Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cab Karma

I spent a relentlessly hot, sticky, muggy, sweaty, uncomfortable day in D.C., earlier this week. Or, as the native Washingtonians call it, "Tuesday." The three digit heat index and high humidity turned my pressed suit into a wet nap, with buttons.

I don't normally dwell on heat and humidity, because it just makes it worse. But as I sloshed along K Street (probably while leaving a long, wet trail, like a slug), I found myself counting the multiple layers of cloth and silk encasing and insulating my ample neck.  At least they are absorbent.

I also contemplated that if the voice-over in "Field of Dreams" implored Kevin Costner to "build it and they will come," what was Pierre L'Enfant listening too?  Likely a voice that intoned "build it and they will drown in their own juices." It's a myth, I know, that D.C. was constructed in a swamp. But it's been a persistent  myth.

A recent piece from John Kelly, of the Washington Post debunks the myth of D.C. as swamp (I've added my own links that did not appear in the original article, with apologies to Mr. Kelly). It's a Washington Post story, citing a Washington based scholar, and it's in writing, so it must be true. Here it is:
Some historians say that, contrary to popular belief, Washington had no swamps. Don Hawkins isn’t one of them. He studied maps and surveys from the late 18th century and determined that there was some swampy land — a whopping 1 percent of the total area that Pierre L’Enfant was charged with designing.
Don says there were swamps (defined as wetlands with trees) at the edge of the Anacostia, at Tiber Creek (today’s Constitution Avenue), around what became the National Gallery, and at Swampoodle, the Irish neighborhood near today’s Gonzaga High School. That’s just a fraction of the capital. No great reclamation project was needed to create buildable land.
In other words, it’s a gross exaggeration to say that Washington was “built on a swamp.”
“I think it has survived because it’s such a useful analogy for the way Congress works,” Don said.
 But in my sodden state, I was absolutely certain that L'Enfant had gazed over thousands of acres of wetlands, laughed into his sleeve, and declared "THIS will be a fitting home for the swamp of democracy." I cursed L'Enfant and expected that the coming negotiations at my next appointment would be quite sharp, partly because all manner of kindness was leaking out of me.

I needed a taxi cab.

I didn't have any cash.
I'd already ducked in and out of one cab, after reading the sticker on the back of a headrest, "cash only."

Damn you, L'Enfant.

I approached a bright blue taxicab, a modern Prius, parked in the shade as it's operator polished the door handles and wiped the windshield, much as I continued to wipe the drippings from the inside of my sunglasses. The cabbie was an elderly Indian fellow, dressed neatly in 70's era business casual, and not looking the least bit uncomfortable in the heat.  He acknowledged my greeting with a slight head nod, and he nodded again to confirm my understanding that he was "in service." In heavily accented english, he said that his shift was just beginning, and that I would be his first customer.  Oh joy!  I was headily anticipating the conditioned air that was about to caress me.  And I  hopped in to the back seat.

"Cash only."

Damn you, L'Enfant!

I apologized for the misunderstanding, wished him a good shift, and returned to my trail of tears. I'd shuffled about 20 feet down the sidewalk when the cabbie called out for me to come back. Very odd.  But I turned and walked back, thinking that perhaps he had found his credit card reader, or maybe even his "Square" device for iPhone (a stretch, I know, but he did operate a Prius, so forgive my first world rationalization).

The cabbie gestured toward the car door and told me to get in-- he would take me to my destination--free of charge.  For a moment, the shock of this kindness almost knocked the Baltimore lawyer right out of me.

As we drove, he gave me a quick rundown on his belief in Karma, and how this gesture would surely guide him to a profitable and safe shift. I offered to visit a cash machine, if he'd wait at the curb, but he refused.  He even insisted that he drive around the block to get me closer to the front door of my destination, without having to cross the street.

That fellow's singular kindness reinvigorated me. I wrung myself out, and finished the last of the day's meetings in a much better state of mind, making a productive and amicable deal with opposing counsel. On the train ride home I made a note to accept another MVLS case when I returned to the office.

Pay it forward.