — but my Crips carjacking story came up, and as I told it, he actually started laughing. After that, he shook my hand and thanked me for cheering him up.

We pulled up to the strip club. There was a beautiful young dancer outside talking to the doorman. She had on a coat and was wearing a bikini bottom, fishnet stockings, garters, and boots.

My passenger opened the door, and I shook his hand again.

“Take care of you and your family. Do what you got to do.”

He thanked me.

And then I watched him disappear, alone, into Christie’s.

The importance of screening for colon cancer

Recently, I published a blog post bitching about my last colonoscopy and while my intent was to amuse (and horrify) my readers, it’s still deadly serious stuff. Don’t put your examination off! You’re due one at age 50 — if you want, get it earlier, assuming your plan will cover it. My passenger said he’d wished he’d done his at 38.

Visit this website to learn more about colon cancer screening.

Copyright: ostill / 123RF Stock Photo

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3 thoughts on “Staring at Death — A Tale of Two Passengers

  1. Pingback: Ridin' Dirty -- The Crips Carjacking Story. Part 1 | Tales from the Land Manatee

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