Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Persistent Crab in Poughkeepsie

I'm currently in New York City, visiting with my dear friends Fred and Mary Ann Brussat, who are the creators and maintainers of an incredible 'wisdom archive' that they currently share on their website If you've never checked it out, I encourage you to do so!

The three of us went on an adventure yesterday to Hudson, NY. We took the Metro North train from Grand Central Station to Poughkeepsie (about a 2 hour ride) where we rented a car for the rest of our journey. We had a pleasant drive to Rhinebeck, where we ate a fantastic lunch at a charming restaurant, "Terrapin." We owe that fine lunch to Fred, who stopped a young woman on the street to ask her for guidance on the best place in town to eat. She sure came through! It was a great example of asking for help and being well rewarded.

After lunch we drove up to Hudson to explore the little town and evaluate the possibility of it being a 'retirement spot' for Fred and Mary Ann some day. That is not to be, but we enjoyed the exploration and had quite a number of chuckles at some of the real estate we looked at. We learned that things certainly look different in real life from how real estate advertisements and Google Earth portray them!!

We drove back to Poughkeepsie, had a really nice dinner at "Shadows on the Hudson" and delivered our car back to the rental office. I called for a cab and we sat in our car (enjoying the air conditioning) waiting for its arrival. Time ticked by and the wait was starting to seem unreasonable to me. As we sat there chatting I watched 3 cabs go by on the mostly deserted street we were on. It's important to understand that hailing cabs is, for some reason, not a very comfortable thing for me to do. Even in New York City I always have some inexplicable anxiety whenever I do it. For some reason, this evening, I felt a lot less resistant to the idea. My impatience waiting for the other cab got the better of me so I got out of the car, walked up to the street and waited. In about 3 minutes, I saw a cab coming and I put my hand in the air. He put his turn signal on and came into the parking lot where we were waiting. It was not the cab that had been dispatched to us, but I believe he was the cab driver we were meant to have. We got into this cab and headed for the train station.

Anyone who knows me has heard some of my interesting cabbie stories. I've met some fascinating drivers and had some really wonderful and profound experiences riding in cabs! I don't, however, always talk to cab drivers. Especially if I have people with me. This evening I really felt a desire to talk to the young African American man driving our cab.

I asked him how he was doing, and he told me that he was a little tired, since he had just come from his first job to this, his second job. I asked him questions and he revealed that he worked as an aide to mentally handicapped people in the state hospital. At some point, he went into a monologue of sorts, with very little prompting from me, about how he is trying to make a better life for himself, how hard that is and that his mother always told him to 'never give up.' He talked about how little chance there was for a good career in this town and that he had found a really good one with good benefits and a good retirement plan. One of the most poignant things he said was that living in this town, especially for a young black man, was like being a crab in a barrel full of crabs. He told us that whenever one would try to climb out the others would grab on and pull him back down. I talked about what a persistent 'crab' he seemed to be and that I was sure he'd make it out of that barrel if he held on to his awesome attitude.

I was truly inspired by the honesty of this young man. Both with regards to his understanding of how important his attitude was in crafting the life he wanted to have and his honest assessment of the challenges he faced and the dominant 'paradigm' of hopelessness that he was surrounded by every day.

As we pulled into the Poughkeepsie train station, I prepared his fee for taking us to the airport. The fare was $6.50. I folded three $20 bills together, handed them to him and said, "This is for you."

He looked down, fanned the bills out, his jaw dropped, his eyes flew open wide and he said, "Are you kidding me?" He looked at me we locked gazes and I said "Don't you EVER give up. EVER." He kind of stammered for words and said, "Lady... I don't know you but this is... this is.... oh man!" He turned and looked at Fred and Mary Ann in the back seat and said, "I don't know you people... but.... this is... this is.... man!" I held out my hand and he took it. I said it again looking him square in the eyes, "Don't you EVER give up." He thanked me, said again that he couldn't believe this was happening ended with, "Lady... God Bless You."

You would have thought he won the lottery! We were all pleased that we were able to provide what we hoped was some encouragement and validation to a young man who faces lots of challenges, but has the attitude that can help him overcome and blow past those obstacles. I hope that he'll always remember the crazy people in the Poughkeepsie Cab... and how they recognized him as a 'persistent crab' who will indeed make it out of the barrel of hopelessness and despair. Perhaps it will encourage him on a dark night of the soul when he's tired of trying so hard. Maybe it will be a lift up when the other crabs are trying to grab him and pull him back to the status quo attitude of negativity and hopelessness. Let's all visualize this persistent young man crawling out of that barrel into a bright, promising, fulfilling future...and finding a way to help others to do the same.

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