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"You're Our Biggest Fan!"
Sunday Morning Serendipity

By John Troesser

It was a Saturday afternoon and I had just dropped off a fare downtown. I had planned to deadhead back to the airport, even though I knew the slow Saturday schedule would extend the waiting time from two hours to three. I passed by the Hyatt Regency's six space taxi stand which at that moment had only two cabs - an event that only happened on Saturday afternoons. The drivers of the two cabs were optimistic gamblers - hoping for a late check-out.

But for some reason, I didn't head for the airport, but turned right onto Dallas. There on the sidewalk was a fairly young, well-dressed man holding up his arm the way they do in the movies or New York. What I'm saying is that it's a stance seldom seen in Houston. Had the man turned the corner he was approaching, he would've seen the two cabs. But with no luggage. (Nothing excites a cab driver like people with luggage.) He was more than likely a short trip and I was doing the first cab in line a favor by picking him up.

He got in and I dropped the metal flag on the meter. I asked him "Where to?" and he hesitated. "Uh, I really don't know. I'd kind of like to see the city." The only thing better than hearing "To the airport and there's an extra $20 if you get me there in an hour" (which I never once heard anyone say). The absolute best request was for a city tour.

City tours were my specialty and depending on your curiosity, I could give you a "Space City" tour, a sociological / economic tour, an architectural tour or a depraved humanity tour (available after eight p.m. only).

I offered to give him the modest downtown-Buffalo Bayou-Montrose-Rice University-River Oaks-Galleria Tour. It was an economical tour that would leave the visitor with a feeling they "knew" Houston. He accepted. He was extremely well-spoken. During the course of the trip, I found out that he was indeed from New York and had come to Houston to appear on stage at Jones Hall. Not a small venue by any means.

I wish I could remember his name or the name of the play or musical, but I can't. I could substitute a well-known singer's name, but that wouldn't be right - and I might get an irate e-mail from someone's agent. I'll tell you what. Just imagine he's your favorite singer / actor from that era. Would that work for you? If not, we can just call him "Tony."

Tony marveled at the Live Oak trees and the size of the Pines in Memorial Park. On several occasions we stopped and he stepped outside the car to get photos. After the tour was over I took him back to his hotel - which was the downtown Hyatt. He was very pleased that I charged him a flat rate and not what was on the meter. We shook hands and I have to say that with his good manners, curious nature (he asked thoughtful questions) and his firm handshake, I was sort of sorry I couldn't see him perform. I couldn't have made it anyway, even had he offered me tickets - which he didn't.

The next morning was Sunday and I was running my usual route down Harrisburg - picking up Mexican hotel / restaurant workers who were waiting for buses on a glacial Sunday schedule. I only charged them a dollar apiece and the cab filled up in the first few bus stops. I'd get them to their connecting bus on Main Street - and if we had just missed it, I'd speed past the bus and deposit them at the next stop, usually pissing off the bus driver who was enjoying his early departure. It was a win-win situation for me and my fares and the relieved smiles of the workers (who would now be on time or early) was payment enough. That's not to say I didn't take their dollars - for I did. I had a lease to pay and they didn't redeem smiles at the taxi office.

So there I was downtown again - passing the Hyatt again - on a s-l-o-w Sunday morning. Three cabs pulled out together with a large group, leaving the Hyatt taxi-less for the moment. A rare event. The Hyatt doorman saw me and blew his whistle as he motioned for me to pull up. A young couple got in and they told me they wanted to go to the original Ninfa's Restaurant on Navigation - a 20 block ride.

We went a few blocks which was enough for them to start chatting with me. The woman said "I'll bet you get to meet a lot of interesting people." I lied to her and said that hardly a day went by that I didn't meet someone who fit that description. Then they happened to mention that they had come to Houston to see a certain show at Jones Hall. Actually, they were huge fans of the lead singer and had been following his performances in several cities. It was the first time I had ever heard of people doing such a thing. I was about to drop the singer's name and mention he was sitting on the very seat they now occupy, when I was stopped by a red light. A man who had been walking along the sidewalk in the same direction we had been driving, took a sharp left and walked in front of the car, carrying a camera that somehow looked familiar.

The woman had just nudged her husband and got out the words "Look, Honey, isn't thatů" when the man in the crosswalk stopped in front of my right headlight. He squinted through the windshield, smiled and waved. He walked over to my passenger window which I lowered and he stuck his head inside. "Is that you, John?" he said.

I said "Yeah, Tony, it's me. How're you doin'?"

"Taking some more pictures," he said.

I said "I think the people in back came to Houston to see you." He said something appropriately charming, introducing himself while offering his hand to them both. The woman was somewhat tongue-tied and blurted out "You're our biggest fan!"

Celebrities have probably heard that phrase coming from nervous people from time to time, but for me it was a first. "Tony" autographed a room service menu or whatever it was the couple produced and said he hoped they would enjoy tonight's performance. He then left with a wave.

Suddenly the couple wasn't hungry and decided to cancel lunch and return to the hotel. (Probably to phone home.) As dumbstruck as they were, I wouldn't have been surprised to learn they decided to skip the performance. After their recent encounter, it was bound to be a disappointment - and besides, they had seen it before. As we said good-bye, I looked into the woman's face and said: "See. You're right. I do meet interesting people."

September 14, 2014 Column
© John Troesser
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