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The Last Fare - 03/10

By Rich Trzupek
  The nature of my day job means that I spend a lot of time at airports. Up until a few years ago that meant driving to O’Hare, finding a spot in long-term parking and riding the shuttle to my terminal.
  That changed six or seven years back. For whatever reason I wasn’t able to drive to the airport, so I called for a cab. The fellow driving the cab was unassuming and unremarkable. He was a little older than me and sported glasses with Coke bottle bottom lenses.
  It was about a half-hour drive from my home in Palatine to O’Hare. He was a gregarious sort, which suited me fine. I’d much rather shoot the bull with somebody than stare out the window. Eventually he found that I am a frequent flyer and asked how I usually got to O’Hare. I told him.
  In what would become a familiar pattern, he started asking me more questions, but they weren’t ordinary questions. They were questions that were leading somewhere. You could almost hear the wheels turning as he worked the progression. How long were my trips? What did long-term parking cost? Had I ever had my car vandalized?
  Once we got to know each other better, it was clear that he learned the technique as part of his training as a law enforcement officer, having started driving a cab only after his retirement from the Cook County Sheriff’s office.
  The strategy worked. It was clearly cheaper to take a cab back and forth than it was to pay for long-term parking. And, there was no hassle, no waiting for the train, etc. It made all kind of sense. I became the latest in a long list of his regulars.
  I got to know him better and better over the years along with a circle of other drivers to whom he would feed fares when he was booked. He gradually moved from being “that guy who drives me” to “my friend who drives me.”
  I learned about him, as friends do. He was immensely proud of his tenure in the Sheriff’s office, exuding that quiet confidence that so many retired cops possess. He was friendly and had a great sense of humor, but the toughness that years in law enforcement brings was always just under the surface.
  His wife was a native of Sicily and one of the things he very much enjoyed was traveling back to the home country with her, where he was an accepted part of a huge, extended family. He loved Florida in general and Disney World in particular. It was not a surprise when I got another driver who explained that my regular guy had “flown down to Orlando for a few days.”
  My job requires me to carry equipment that I can’t take as a carry-on, so I always checked bags. Always. Never-the-less, he would always text me after I landed to ask: “Did you check any bags?” I don’t’ think it was so much because he didn’t figure out over the years that I always check bags, but rather that he was a creature of habit. I have no doubt he asked the same question of regular fares that never checked a bag.
  He was immensely proud of his kids, the eldest of whom is a successful lawyer, the next a teacher like her mother and chose to live next door to her folks with her family and the youngest in college and smart as a whip. He loved animals and, although he never said so, I’m morally certain he spoiled his pets.
  We solved the world’s problems a million times over during those cab rides. Naturally we didn’t agree on everything and he had a habit of making an argument that was both endearing and annoying: He would state his opinion on a matter then follow that up by asking “does that make sense?” It was a clever verbal trick, probably tracing back to his cop days as well. If you said “yes, it does make sense” then you were nine-tenths on the way to agreeing with him. If you said “no” then you would be insulting. The technique never failed to crack me up.
  My wife got to know him over the years too, enjoying the rides as much as I. When we moved out of Illinois last October, I remember taking my last ride to the airport with him, wondering if that would be the last time I would see my friend. I thought not. Surely I would have occasion to come to Chicago in the future when I would need a cab rather than renting a car.
  I was wrong. Frederick “Rick” Weissberg passed away unexpectedly last week, another reminder of how short and precious our time on earth is. He will be missed.
  Email: richtrzupek@gmail.com

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