My car was on the fritz a few weeks ago and I couldn’t find a rental, so I resorted to using cabs and such. I had some wonderful drivers who were friendly and fun to talk to. But there was this one…
I got in the car and immediately noticed the stench of cigarette smoke. For the sake of full disclosure, I smoke a pipe and Tatiana vanilla mini cigars on The Balcony. Not in my car. Not in my home. And I’m around a lot of cigarette smokers on The Balcony, and that’s fine because we’re outside. In this case I was trapped.
The driver was on their phone trying to work out a problem with their electricity bill. They complained profusely to the customer service person on the other end of the line.
“I need to talk to somebody about my light bill and how I can pay it over time.”
“You’ll need to call (662) XXX-XXXX.”
“That’s the number I just called.”
“Did you press ‘3’ when prompted?”
“No. I just called the number I was told to call. Y’all don’t want to help me, but if I was Black you would.”
They ended the call and the driver proceeded to complain to me about their financial situation, getting the run-around from the power company, how it was racist, and, again, if they’d been Black this would have been fixed a long time ago.
I was conflicted. As a counselor I listen to people’s problems every day. While I felt sorry for this person and the situation they were in, I was paying for a service and didn’t want to hear a rant about their problems. Then when they threw in the race card my body literally started shaking.
When I got to my destination, City Grocery of course, I said, “May I offer you some constructive advice? You might want to stop using all that racist language when you’ve got a customer in the car.”
“Oh! I didn’t mean anything by it!” (Yeah. Sure.)
“Well, in any case it was totally offensive.”
My hands still trembling, I walked up the steps to The Balcony, got my Greyhound, and sat in the southwest corner. I pulled out my phone to pay for my ride and paused. “Should I tip or should I not tip? Should I rate this driver truthfully, or should I be more kind than that?”
I decided to tip anyway, but before I did I gave the driver a below average rating, two stars out of five. When I tried to go back to pay a tip the app wouldn’t let me. Karma? I don’t know. That’s when the guilt kicked in.
I had just had a horrendous ride with a person who’s struggling to pay their power bill. Yeah, they were mad and said some disgusting things. I would probably be mad and worried, too, but those racist comments were inexcusable.
If this person couldn’t pay their electricity bill, maybe they couldn’t pay their rent either. Maybe they were having trouble putting food on the table. Maybe there were children involved. Would my low rating and no tip place them in further jeopardy? A lot of people would say this driver got what they deserved. I can see their point, but where’s the compassion in that?
I decided I did the wrong thing. While I’m certain speaking out against racism was right, I judged this person and took it out on them financially, perhaps the place where it hurt the most.
I haven’t found a way to go back and change either my rating or the lack of a tip. I can only hope that the damage was minimal, that the driver now thinks twice before saying racist things, and that in the future I’ll see the bigger picture more quickly and judge more slowly.
The moving finger writes;
and, having writ, moves on:
nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back
to cancel half a line,
nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.
—Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
. . . and that’s the view from The Balcony.
Randy Weeks is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Certified Shamanic Life Coach, an ordained minister, a singer-songwriter, and an actor. He is well-acquainted with both guilt and forgiveness. Randy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.