Advice from an 80 yr. old shuttle driver…

Old Man in the Mountain: Before and After
Old Man in the Mountain: Before and After

New Hampshire is cold in March. I was happy to be heading home to North Carolina. The shuttle driver was napping behind the wheel. The sunshine warmed him through windshield. When I opened the passenger door he stirred,

“Thanks for waking me up!” He pointed. “Open that sliding door – that’s it, behind you – and put your bag anywhere you can find.”  The door was heavy. I used both hands to slide it back.  I hefted my bag high enough to fit on the seat above. Placed my backpack in front of it on the floor of the van and slid the door shut.

“Nah, you didn’t get it. Open it up and try again. You got to really slam it shut.”

I opened the heavy door, pulled it three feet back, then a little more. I took a running start and slammed the door into the lock mechanism.

“There you go, now get in here where it is warm. So how did you like New Hampshire? Did you get to spread your wings?”

“I got to go downtown last…”

“You need to spread your wings.  When you come back….what do you like: the mountains or the ocean? Of course the beach is the same anywhere. Did you know we have a mountain 6000 feet tall? We do. I used to be a truck driver and driving out … there was this old man – a rock formation, his nose, you could see his ears. Forty three years I’d look out the window and say “hello old man” then when I was driving back, “Hello old man.  Until he fell.”

My new friend points his finger high up and then whistles it down as he imagines the ancient rock formation from his memory crashing down to the bottom of the canyon. He seemed to stare at the rubble for a split second, then he mimics looking out the window again. “Forty three years I been saying hello to the old man. He’s not there anymore.”

“You got to spread your wings. Next time you are here you need to take a taxi, they won’t charge you that much. Go see something.  You can drive out toward Concord, just fields and farms. Serene. There’s God in that quiet. Cows don’t talk. Thank goodness. I guess. I’m a Catholic. I love my family. I’m one of seven. My mother was one of eighteen. They are all gone now. Now it’s just us. And we’ll be gone soon.

“So I’m putting away the material things and getting ready for the spiritual. I’m eighty. People say I don’t look a day over 65. (I thought he looked eighty.) I never drank. I don’t drink. Never smoked. I have diabetes but the doctor says I’m doing fine.

“You got to spread your wings. I loved all of my jobs. This one? This van is a toy I get to drive around all over everywhere every day. I get to meet people. I believe in dialogue. I flew down to Florida. I don’t like it there. They don’t understand hospitality. I don’t have a phone. I’m old school. I got on the plane and said, “Hello!” and the guy next to me he’s got his thumbs tapping and he doesn’t even look up. I say, “You can’t even say hello?” He doesn’t say a thing. I sat next to him the whole way and we don’t say nothing. That’s a shame. People don’t talk.

“I think this virus… it’s going to remind us that we need to value each other. We need to treat each other better. I think we are going to come together. We are like beads on a rosary, all linked together.”

“I was born on a farm up in Vermont. We had the farm table that sits fifteen. I was three and my mother says to us all after dinner, get on your knees and let’s say the rosary. I’m three. I tell her ‘I don’t know the rosary.’ She says ‘You will when I get through with you.’ I learn it in English. Then I learn it in French.

“Down at the bottom of that mountain is a lake they call Mirror Lake, because it is. You can look down into it and see the mountain. You got to spread your wings. It is silence that brings you back to peace. You can feel it. You know what I mean.”

He never let me say a word. And it was my own silence that let this old man’s imagery and poetry bring me some peace. Airplanes, hotels and conference halls cramp me up, particularly now that we have to be so careful. But this old man took me to the beach, drove me past the cornfields and showed me the mountain reflected in Mirror Lake. I got to spread my wings just listening.

Yes, I had to lug my own bags but that’s okay. I imagine him now back at the hotel finishing his nap in the sunshine his wings fluffed and relaxed.




10 thoughts on “Advice from an 80 yr. old shuttle driver…”

  1. Annette, how I love this! And you have put it down beautifully, also your listening :-). I could see the guy before me, I heard a hoarse voice, and i recognized the nature lover who I also am:… “just fields and farms. Serene. There’s God in that quiet. Cows don’t talk.” Well, he did. It reminded me very much of stories by Annie Proulx, describing the folks the mountains (e.g. Heart Songs and other Stories).
    Thank you for moving me.
    Kind regards,

    1. Thank you my friend. He was so wonderful I wanted to share the experience! I have been listening to John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley so my ear was tuned in to listen. Steinbeck always makes me listen more carefully!

      1. Thanks for the Steinbeck tip, I haven’t read that one. And please… don’t panic with Corona (COVID-19), so many are, not in the least the Dahnald, who is blaming everyone except himself. Here in The Netherlands they are a bit more ‘sober’, although a few are starting hoarding here, too. Most people are reacting sensibly (no naming and shaming) to all the government decisions, which are mainly to suppress escalation (and thus spreading infections over a longer, manageable period).
        Take care and stay healthy!

        1. I LOVE Steinbeck! And it’s a great audiobook to listen to when you are traveling. Or when we get back to traveling. No panic here. I’m just trying to promote an extra dollop of self-discipline when it comes to making immediate choices about gathering in public. I fantasize about living in the Netherlands at times like this. In many ways, you are role models for the rest of the world.

  2. Wow! Just wow!

    When I was on shore leave in the Navy, I would get on a bus or train near the pier and just go out to the end of the line (after making sure I could get back in time for the next muster). I would just walk around and say, “Hi” to whomever I met. It was a marvelous experience to hear from people in different worlds and different cultures. They told me their stories and I shared some of mine.

    I vividly remember a young lady in New Zealand who thought my accent was funny. She asked, “Where ya from, luv?” I responded, “Texas.” She laughed hysterically and said, “Don’t be daft, luv. Taxes is sumpin ya pay the guvment.” So, I got my turn to laugh hysterically and explain that Texas was a state in the United States. We had a grand time talking as we learned to translate English into English. As Churchill said, “The US and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.”

    It’s amazing what you can hear when you take time to listen.

  3. Your skill at relating the subtle nuances within this extended conversation makes me want to read a collection of your stories! More, Please!

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