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Taxi Driver Tales: NYC Cabbie Returns $21,000

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On the whole, cab drivers get a pretty bad rap—the reckless bobbing and weaving, the bird flipping, and unsavory language don’t help. Surely, De Niro’s 1976 portrayal in the aptly titled Taxi Driver didn’t help set a great precedent for the profession. Although, on second thought, even Travis Bickle made a few (deeply misguided) attempts at helping others. I digress.

As a New Yorker, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t witnessed all the aforementioned behavior firsthand, but I’ve also seen a lot of good. Hearing “have a nice day” is something I try not to take for granted, and I’m wished that more often than not when I get out of a taxi. But beyond the everyday courtesies and pleasantries of the yellow ferrying types, is exceptional kindness, generosity, and at times, even heroic behavior. 

1. A Christmas Miracle
The most recently remarkable story is that of Mukul Asaduzzaman. On Christmas Eve, the New York City driver picked up Felicia Lettieri, seventy-two, visiting from Italy. When she got out, she left her purse, which was holding $21,000 in traveling money. Contrary to what many would at least be tempted to do, the taxi-driving Bangladesh native trekked fifty miles out to Long Island to an address he found in the purse. But when he got there, no one was home. He left a note saying, “Don’t worry, Felicia. I’ll keep it safe.” The best part of the story: he refused to accept an award. He told the New York Post, “When I was five years old, my mother told me, ‘Be honest, work hard, and you will raise your station.’” Guess mom was right.

2. Come On and Take a Free Ride
Eric Hagen wants to give you a break, and in these economic times, who couldn’t use one? Owner and operator of Recession Taxi Ride, he offers passengers this deal: pay what you want. The Red Cross worker’s side gig doesn’t exactly sounds like the most lucrative business model, right? But surprisingly, the Vermonter turns a profit. How you ask? Hagen believes his proposal appeals to the good side of human nature. In fact, he’s never actually given a ride for free. Passengers always pay something—if not cash, then something else, like music CDs or supermarket cards.

3. A Truly Selfless Cabbie
Last August we reported on Thomas Chappell, the Phoenix taxi driver who donated one of his kidneys to a regular passenger. Chappell had been randomly assigned to take Rita Van Loenen to and from dialysis. Over the course of several months, the two struck up a friendship. The following year Rita’s kidney failed. She received a transplant from her cousin, but it didn’t take. Back to dialysis, Van Loenen told Chappell that her son was going to be tested next. This news spurred Chappell to add his name to the list. Van Loenen was nothing short of shocked, and somewhat skeptical. But after doctors confirmed he was a match, Chappell assured his friend, “… Me and the good Lord already had a talk. He said ‘Tom, you go give her one. It will work,” Chappell said.

Unfortunately, a few months later, it was determined that Chappell was, in fact, not a healthy match—news he did not take well. Nonetheless, Chappell’s good intentions were not all lost. According to a report in Disabled World, “Tom has been an outstanding and positive role model for millions in the U.S.,” said David Mulligan, M.D., chair, Division of Transplant Surgery at Mayo Clinic. “He is disappointed that he can’t be Rita’s donor, but he can take comfort in knowing he has been a hero in spreading the word about the need for organ donation.”

But the story didn’t end there. The unusual friendship and remarkable act of kindness received so much media attention that it helped reunite Chappell and his estranged daughter of thirty years who recognized him on TV. Chappell’s boss at VIP Taxi, Jim Hickey, even arranged for a trip to Nashville for the generous cabbie to see his daughter and meet his three grandchildren. Not the ending we were expecting, but a happy one nonetheless. As for Van Loenen, she and Chappell are still going to dialysis and continue to look for the right donor. 

4. A Different Kind of Art Fare
If you happen to get into Fabio Peralta’s cab, don’t expect to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Peralta is going to put you to work. The Dominican native hands passengers a stack of paper and asks them simply to draw. “I tell them to create art, any kind of art,” he said. “I don’t care what it is. Whatever comes to their brain, I say.”

Wondering what he’s done with the 7,000 pieces he’s collected so far? He’s bound them into glossy books and gives them away to other passengers—but there’s a catch. In order to receive the book, fares must participate in Peralta’s latest art project, this time with a new medium: thirty-second video skits. “People do whatever. They talk to the camera, they talk about their day, tell their stories,” he told the Post. Peralta wants to give his passengers a break from their day—even if only for a New York minute. 

5. A Turn to the Right
Argentinian taxi driver Santiago Gori made international headlines last August when, after finding a backpack containing $32,000 in the backseat of his cab, he didn’t use it to quit his second job, finish building his half-built house, or pay off the remainder of his taxi license. No, Gori pored over old receipts to track down the rightful owners—two retirees who had just sold their house—and return the cash. “You’re a saint,” the female half of the couple told him, according to Argentina’s La Nacion newspaper. But the thanks didn’t end there.

Two young ad execs caught wind of the story and set up a Web site in hope of recognizing Gori for doing the right thing. Clearly moved, thousands logged on to thank the taxista. At last count, donations were up to $131,411. Talk about returns.

6. Forgetful Musicians, Helpful Cabbies
Yo-Yo Ma set the precedent back in 1999 when he left his cello in the trunk of a New York City taxi. A few years later, another cellist forgot a $4 million Stradivarius, in yet another taxi. They were both safely recovered and returned, as have been many other instruments since. So, it came as little surprise last August when Korean musician Hahn-Bin left his 18th century violin, valued somewhere around $600,000, in you guessed it, a cab. And, as you also might expect, the instrument was once again safely returned. A big thanks to all the unnamed cabbies who clearly have a thing for the arts. 

Originally published on 


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