The Legend of “Successful Excellent”

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Lake Tahoe has been getting some much needed snow the past few days, with a bit more on the way.  This is a big deal, given the considerably poor conditions of late due to the drought.  That last link there didn’t go to some sort of dry, scientific treatise on the State of California’s dire water situation.  It linked to a blog post I wrote a week or so ago that had, ehm, pretty much nothing to do with the drought.  I have yet to muster up the motivation to write anything of the learned variety.  But I’ll get there, once I burn through the alien heads, unbrushed teeth, Krakens, blood, and swim goggles that clutter my short-term memory.

Oh, and cab drivers.  In this age of Uber’s sleek app and Lyft’s pink moustache, it’s hard to remember when the whole taxi thing was much more entertaining.  Good for these disruptive entrepreneurs who are taming the wild west of cab-dom, but this homogenization does reduce the number of totally “out there” taxi experiences that are told and re-told for years.  We’ve all had the driver channeling Bullitt, complete with underbodies scraping pavement and sparks shooting off into the dark.  We probably deserved that nauseating treatment, since most of us regrettably recall a tax ride or two that ended with the fare electing not to pay the fare, attempting to escape into the night instead.  A friend of a friend of a friend (I suppose this could be traced back to me when worded this way) learned the hard way that some of these taxi drivers relish the opportunity to hunt down teenaged pranksters at a full sprint through fields and woods.  Here’s a tip:  Just pay the fare.  Or wear better shoes.  No, just pay the fare.

I think I have the taxi cab tale of all taxi cab tales.  Not because of erratic driving, rude passengers, unidentifiable scents, or outrageous fares.  Quite the opposite.  My favorite taxi experience was, in a word, “excellent.”  “Successful Excellent,” even.  No need to smirk at my lack of command of the Queen’s English; stay with me.

On a cold and snowy night fourteen ski seasons ago,  a group of my friends and I piled into a private cab that had braved the treacherous conditions to pluck us from our rented ski house in the sticks and deliver us unto more exciting environs.  The driver was an enormous African American gent with a very pleasant, convivial vibe.  We were enjoying one another’s company, exchanging banter about the weather as our driver for the evening calmly and confidently fishtailed his way down the street.  Out of habit (most in the car were savvy cab riders having spent long stretches in NYC), one of us glanced at our driver’s credentials, on display in the usual spot near the dashboard.  I think I may have seen it first, but I could be mistaken as the story has been re-told so many times now.  So let’s go with that.  I took in the license’s information casually in a quick scan, not pausing my head’s pan to the snowy view outside.  Then something registered as being out of place, and my eyes darted back to the plastic-covered paper.  There it was in black and white, next to the typical, mundane photo of our otherwise ordinary driver and sitting right along with other otherwise ordinary identifying information that convinced me this was legit:  In the spot reserved for the driver’s name, two words appeared —

Successful Excellent

No joke.  My head swam a bit as the magnitude of the comedic potential here began to reveal itself to me.  No one else in my party had seen the unicorn, at least not yet.  I don’t remember exactly what was said or by whom, but I do remember what Mr. Excellent shared with us.  This was indeed his name, he had legally changed it a few years back.  I got the impression that he had come from humble beginnings but decided to take control of his own destiny, make something of himself, and do it in the most genuine and authentic way he could conceive.  By giving himself the name “Successful Excellent,” knowing that hundreds of passengers would have to see his name, displayed so prominently in Successful’s cab, he made himself accountable.  Is there a more clean and simple way to claim a path and ensure you’ll stay on it?  Every modestly alert rider would serve to remind Successful of his lofty goals, even if they laughed at him.  This is way more effective than a framed motivational poster “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team'” with some hands in a pile or a bullshit soaring Bald Eagle.  He was putting it out there, opening himself up to the possibility of cruel ridicule, because he wanted everyone to know what he was about.  Testing his resolve with every fare.

Of course, none of these things occurred to me at the time.  It just seemed funny as hell, and I didn’t look any deeper than that.  The only thing that saved Successful (or more accurately, us) from mean jokes during the ride was the fact that the dude was huge and could crush our heads like walnuts.

I hadn’t lived enough by that point to realize the true beauty of what Successful had done.  And perhaps even he didn’t realize that he was showing everyone what courage and commitment really looked like.  It’s not about mocking your opponent or trash-talking on a football field or basketball court.  It’s not about driving a $100,000 sports car with vanity plates.  It’s about changing diapers at 2 in the morning, holding the hand of a loved one during yet another round of chemotherapy, taking a city bus at 5am across town to get to school, and beating a drug addiction.  These things aren’t sexy, and we hardly notice them.  But I think they are stronger examples of the good stuff than wearing a team’s jersey with some player’s last name on the back.  Or if there has to be a name on the back, make mine say “Excellent.”

So thank you, Mr. Excellent, for that ride 14 years ago.  I’m headed back up to Tahoe this coming weekend; how ’bout a lift?  I am ready to learn.

Thanks for reading.

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