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