Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hundreds of Ways (one urban cowboy)

Last Sunday in Chicago, my karma came due. Yes, I was "cosmically selected" among thousands to be rescued by an urban cowboy (read: taxi driver). This wasn't just any ol' taxi driver, this was The Singing Cab Driver of Chicago, otherwise known as Mr. Ray St. Ray. I had just said goodbye to E in Wicker Park and flagged down an ordinary-looking cab to take me back to L's for the night. I slipped inside the door and the driver turned towards me with a wide-eyed, kooky smile and shouted "Where to?!". "Clark and Arlington," I smiled cautiously. "Follow me!" he shouted again in his best stage voice. I couldn't help but giggle. This was the beginning.

A few minutes into the ride, he asked me if I'd like to hear him sing a song (was there an option other than 'yes'?). He turned around with that same crazy grin and said, "Please choose your theme: Love! Sex! Social Significance! Other!" I chose "Love!" which led him to rattle off 4 additional sub-categories, including "Romance!" "Non-Committal!" "Breakup!" "Friendship!". I chose "Non-Committal!" (I need not get into the reasons here). For the next 10 minutes, Ray St. Ray, who introduced himself via musical interlude between songs, sang me 3 original songs (he has 98), all of which featured an incredible array of special sound effects, including cat's meows, drums, and what I think might have been an accordion imitation.

I asked Ray St. Ray if he sang for everyone and he said, "Anyone who I think will appreciate it, which is about 98% of the population." In his estimation, he has sung to over 55,000 passengers in the Chicago area alone. Ray's dream is to have his own TV show or movie where his interactions with passengers are documented and the stories are brought to life on the big screen. Ray says that driving his cab and singing and composing songs is his version of the American Daydream. His goal is to live a life that he would want to read a book about.

I am still thinking about him, that ride, and one guy's total commitment to making what he does matter, even if it's driving 10 city blocks in downtown Chicago. We could have sat in silence for those 10 minutes. But he's taking an ordinary, fairly mundane job and turning it around to bring a little more light to the world. I want to live more that way. I want to see my own work in that light.

When it was time to leave, Ray St. Ray turned around with a slightly softer voice and said, "I've treasured our time together! Now you must go into the night!" He handed me a lemon-yellow postcard with his photo on it, along with information on his band, blog, hot line and Myspace page. This is the 21st century, after all. But you can't call him and request him - it must remain a cosmically selective process who is picked up by Ray St. Ray.

Ladies and gentleman, I present to you:
The amazing Singing Cab Driver. May your lives one day be graced with a ride on his urban horse.


"Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."

-- Rumi

1 comment:

Ray said...

I have performed for over 55,000 passengers and have only read one or two descriptions by riders who weren't reporters. I really enjoyed yours and appreciate your appreciation of what it is I do.