One of the best things about travel is you meet interesting people - I've mentioned this earlier as well. The most ordinary turn out to be a gem; having stories to share with you and then you form that bond forever. Maybe you won't meet again but then; these short but memorable encounters are enough to carry that along with you.
One such person I met was Orlando. I had just 4 days to spend at Pittsburgh. I got to hire Orlando's taxi only on the second day. The hotel called for a taxi service and Orlando was waiting for me at the lobby one morning to drop me to office. That first trip was kind of irritating when it started. He didn't want to follow the GPS. When I stopped him to take left at the highway; he was like No! Thats not the route. I was wondering where is this guy taking me and how much should I shell out. But he found a shorter route and I paid half the charge! He gave me tips to recommend the same route to other taxis. He asked me why I don't drive. I said its been a while driving on the right side. Back in India we drive on the left. He said he felt it hard when he visited Japan and he had to drive on the left. He kept going to his right. I insisted he share his number with me since I was planning on going around downtown on weekend. That evening I mentioned my plan of going to downtown the next day and he fetch me around 8 AM.
Saturday - the distance to downtown was about 35 miles and we had good enough time to chat up. He asked me where I was going. I said I will start with Carnegie Museum of Natural History and thereon roam around the downtown. He said he was a truck driver transporting Dinosaur bones to the museum many times but he hasn't stepped inside the museum yet. He said how lot of people have talked good stuff about the museum and have recommended it.
He said Yeah one day, I am going to land up there. Not to watch those dinosaurs. But as bones myself with a plaque that reads "Here is the taxi driver". I thought that was so different of him. This guy was someone who has his head straight. Not an iota of arrogance or ignorance.
We talked about his childhood; he was more than willing to share. Originally from Puerto Rico - a Spanish living in Pittsburgh Cranberry Township for 7 years now. I said that was why he knew the place so well and that he was able to find a shorter route to my office. He said yes but downtown was still unknown to him. He has to rely on GPS. He finds it very different from Puerto Rico here. He goes to Puerto Rico once in 2 years and stays there for about a couple of weeks but after a week or so he finds himself like fish out of water now that he has got to used to life in US
He loves the tropical climate; weary of winters in this place. He also added about how he has traveled his fair share. That got me more interested and on prodding he said he has been in Japan, all of Southern Europe - England, Spain, Portugal, Italy...and north of Africa. He likes to spear fish in the ocean back in his village. How lake fishing is so ordinary and that he misses fishing. He also mentioned how as a kid he liked to travel and always wondered sitting by the ocean what lied beyond the horizon. And he did find out, didnt he? Growing up and traveling his bit around the world.
He likes to take a multiple hop flight when going to Puerto Rico and generally during day time. He simply likes to see the land from high above during flight take off and landing. This was a man who had a different persona if you looked beyond the taxi driver that he was.
When I said I have visited Costa Rica and that I loved the rain forests. He laughed and said "People come from far off to see the rain forests. And its our backyard in Peurto Rico" He was so fond of his travel sojourns. He said "Either people were very nice to him or wanted to kill him"
This man was someone who just lost himself; went with the flow and experienced great things in life. He guided me on the route to take back and if possible he could pick me up that evening. I called him in the evening, but he was busy with other clients and so I took another taxi. But we had already made arrangements that he would be the one dropping me to the airport the next day.
So the next day he was prompt at 4 PM at the lobby and gave me a call. He asked me how my day went by the previous day. He asked what all did I do and what I liked the best. He seemed to be happy with my choice of places I visited. He particularly asked me about my visit to Carneige museums and Duquesne Incline. On the way to airport; he said about the clients he had the previous evening. Guys from Texas on a visit. They were generous and tipping him a lot. In a mood to play and flirt; he knew these guys are going to get into trouble and so after dropping them at a pub; put a word to the security guard about these guys - that they are out of town and harmless. In case they got into trouble; not to report to the cops but call him and he would pick them up.
As expected; it seemed those guys picked up a fight and the guard called Orlando and said "As you expected!" . He picked them up and dropped them back in the hotel. How it was a busy day and he worked until 3 AM. He has been promising his wife that he would reach home by 4 PM each day and that she was angry with him. Today; being Sunday; he just came to drop me and once he is done with me, he would go back home and rest.
On the way, we came across a motor cycle rider on the freeway. He showed his displeasure on how these guys misuse freedom. "Freedom to being stupid" is what he said. There are these people on the road who drive bad or drive under influence. He showed me one car on the next lane and the driver was drinking. He pointed to a truck ahead and said "These guys are best. They follow rules. Guys like the ones you saw who drink and ram against trucks - they are culprits. But when anything happens; the truck guys are the ones blamed. They are in fact the best trained". I said I agreed to his point and thats common in India as well.
We talked a bit about my flight back. How long it would take. He was stunned to hear 18+ hrs. It takes 4 hours for him to go to Puerto Rico. I told him about the pilot strike at Paris and wished I could've taken Emirates via Dubai. He asked if I am not afraid of terrorists. I explained how UAE and Dubai are safe and Emirates is one of the best option to fly.
We parted ways. He asked me to contact him the next time I was in Pittsburgh. I did confess that he was a unique taxi driver to have met and that I would need a photo of his. I would write about him. So he posed for a picture. Here is Orlando.
Some people strike a chord with you to last a lifetime even if the interaction was just few minutes or hours. Orlando was one.