Sunday, December 21, 1997
A holiday tale of a cabbie
for all seasons

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For some reason, I can't resist telling this story. It's just a little drama, an urban tale of distress.

Nancy Pogue, who lives in Terrace Park, came downtown for lunch Wednesday at the Palace Restaurant. Thanks to Christmas, thanks to the new Lazarus store, thanks to burnt taxpayer offerings to the gods of retail, the downtown was somewhat crowded.

It took her a while to find a parking space. At least, she thought it was a parking space. It looked like a parking spot. She didn't see any signs. And she was running late. It turned out to be a private parking lot.

Now, we all know that in this country, we will tolerate rape, robbery and murder, but we draw the line at letting somebody else occupy our parking space.

So, her car was towed.

Grumpy phone manners

The helpful proprietor of a nearby business had seen her green Audi's ignominious departure and told her how to call the towing company. She telephoned and got the location ''from a grumpy man,'' then caught a cab at the Crowne Plaza Hotel near where she'd had lunch.

So far, so good. Or at least not terrible. Nancy thought she might retrieve her car and still make it home in time to feed her birds. The cardinals arrive around dusk, and they were expecting her.

Retired from Gidding-Jenny, she was still feeling pretty good about her day. She'd had an excellent lunch with good friends, then shopped. ''It felt like a big city at Christmastime.''

She'd written down the name of the street where her car was impounded because it wasn't a familiar one. As she settled into the cab, she asked the driver if he knew it. ''We will find it, Lady,'' he said. ''We will find it.''

And so they did.

Nancy, who has made four trips to Africa and ''loves that country,'' thought she recognized the cabbie's accent.

''Ethiopia,'' he told her. But Alazar Berhe, 34, has lived here in Westwood for six years.

As they pulled up to the chain-link fence surrounding the hostage cars, Nancy could hear dogs barking. It was almost dark by then, and ''I was uneasy.'' She asked the driver if he would come with her.

''Yes, of course,'' he replied.

Tough luck

Bad news from the grumpy man in charge. He told Nancy she'd need a photo ID and her car registration, plus $78. In cash. She started to cry.

''All I had was $35,'' she says.

Tough luck, according to Grumpy. ''Those are the rules.''

Alazar spoke up. ''I will give you the money, ma'am.''

Nancy protested. He insisted.

''You're a nice lady,'' the taxi driver said. ''And you are in trouble.''

So, after a seven-minute cab ride, this man was willing to spot his passenger $43. Not to mention the fare.

Nancy burst into tears again.

''I'm crying,'' she told Grumpy, ''because this man is being so decent.''

Alazar doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.

''It was cold. She was suffering,'' he says. ''It doesn't change my life. I grow up this way.''

But you didn't know her.

''She was hurting.''

Oh.

Nancy calls Alazar her ''Christmas angel.'' But she is wrong.

For Alazar, an Orthodox Christian, this is a year 'round thing. ''Someone is in trouble. You help them. It is not so complicated.''

This is a season of frenzied giving - toys for needy children, food for holiday meals. It's no accident that your mailbox is full of solicitations from charities. We're feeling generous, on our best behavior.

What about the rest of the year?

After the tree is down and the twinkle lights are dark, it's kind of nice to think about a guy who would help a stranger. Any time.

As I said, it's just a little story. But I wanted you to know it.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM radio (91.7 MHz), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

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