Sam Elkhatib drove Andy to school and back every day until his graduation at age 19, which both families celebrated together. Photo: Anne Ziebell
Some matches are made in heaven. Other matches are made in humbler circumstances; maybe even, on a ride in a Taxi.
“The first time I picked up Andy, it was by chance. I didn’t know anything about him,” recalls Checker Cab driver Sam Elkhatib, a 25 year Taxi industry veteran.
“The moment he saw me, he came and gave me a hug. His mom Anne was shocked and said, ‘He’s never done that – he doesn’t do that. Andy stays away from people.’
“Andy travelled with an aide,” Sam explains. “We were on the highway when Andy started screaming, and it startled me big time.
“The aide said, ‘You didn’t know?’ I said, ‘Didn’t know WHAT?” Sam laughs, remembering. “That was our first day.”
Andy, who was 14 on the day he met Sam, is on the autism spectrum and was mentally more like a toddler than a teen-ager. Sam completed the 25-minute run to the school that Andy attended, and then drove to the office of Checker Transportation in Calgary.
“I went into the office and said, ‘What’s going on with this boy?’ They told me the story, that he can be loud, very loud. He could be very disruptive. I agreed take him back and forth to school only for that week; but at the end of the week, I learned that his mom had called Checker and requested me.”
Thus began many years of friendship, which expanded beyond Sam’s professional status as a driver to include both families: Sam’s wife and kids became friends with Anne and Andy’s family. They shared meals and special events together. During the summer months when there was no school, Sam would pick Andy up just to go for a Taxi ride, an event Andy looked forward to always.
“Andy was only two weeks older than my own son,” Sam explains. “I would look at my own son and realize how fortunate I was, because my son is healthy. I felt so lucky.
“It really did not take very much to keep Andy occupied and happy; his mother worked like an angel. She thought of nothing but Andy’s well being, and she fought for his protection. She is amazing.”
When Andy “graduated” from his school at age 19, Sam and his entire family attended Andy’s graduation celebration.
“Sam was wonderful to my son, they bonded so quickly and Andy looked forward to Sam picking him up. Andy would sit at the front door waiting for him, and laugh and smile when Sam arrived,” Andy’s mother Anne Ziebell told Taxi News.
“I can not say enough about Sam. He went above and beyond what a Taxi driver does. He is a very friendly, intelligent and wonderful person; we were extremely lucky to have him as Andy’s driver for all those years. He has become a good friend. It’s unfortunate there are not more people out there like Sam.”
Sam describes himself as “always optimistic,” because “that is the Taxi business. You have to be optimistic to be in it!” he laughs.
More seriously, he says, “This business, especially with Checker, has made me realize what life is all about. Especially, it has helped me realize what actually people are.
“You never know what to expect from one trip to another. I always look forward to meeting the person in the back seat; often, they just sit and talk. I have learned a lot about how people converse, or live together; this job is an eye-opener about how things actually work, in this world we live in.”
“The main thing,” Sam says, “is that I enjoy every day. I get up at 3a.m., and I always look forward to the day. I enjoy waking up the next day, too. Because, life is what you make of it.”