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My Most Elegant Fare

By John Troesser

While I can remember many elegant women who rode in my taxi, I can only think of one elegant man. There must’ve been more, but I can only remember a single man to whom the word truly applies. He was tall dark man with a pencil-thin mustache and he appeared to be in his early 70s.

I picked him up at an upscale hotel where a man in a fur busby and epaulets opened the rear door of my cab. I assumed he was the doorman, but then again, he could’ve been a Crimean War veteran hoping to pick up some spare change or a drum major from a Southern High School band.

This swank hotel wasn’t one of my regular stands but I had dropped off here and wasn’t anxious to get back into rush hour traffic, especially since it was raining. So I went to the back of the ten cab line, facing the hotel and settled into a book.

I had initially hesitated to stay at this hotel for my next fare due to an incident that had occurred here just two weeks before. I had been summoned to the porte cochere where both of my rear doors were opened and an older woman entered the cab behind my seat. She looked down into her her purse as she muttered “I’m trying to get away from my husband.” Although she seemed quite composed and there was no panic in her voice, I took her words seriously and took off quickly, the forward lunge forcing the rear door to slam shut.

As coincidence would have it – I had just heard that exact phrase a few nights before so it wasn’t the first time I had heard that specific request. But it was the first time I had heard it in this part of town at this time of day.

With the taxi's forward lunge, the woman started screaming as if a black mamba had just crawled out of her purse. I slammed on the brakes to see what was wrong and at that moment her husband caught up with us. He was a sweet-looking (but currently bewildered) man who wore a brown bow tie with leaping gold frogs on it. The woman was calmed by her husband’s appearance and in a calm tone, she very politely asked about my mental stability. I think it was along the lines of “What the hell is wrong with you!” It turned out that I had misheard her. What she had actually said was: “We’re going to have to wait for my husband.”

After my explanation of “I thought you said…” everyone had a good laugh. When I complimented her husband on his tie, he asked me if I would consider wearing such a thing. I told him truthfully that I would be proud to wear such a tie (under the right circumstances). Before I knew it, he had removed his tie and draped it over the back of my neck. We all parted as the best of friends. Me with a silk bow tie and the couple with a story of the wife’s near-kidnapping in Houston. They were bound to get some good mileage out of it.

Back to Mr. Elegant.

I had been waiting in line for nearly an hour and had seen four trips leave with luggage (airport trips) when Mr. Light Brigade summoned me with a blast from his whistle. My fare-to-be slipped the doorman a bill and said “Gracias, Sr. Buttones!”*

The man perched himself in the middle of the back seat rather than slouch in exhaustion as most people did. He sat bolt upright. It wasn’t the first time I had someone on the edge of their seat, but it was the first time anyone had assumed the position before the ride began (unless they were trying to get away from their husband).

Between his knees the man gripped a silver-headed cane in his gray kid gloves and if my memory serves me correctly, he was actually wearing spats – the first time I had seen them outside of movies.

If he was sitting between Vincent Price and Salvador Dali, they could’ve passed as Siamese triplets. Because of his posture and comportment, it seemed to me that my cab had somehow been turned into a 19th Century carriage.

My tape deck was playing Mexican Rancheras but it was turned so low I didn’t think anyone in the back seat could hear it. But he did.

When the next song began, he knew it wasn’t the radio and so he asked me: “Do ju like very much that music?” I confessed I did.

“Good. I will tell my friend Miguel that even the taxitas in Houston listen to his songs.”

“You know Miguel Aceves Mejia?”

“Oh, jes, we are the old friends. I have written many of his songs.”

He asked for the plastic cassette case and read the index of songs.

“Thees one has three of my songs.’” He then asked: “Have you heard the song Amor Amor Amor?”

“Of course.”

“Jes, I wrote that song – maybe before you were born.”

Our trip was short, but before he left, he signed my guestbook (I may have been the only cab in Houston with a guestbook – a gift from one of my foreign fares who felt I needed one).

I told him in parting that it would be a slight exaggeration to tell Miguel Aceves Mejia that every taxita in Houston listened to his music. He smiled and said: “No. I will tell him that my favorite taxita in Houston enjoys his music – and my music too, he added with a smile.”

I dropped him off at an address in River Oaks, where he would, no doubt be sharing his elegance and old-fashioned charm. Later, when I saw his guestbook entry, I saw he had written his name, Gabriel Ruiz and had included the musical notation for the opening of the song Amor – his trademark song among scores of others.

For the curious: a slightly “jazzed-up” version of Amor Amor Amor by Julio Iglasias Is here. The melody should be instantly recognizable for people over fifty. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Up2va2CblGk

*Senor Buttones is how Mexicans (of a certain age) address hotel doormen (or Red Buttons).

© John Troesser
September 28, 2014 Column
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