The Limo Driver
written in 2007, still lovely to remember today.
It’s a travel day. Up early, scrambling to pack the last things scattered around the hotel room, run to catch the limo to the airport and then five hours in the air losing three going west. How odd to arrive almost before you leave.
In my road warrior travel scramble life I seldom experience the life of the first class traveler. I’m usually loaded down like a really small camel on a really big expedition. This time my boss put “his girls” in first class and arranged limo pick up at each end of the trip. I could get used to this—a big strapping guy with our names on a card met our flight and ushered us to the baggage carousel. We pointed out our suitcases and he strong-armed the crowd and wrestled the luggage to the ground for us. He ushered us and our mound of bags to the Lincoln town car and tucked us in for the ride home.
Five o’clock traffic in L.A. had us crawling along and our driver, who introduced himself as Gary, asked if he could regale us with some limo stories. I am always so curious about my fellow humans that it took me about 10 minutes of conversation before he started telling tales to find out Gary is in the “industry” –as are about half of the residents of this part of the world. His wife is an executive producer who is gone on shoots about half the time, his kids are grown and his other job is as a sports and celebrity photographer. He shoots boat races and football games along with movie stars. He grew up in Bob Hope’s neighborhood and went to school with his kids and hung out at their house. Gary is 62 now and tanned and fit and enjoying life and this man can tell a story.
One day a couple of years ago, his boss told him he would be driving a Nobel Prize winner around on appointments for a day. “There was a nurse with him and he was about 88 years old,” he said. Gary described the client as ill and frail and dying of cancer. “I got to the house and he came out with his nurse. He was using a walker and moving very slowly. He looked sick and exhausted and shaky when he got in the car. I drove them to their first appointment at a doctor’s office, he came out and he was looking even worse.
The nurse gave me the address of the next appointment, another doctor, and I didn’t know if the guy could even get out of the car. I went around the side and asked him very politely if I could help him out. I told him if he would swing his legs to the side I could help him get out of the car and it would be easier for him. He told me yes, and thanked me. I helped him out of the car he went slowly off, leaning on his walker with his nurse at his side.
This time when he came back he looked so exhausted and ill I didn’t even know if he would make it home. I heard the nurse tell him that the next place they had to go she could go in and deliver all the paperwork that needed to be dropped off. She said she would also drop off his prescriptions and he could just rest in the car. We got to the medical complex and I helped the nurse out of the car and got back in front.
A few minutes went by, and I turned and asked Dr Green if he would mind if I asked him about his Nobel Prize. He told me he wouldn’t mind talking about it and he smiled a little. I asked him what his prize was in and he told me it was for his work in genetic engineering in 1991. “Could I ask you one more question? How do they tell you that you have won? “
I watched as he pulled himself a bit more upright and some color started to come back in his face. He said that someone on the committee had called him in March and told him he had been nominated. They asked if he won would he accept it? I wondered who wouldn’t accept it? He told me some third world countries won’t let an individual win the prize because it comes with such a large sum of money. The last winners got 1.3 million. He got $750,000 and he gave it to Cal Tech for scholarships because he didn’t need the money.
The person on the phone said someone from the committee will call you in August and tell you if you have won or if you have not won. Either way you will receive a call. Dr Green said he would be in Switzerland then celebrating his 50th anniversary with his wife at the hotel where they had met 50 years before. “Just make sure we have the hotel’s number and we will contact you.” The man said to him.
In August they went on their vacation as planned. Friends met them and they celebrated their long and happy marriage. One sunny Swiss day the doctor asked the concierge if there was spot that would be easy to get to for a picnic. The concierge said, “Come outside with me and I will show you.” He walked them out front far enough away from the hotel entrance to see a wide path to one side of the grounds. “This path is easy and goes up there to a place that we call table rock. The path goes back and forth easily and takes you up quite high where you will have a lovely view.”
They got their picnic basket complete with a bottle of wine and a blanket and headed up the path. Sure enough, it was gentle and smooth enough even for the old couple to hold hands and stroll up to Table Rock for their picnic. They spread their blanket, got out their cheese and bread and sausage, opened the wine and enjoyed the view of the hotel beneath them, the Alps in the distance and the beautiful meadows and river behind the hotel. “A man in a suit came running out of the hotel, and the way he was running we thought someone must be chasing him. He disappeared from our view and we returned to our picnic wondering what was causing a man so dressed to run in that manner. We soon found out when he burst into view below our Table Rock and panting climbed up to wheeze out the news that the hotel had just the past few minutes received a call from the Nobel Committee telling Doctor Green that he had won the Nobel Prize. So that is how I got the news.” His eyes twinkled and he smiled when he told me we had quite an afternoon celebrating on that rock.
Mrs. Green was dying of cancer at that time and he told me he was so happy that she lived to go to Stockholm with him to see him accept the prize and enjoy all that came with it. The nurse returned to the car then, bustling with paper bags of pills and a folio of papers. I helped her into the car and drove them home.
When I helped him out of the car that last time, he was standing straighter and his cheeks were pink and his eyes were sparkling. He shook my hand and held it in both of his and said, “I am so pleased you asked me about the Nobel Prize. I haven’t talked about it in a long time and it makes me happy to remember it.” Gary said, “I watched him go into the house with the nurse and went on to my next job. Two weeks later I saw his obituary in the L.A. Times, “Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Green Dies at Age 88”. I was the last person who heard his story and it will always be something special to me.”
I sat in the back seat of the limo with tears in my eyes. The symmetry of the story was lovely and as long as someone else tells the story of Dr Green and the Nobel Prize; the story isn’t over is it? I want it to go on to live in the world and so I am telling you.