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Life happens at a dizzying pace. It seems like yesterday that I was writing my first Cubist Thread, in which my abundance of personal failings was first publicly perused. One that didn't make the list at the time, but for which I should be roundly criticized, is vanity.

Oh, I guess my account of frustrated aspirations to rock stardom could be construed as vanity, though it's nowhere near as egregious as this most recent incident.

The other day at the mall, while hunting for something or other, I was struck by a desire to go into the bookstore and buy a hard copy of Java Developer's Journal. I knew that I'd find my musings amongst its pages, and I never had the experience of walking up to a newsstand and buying something containing my own words.

I plunked down my hard-earned cash, tore off the plastic cover right there at the register, and turned to the back page. "There I am." I said (as matter-of-factly as I could muster) as I showed my picture to the clerk.

She smiled and said, "Hey, that's cool." I probably looked like an overheated basset hound as that big grin spread across my face.

People in Minnesota are so nice. What I probably deserved was something more along the lines of, "So what? Do you want a cookie?" ...or maybe, "You should be properly ashamed of your conspicuous vanity, you pompous noodle!"

But that's just like Minnesota - people are nice around these parts. Hot dish, anyone?

The fact is, I think people are generally nice most everywhere. I've met a lot of people in the many and various jobs I've had, but most of my "people skills" were probably obtained as I was "hacking" in a major American city.

Oh, now... Wait a minute. I don't mean the pejorative, computer-related verb "to hack," as in "to gain unauthorized access to a computer." (Of course, I pretentiously decry that definition - see the book Hackers by Steven Levy.)

In fact, I'm not talking about any computer-related form of hacking at all - I'm talking about driving a hack, aka taxicab. I drove a cab in one of the larger cities in the U.S. for a couple of years, and believe me when I tell you there may be no better way to meet a broad cross section of humanity.

Oh, I won't bore you with any of the wild stories I have from those years - yet - but meeting someone for the first time, taking their money in exchange for transportation, and then sharing something as personal as a ride with them is a fast lesson in human nature.

Well, I guess I could "tease" you with highlights from the stories that will undoubtedly influence this column, at least to the extent they influenced me. I've been conned, overtipped, stiffed, robbed, cheated, belittled, and downright threatened by some of the best.

One of my "brushes with fame" includes some serious haranguing by the comedian Eddie Murphy. Late one evening I remember picking up two gentlemen: a smaller, wiry fellow who sat in the seat directly behind me, and another man (best described as large enough to deserve his own zip code) who sat diagonally behind me.

All the way to the club the smaller fellow was joking with me, declaring his amazement that anyone like me would be dumb enough to drive a cab in this city at night. "You're crazy!" he said, "...and you're probably going to get robbed!" The other fellow just sat there, attracting the planet Jupiter toward him to a significantly greater degree than anyone else for miles around, and silently glaring at me whenever I turned around.

Well, I'd already been robbed by this time, and I told him as much, but he kept ribbing me. I was actually a little scared, so I just did the usual - tried to "cut wise" and make my passengers laugh. On this occasion, though, it just plain wasn't working. Every "witty" thing I said was fielded with incredible aplomb, and returned back to me doubled in every dimension.

When the ride was over, and it was apparent that I'd be okay, the passenger identified himself to me through the window. "Do you know who I am?" he asked. "I'm Eddie Murphy!"

It was 1981 or so, and I don't think I had seen him on Saturday Night Live, yet - Saturday night was a big work night for cabbies, after all. One thing was certain, though - his incredible talent was unmaskable. To this day I've never felt so utterly "bested" as I did that night.

Eddie, if you're out there, I'm a huge fan.... Oh, and thanks for not robbing me.

Author Bio
Blair Wyman is a software engineer working for IBM in Rochester, Minnesota, home of the IBM iSeries. [email protected]

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