On Mother’s Day, I recall that the most important thing I ever taught my daughter was a gift from a cab driver
When I moved to Toronto in 1981, a quick series of incidents cemented forever in my heart an unusual, undeniable bond between myself and cab drivers; it remains strong to this day.
The first occurred the very month I moved here from Sarnia. I had worked as a waitress since I was 12 years old, so my highest priority upon arriving in Toronto was to go find a waitressing job. That took one day.
Learning my way around the city took somewhat longer. In Sarnia, I walked two miles to work, then took a cab home after the closing shift. In Toronto, just GETTING to work meant I needed to take a cab, until I figured out the TTC.
One afternoon, I was in a cab with a very friendly driver from India. We were halfway down Pottery Road when I mentioned that it was my first month in Toronto.
He immediately pulled the car off to the shoulder of the very narrow road and put the cab in park. My heart stopped in my chest. Why was he stopping? What was he up to? Was I about to be attacked – in broad daylight on a busy road? I contemplated throwing my door open and jumping out.
“Rita!!” he exclaimed joyfully. “WELCOME to Toronto!” He threw his arms open and gave me a giant hug.
“Well, thank you!” I replied in relief. “You are the first person to tell me that! And now, I DO feel welcomed!”
A few months later, I had a table full of young men dine-and-dash: they ate an immense quantity of food and ran up a giant bar tab. While I was at the service bar picking up an order, they bolted from the table, out the door and up the street. As was the policy in Toronto in 1981, I was now responsible for their tab – probably about a week’s wages for me.
A short while later a man came through the front door and asked if there was a waitress there who’d just had a dine and dash.
“That would be me,” I replied morosely. “How did you know?”
“I saw a group of guys running like hell out of this restaurant,” he explained. “I knew immediately what they were up to. I followed them in my cab” – of course, he was a cab driver! – “they hopped the fence into the Mount Pleasant cemetery. I kept my lights on the fence as long as I could see them. If you want to call the police, I could help you give a description and show the police where they jumped the fence.”
“You did that for ME?” I gasped. “You are a total stranger! You could have been in danger, if they’d decided to attack you!”
“Well, you know, cab drivers and waitresses – we have to stick together,” he shrugged. “Who else is out here dealing with drunks at 2am?”
The third incident actually changed my personality, and helped make me the person I am today. It also deeply affected how I eventually raised my three children.
One evening, having now figured out the TTC and how to get around Toronto without cabs – it was a lot cheaper, but I missed my friendly chats with cab drivers – I was wedged into a packed subway car.
The car was so full people were literally pushed up against each other. I realized a man standing in front of me had swivelled around just slightly so that he could slide his hand between my legs right up to my crotch.
At first I thought it must have been a mistake, the inevitable result of so many standing people swaying in such a tight space. But then he caught my eye and grinned a slimy, evil grin. He was doing this on purpose, and he wanted me to know it! What a creep!
I jumped off of the subway at the next stop, ran up the stairs, and into the back of a waiting cab. I had to catch my breath and calm down before I could even give the driver my address.
In the warmth, safety and security of that cab, 20-year-old me just lost it in exhaustion and frustration.
“A man just felt me up on the subway car!” I blurted out to my cab driver. “I can’t believe he did that! I can’t believe how much it upset me!”
My driver was the picture of calm and common sense.
“Why didn’t you just tell him to fuck off?” he asked, genuinely curious.
His words hit me like a lightning bolt: he was so totally right! Why DIDN’T I “just tell him to fuck off?” Why would I have let a total stranger get away with that? Even worse, why would I let it upset me?
“You are so right!” I exclaimed. I wanted to go back into the subway, find that guy, and “just tell him to fuck off,” although that train had long since left the station, both literally and figuratively.
Imagine my surprise this year when my 24 year old daughter Johannah casually mentioned that one of the most important things I’d ever taught her was to shout out loud, on the spot, immediately, if anyone ever touched her when she didn’t want to be touched. I believe I gave her this lecture for the first time when she was about 4 years old. Not for our family the “find an adult, talk to someone you trust, ask for help” philosophy.
“You just shout at the top of your lungs, ‘Get your fucking hands off of me,’” I instructed her. “Embarrass him in front of everyone.”
“I’ve never forgotten that you told me that,” Johannah pointed out. “It was good advice.”
“Oh, that,” I smiled, remembering. “I learned that from a cab driver.”