I met Bill a few years ago when I called for a taxi to the airport. He arrived in a brand new black Dodge Magnum that was sparkling clean on the inside. We talked all the way to O'Hare and I learned that he primarily worked for himself, but sometimes did some extra work for the cab company when they were really busy. As we drove, Bill's cell phone kept ringing with people calling for his personal livery services, many of them days out. From the little bit I could hear, each call was from a regular customer Bill knew well.
Since that first trip to O'Hare, I've never used another cab service. Most times he takes me to O'Hare, it's a cheerful trip, but he has also seen me on some of my most difficult days. Last summer, he drove me to O'Hare when I was flying to Florida for Nana's funeral and then each of my trips in August and September to help my mom. Those were really difficult trips for me, but Bill made them just a little bit better with his cheerfulness and just listening as I shared stories of my Nana with him. Being in his car feels like riding with a good friend.
In fact, that's how Bill perceives his job. He's a retired police officer, although I can't remember where now, and he told me when we first met that he loves his career now because he hangs out with friends all day as he drives them around. How can you not love that attitude?
On the way to O'Hare in August, I shared a story of how Nana received a box of chocolates at her retirement. The chocolates were nothing extraordinary, probably just a box of Whitman's Sampler, but I'll never forget the way Nana held that box like it was the Ark of the Covenant or some other treasure as she looked the man who gave it to her square in the eye and with sincerity and excitement said to him, "Oh! A box of fine chocolates! This is JUST what I've wanted!" She had this way of making you feel like $10 million. A few minutes later, we pulled into O'Hare and Bill opened up the glove compartment and handed me an envelope. Inside was a dark chocolate candy bar with the most fancy wrapping. I just looked at him with tears rolling down my face and made Nana's words my own. I don't know if the chocolate was high quality or not and it doesn't matter. That night, when I had a moment of peace to myself after the first of many difficult days, I unwrapped that bar and bit into what was the most incredible piece of chocolate I will ever have in my life.
Bill sends a quarterly newsletter to all of his clients. I look forward to these mailings because they are always uplifting and always hand addressed (who does that still?). The winter letter just arrived and on the outside, was written "The Wonderful Jessica Gardner." In a strange twist of fate this morning, I received a bunch of personal mail (as opposed to bills). Guess which envelope got opened first?
This is Bill's winter letter.
by Bill Hammers
by Bill Hammers
My fall letter this year contained a true story told through the eyes of a cab driver. My winter letter is also a true story of mine that I thought you might enjoy.
Exiting our apartment one day I noticed our neighbor, Jean from across the hall, at the same time, about to pass me by with her garbage to deposit in the garbage room. She appeared to be in her late 70's, very frail looking with a scowl on her face.
Our eyes met, I smiled and said, "I'll let you by if you smile." Her eyes squinted, her mouth became smaller and she forced a half smile dismissing me as she passed by. As she went by I said, "next time it's a hug I'll want!" I remembered all the while other neighbors in the building telling me that this particular lady was "...an old crab...," and they didn't want to bother with her.
Our next encounter was on our elevator. I mentioned to Jean that frequently Kathy (my wife) and I dine out, and we'd be glad to bring something back for her if she'd like. Cautiously, she said, "yes...that would be nice."
So the ritual began - dinner in a Styrofoam container, a knock on her door followed by the container being left by her door, me running back to our apartment before she opened her door.
When Kathy cooked for us, she'd always make extra and we'd leave Jean her "surprise" package covered with foil at her door followed by the "knock" and retreat.
Weeks later Jean called and invited us to her apartment for a glass of wine. We were delighted. Her place was furnished in what appeared to be very rich looking painting and furniture. We sat down and she began telling us her story. She explained that at this time in her life she no longer had any relatives or friends left. She then proceeded to tell us that she knew she didn't have a lot of time left. After about a half-hour of small talk Jean said, "I was once invited out on a date and had a dress made for it, but he stood me up and I never wore it again." As she spoke she kept looking downward shaking her head. Jean then looked up, smiled and said to my wife, "Kathy, I'd like you to have this dress." Stunned, my wife accepted as we both started tearing up.
Jean then asked me if I'd be able to take her to the hospital when her emphysema flared up, because, she stated "...the paramedics hurt me trying to life me onto the stretcher..." Over the following years, I did take hero n a number of occasions.
During those years, Jean would call Kathy over to her apartment and give her dolls she had from Macy's that were never even out of their boxes because she knew we had granddaughters.
Months later, our phone rang very late at night. My wife answered and handed the phone to me saying it was Jean and she wanted to talk to me. Jean explained, "Bill, I'm not going to make it through the night and I'm afraid to die alone!"
We talked about almost anything and everything that popped into our minds. Nothing profound mind you, just talked.
The next few days I tried to get information from the hospital about how Jean was doing, but because I wasn't a relative, none was given to me. Finally, I was lucky to speak with someone who, after I explained how I knew Jean, told me she had passed away two nights before.
Weeks later walking back from Jewel across from our apartment, another neighbor from our building also stopped by the red light, and questioned me about Jean and if I had talked to her prior to her passing. I explained we did, Jean was a very private person unlike how she was perceived by most. I went on to say that another neighbor in our building asked me about our relationship with jean and hinted as to what, if anything, Jean had left us. I explained both Kathy and I had several conversations with Jean and Kathy was given a brand new dress over 25 years old, and I, well I received her last phone call.
Jean, wherever you are, thank you for your "crabby" old smile at our first encounter; you taught both Kathy and I what priceless gifts are really all about - God Bless You!
I could tell you many more Bill stories, but we'd be here all day. Suffice it to say, I think the world of him.
If you need cab service and want to feel like you're riding with family, call Bill. You won't have a better ride to O'Hare. He's not the cheapest, but his rates are very competitive and for the service he provides, it's a steal. Oh, and he lives in downtown Arlington Heights, so when you use his service, you're keeping your money local by supporting a small business in our community.
Time Bandit Taxi/Limo
Oh, and tell him I referred you. It's the least I can do for all he's done for me. He's not just my cab driver. Bill is my friend.