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Allan Sloan

An Honest Deed Turns Misstep Into a Capital Experience

By Allan Sloan
Tuesday, March 8, 2005; Page E03

When you spend as much time as I do dealing with dollars measured in trillions and subjects so complicated they make your teeth hurt, it's nice to find something simple, unexpected and upbeat. And that's what I came upon in Washington last week. I can report, without fear of contradiction, that there's at least one honest man working in Our Nation's Capital, and I've met him.

No, he's not a politician or a staff person or a member of the news media or a corporate guy or consultant or any of the other usual suspects with whom I deal. He's the taxi driver who drove me to a Senate office building Wednesday afternoon and proved to be totally resistant to temptation.

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I was so busy yakking with this gentleman, whose name I've never learned and whose first language clearly isn't English, that I left my wallet in his cab. I realized there was a problem about two minutes after the ride ended, when I reached into my pocket for my ID and there was no wallet there. I'd paid absolutely no attention to the driver's name or the cab's number or the cab company's name. I've felt stupid plenty of times in my career -- it comes with the territory -- but this is about the stupidest I've ever felt on the job. Here I am, more than 200 miles from home, with no money and no ID and no one to blame for my problems except myself.

So I called my wife, who luckily was home, and she quickly canceled the three credit cards that I'd had with me. (After my wallet was stolen five years ago, I began to minimize the number of credit cards that I carry around with me.) I borrowed $20 from the person I was meeting -- now, there's a way to make a great first impression -- finished my work, and walked to Union Station for the train north, cursing my own stupidity with every step.

As I sat in the station feeling sorry for myself and stuffing my face with junk food bought with the money I'd borrowed, my cell phone rang. My wife was calling, with an amazing story. She had just gotten a call from the Discover card people, who had arranged a three-way conversation with her and my taxi driver, who had called Discover on his cell to report finding my card.

He wanted to return it to me.

My wife gave me the driver's cell phone number. I called him. We struggled with our language differences but figured out that he'd meet me at the Union Station taxi drop-off line. He was the only driver in the line without a paying passenger. I was the guy with the biggest smile within five miles. He handed me my wallet, with my cash and credit cards and IDs intact. I made him a present of all the cash except for what I needed for a taxi ride home. He grinned. I grinned. We shook hands. I even made my train.

Had this man been strictly a capitalist along the lines of many I know, he'd have maximized his return by keeping all my money and subway cards, throwing out the wallet and possibly selling my credit card information. Instead, he did the right thing. I hope that I did, too.

And every time I curse the people on my trains gabbing on their cells endlessly at full volume, I'll remember that cell phones have their uses. Without them, I'd have to find something else upbeat to write about.

And I'd be muttering at how much trouble it was to get a replacement driver's license and a whole new set of ID cards.

Even worse, I'd have to write yet another jaundiced, skeptical column filled with numbers. I'd rather write one of these.

Sloan is Newsweek's Wall Street editor. His e-mail address is sloan@panix.com.

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