It was probably around 4:30 in the afternoon, on the Sunday before Labor Day. There was hardly any taxicab business at all, which is quite normal for a holiday weekend.
[Some people seem to think that there is a lot of cab business during the holidays. Quite the contrary. At least in Houston, anyway. Deader than the proverbial doornail. Well, except for New Year's Eve ... but that's a whole nuther story.]
I'd probably had a trip or two that day, and was hoping to get just one more trip in before I headed home to get some rest and a bite to eat prior to starting out again late the next afternoon at one or the other airport.
I was sitting at a cab stand about a half block away from the Hilton Hotel on Travis, very near the Medical Center. [Some hotels have their own cab stands, and it takes a considerable amount of time, actually, to learn where (or where not) you can 'sit' and still be 'first out'.]
I was the only cab there. I was the only vehicle anywhere in the immediate vicinity, to tell you the truth!
However, I was not 'bored'. Have I told you before that I am NEVER bored?? Well, that's the truth. I was either reading a book (and I read bunches and bunches and even more bunches of them in my nearly 18 years of driving a taxi!) or working a logic problem. I don't recall which, exactly, but it would -- for sure -- have been one or the other.
So anyway, there I was, happily ensconced in whatever it was that I was doing at the time, when I was quite rudely interrupted by movements and sounds -- whistles, actually -- coming from in front of the hotel.
I looked up to see what the devil was going on, and could see the bellman waving frantically at me to try and capture my attention. He got it! I was now all business as I started the car (I was driving a Caprice at the time -- nice car!) and got both it and my now focused-on-business attention on up there.
There they were, my customers ... a Japanese couple -- she perhaps five years younger than I, and he probably about my age. She was the only one who spoke. (I made the incorrect assumption that he didn't speak English. You know what they say about someone who 'assumes', don't you? Never mind. Not important to this story.)
She told me that they wanted to go to the Galleria.
[The City of Houston is so vast that there are multitudinous 'pet' -- and even local 'slang' -- names or terms for various areas. Again, takes a bit of getting used to.]
I 'assumed' that she meant the Galleria Mall, which would be closing at 6pm (it was a Sunday, after all), and I was concerned that they would be spending money on a taxicab ride to go over there only to find that all of the stores would be closing almost as soon as they oriented themselves!
I expressed this concern to her. (It wasn't that I didn't want their business. I just did not want to take advantage of visitors. I'm not built that way.)
She said that she understood about the mall hours. Would any restaurants be open? Would the mall itself be open? I assured her that the answer was 'Yes' in both instances. She indicated that they wanted to go ahead. They just wanted to 'look around' and get something to eat. I knew that they could do both, and so off we went.
On the way to the Galleria Mall (about a 20-minute trip), she was telling me about a "Golden Triangle" tour they wanted to go on.
Now, I'd been in Houston maybe twenty or so years by that time and was fairly familiar with the term Golden Triangle. However, I wasn't at all familiar with a Golden Triangle "tour", as such, and said so. I was intrigued.
I asked her what hotel they would be departing from, the name of the bus company, etc. I thought this might be information I would find useful another time with another customer. Who knows, right?
Turns out that she was asking me what I knew about Golden Triangle 'tours' ... well, I knew absolutely nothing! I had never even heard of such tours, and I told her as much!!
She wanted to know what I recommended, and I told her that (far and away) the cheapest way for them would be to rent a car. She told me that was impossible.
I really didn't know what to say. It was obvious to me that she was determined they take this tour. Finally I just stated the obvious, "Well, there is an alternative that is available to you, but it would be the most expensive. You could always hire a taxi!"
She asked, "What would you charge?"
My goodness, my goodness! I did some quick figuring as to how many miles I thought I would be putting on the car -- and, of course, this was ten or more years back, when gas prices were not near what they are now -- and quoted her a figure.
"How's 7am tomorrow sound to you?" she said.
That was my longest trip ever! I picked the three of them up (including their daughter, who was about the same age as my own) at 7am, and off we went.
Heavens to Betsy, we went everywhere! We clambered all over the Battleship Texas, saw Spindletop, stopped at various restaurants and gas stations along the way ... at one point, a sheriff's vehicle came up to me while I was 'gassing up' (thank goodness I had given Yellow Cab -- I was driving a Yellow Cab at the time -- notice that I was leaving town and my approximate route) ... they wouldn't let me pay for ANYthing, including gas!
The only 'downside' of this trip was that we didn't see any alligators. "What do alligators have to do with the Golden Triangle?" you ask. Absolutely nothing. They'd heard that there are a lot of alligators in Southeast Texas, and wanted to see one -- in the wild, of course!
That year was particularly dry in this part of the country. We have in residence, normally, a lot of alligators, but not that year! We went traipsing up one side of a bayou and then down another. Nothing. Zip. Nada!
This one time we all thought that we had spotted an alligator. MANY pictures were taken, only to finally realize that what we initially thought might have been an alligator was simply a partially submerged rock!
It was truly a wonderful day. When we finally got back to the Hilton, I got a huMONgous tip! They wanted my address, so they could send me copies of some of the many pictures they had taken. I gave it to them, absolutely positive that I would hear from them again.
I never heard another word. I hope they're OK. I hope they're savoring somewhere near as fond memories of that day as I am.