Why you should care

Because if even 99 percent of what your cabbies say is crap, that 1 percent could be totally killer.

I was sitting in the backseat of a cab I caught off the street in Tel Aviv. Destination: Ben Gurion Airport and a return trip to the United States. The driver, 75 years old, white haired, stocky and squared, like Brother Theodore but without all the rage, pulls into traffic. Our eyes catch in the rear-view mirror and we’re at that fork in the road where I either decide to bury my head in my phone and he drives in silence, the Tel Aviv pop scene playing out over the car radio, or not.

I like his look and, more importantly, his vibe and so, encouraged by my moment of hesitation, he takes that for his lead and he’s IN.

“How are you?” Niceties get exchanged, but when he finds out what I do — I tell him I’m a journalist — his eyebrows raise, sort of in what anthropologists call the universally recognized “copulatory gaze.” Which doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. “Did you have time to go to the beaches here in Tel Aviv?”

The Tel Aviv beach scene is intense. Much more so than even Rio. Definitely more than L.A. How intense? Late-’70’s disco, pre-HIV intense. Which maybe explains why the closest I got was the street of bars on the main thoroughfare that led to all of that sandy sexscape.

I was so embarrassed and she was making such a scene that I left. I went home and I cried, Eugene. I actually cried. But I decided to change my life.

The Greatest Cab Driver in the World

“You know, I went once to the beach,” he starts. “This is many years ago. I was very heavy then.”

“How heavy?” I’m usually good at estimating, but he was talking 40 years earlier.

“Over 250 pounds, you could imagine. And I am …” he pauses for the conversion, realizing I needed it and wanting me to see he had something to show for his earlier lifetime in Chicago, “… 5 feet, 7 inches!”

“But I went down to that beach. Brought my towel with me and pulled up next to or near a very attractive woman. The beach was very crowded and there were very few spots open, but there was one near her and so I started to spread my towel out right there, and while I am, I ask her if she minds if I do it. She sits up on her elbow and looks at me, up and down, and starts SCREAMING at me. And cursing like you have never heard.”

His brows knit over the memory as he now yanks the car through traffic.

“She’s screaming if I do she will call the police and many unkind things about how fat I was. I was so embarrassed, and she was making such a scene that I left. I went home and I cried, Eugene. I actually cried. But I decided to change my life. I started exercising. Push-ups. Sit-ups. Running. Then weights.”

This Charles Atlas vignette carried him over 12 months and down about 75 pounds. And much like Atlas in the old-timey magazine comic strip when he returned to the same beach, the same month, “almost the same day. Well, things were very different …” a year on.

Though he didn’t run into the same woman, he did pick a spot next to the most attractive woman he could find. “Excuse me? You don’t mind if I spread out here, do you?” And it was on. Call it the former fat man’s “revenge,” but not only did he pick her up — he went on a tear that saw him bed as many women as he could. “Close to 200,” he smiled in the mirror while looking at me. Proud. “But then I got married.”

It was my turn to look at him in the mirror and smile. Everything I know about human nature tells me that it’s very hard to run slow if you’ve been running very fast. “Married, eh?”

Not missing a trick, he jumps right in. “Yes, but I tell you, I was a very bad husband. Even if I had a very good wife. I had girlfriends. But then one day something happened. I was leaving my wife and going over to my girlfriend’s house. As I drove away, my wife was on the balcony waving goodbye to me and I got very sad. This was not right.” So he went to his girlfriend’s house, picked her up and returned home with her.

He walks into his apartment with her and tells his wife who she is. “Oh, there was so much screaming. I was very afraid. They locked me in the bedroom, and I got on my knees. Partly to pray and partly to peek through the keyhole.” After a while, it got quiet and then the door opened. “They told me that they were going shopping together and I could do whatever the hell I wanted. But they became friends.” Pause.

“And when she moved in with us …”

“What?!?! Wait, whoa … she moved IN?”

“Oh yes. It only made sense. I was doing a lot of driving back and forth.”

“But she had her own room.”

“Same room.”

“Same bed?”

“Same bed.”

“Sex at different times?”

And then he laughed at me. If we had been standing face-to-face, he would have laughed in my face.

“Same time. How would it make sense any other way? Our grandchildren were over the other day and they were so happy. ‘Mommy, mommy, we have so many grandmas …’ ”

“Wait. I thought this was 40 years ago.”

With a look that seemed to ask, “Have you even been listening?” he shook his head. “That’s now, my friend.”

Then a long, slow whistle from me as I stare out into the traffic and the checkpoint up ahead as we get ready to pull into the airport. We make it through the checkpoint and my eyes narrow as I settle on a thought and a realization that when it comes to leopards and spots, even with age, these sometimes are unlikely to change.

“And now?”

“And now, things are fine.”

You know what I mean.”

We’re standing by the taxi trunk, guards with guns clustered on the sidewalk behind us, people rushing into and out of the terminal. He looks at me before deciding to plunge ahead.

“OK. Of course, I have a girlfriend now, again. But three in the same house …” he trails off, shaking his head. “Now that would be crazy.” We shake hands in a handshake that resolves itself into a hug.

“I think there’s a possibility you could be a great man,” I say. Meaning it both sarcastically and totally, absolutely seriously.

“I am,” he says, shutting the car door behind him, “just a man.” And indeed he was.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising — the human.