Friday, August 12, 2022
Aug. 12, 2022

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Everybody Has a Story: Taxi driver sends a message of change


One morning when I was finishing breakfast, the phone rang. It was Dádá. He was at the office of an ophthalmologist who had just checked the cataract surgery on his right eye.

The doctor found the eye to be in good shape. Surgery on his left eye had come earlier.

“How’s your left eye?” I asked.

“Oh it’s great.” He sounded enthusiastic.

He was in Saint Louis. He was waiting for a ride and told me that our call might be interrupted when his car arrived. The city has a taxi-like service that offers transportation for low-income seniors. Dádá qualifies. In fact he’s almost a no-income senior.

Dádá is my older brother and he’s a member of a yoga group based in Kolkata, India. Over the course of a number of decades, they’ve given him a series of new names, and some orange clothes accompanied by an orange turban. “Dádá” is a respectful term for senior monks.

He came to Vancouver for a visit in January. Just before he left Vancouver to fly back to Saint Louis, we watched the beginning of “One Night in Miami.”

The movie portrays four men, including Malcolm X and Sam Cooke, meeting the night of Cassius Clay’s championship victory over Sonny Liston. The meeting actually happened, but the movie is a fictional account of it.

I remembered watching Dádá put on different glasses and get up really close to the TV screen. More than at other times during his visit, that made me realize how bad his eyesight was.

The phone call was a chance to tell Dádá more about the movie. I knew he would be interested in the role Bob Dylan’s music plays. There’s a scene that has Malcolm X putting an album on a turntable; when he lowers the needle, we hear Dylan singing “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Malcolm is a fiery Black Nationalist, pushing the other men to also be activists. Cooke is a successful singer, songwriter and businessman. He has a series of hit songs, love songs.

Malcolm wants Cooke to use his music in the movement for Black power. He confronts Cooke, asking how it is that a white kid from Minnesota is the one with the popular song about America’s mistreatment of Black people.

Malcolm mocks “You Send Me,” Cooke’s first single, a soulful hit that established him as a major figure in popular music. The scene ends with Cooke leaving and slamming the door behind him.

Later in the movie, Cooke brings up “Blowin’ in the Wind” again, this time without Malcolm around.

“I should have written that song,” he says. Pacing around, he reprimands himself saying “Here I call myself Mr. Soul.”

“It was clear that Cooke was inspired by Dylan, painfully inspired,” I told Dádá.

At this point Dádá’s ride arrived. “He was painfully inspired…” he repeated, inviting me to continue.

“Yes,” I said, “and Cooke ended up writing his song ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’ ”

Like Dylan’s track, that song of Cooke’s lit sparks in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“A chance…” Dádá said, fumbling with the name of the song, and adding, “I’m getting in the car now.”

“ ‘A CHANGE, a CHANGE Is Gonna Come,’ ” I replied loudly.

“I never heard that song,” Dádá said. “I might have been in the Peace Corps when it came out.”

“I know that song,” his driver said.

Dádá relayed his comment to me, noting that his cellphone was on speaker, which was why the man had heard me. The driver remarked that he has a blues band and sings that song at shows. From his voice I thought he was probably Black.

Dádá said something in a garbled voice. I thought he was asking the man to sing the song. I hoped he was. Then the driver just belted it out:

“I was born by the river, in a little tent / Oh, and just like the river / I’ve been running ever since

“It’s been a long, a long time coming / But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will…”

From another room, my partner Margarete overheard bits of the conversation and thought I had somehow gotten Sam Cooke’s voice singing on my phone.

I smiled, picturing this blues singer ferrying my brother, who was wrapped up in his bright orange outfit and turban, through Saint Louis traffic in a boisterous bubble of sound, in the cabin of the car, with the melody bouncing off the windshield and the doors.

“That’s great,” I said, my voice loud again. “You’d better give that driver a big tip.”

The driver responded with a thumbs up.

After hanging up on our phone call, Dádá asked him further about his music. He said he owns a band called the STL Rhythm and Blues Review and is the lead singer.

After he and Dádá had fallen silent for a while, Dádá heard him singing softly to himself, “You send me.”

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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