The Braille Monitor                                                                                              February, 2004

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Tribute to a Cab Driver

by Terri Uttermohlen

This picture of Marc Baladi and his cab was taken by Terri Uttermohlen on a trip to West Virginia.   It seems to have been one of the very few pictures of Marc, and it was used by the Baltimore media after the accident.
This picture of Marc Baladi and his cab was taken by Terri Uttermohlen on a trip to West Virginia. It seems to have been one of very few pictures of Marc, and it was used by the Baltimore media after the accident.

From the Editor: On the national news of Tuesday evening, January 13, the news anchors described a frightful accident in Baltimore in which a tanker truck, loaded with petroleum, fell from an overpass onto Interstate 95, which passes very close to the National Center for the Blind. Many vehicles managed to evade the catastrophe, but the drivers of the three trucks and one car that were crushed had no time to avoid the spot where the wreckage came down. Amazingly, the driver of the one truck saw what was going to happen and ran far enough away to survive. The other drivers were not so lucky. They and the tanker driver were all killed, and the vehicles were so damaged that it was impossible to notify the next of kin for days because there was very little by which to identify them.

When I talked with people at the Center the following day, I asked if anyone we knew had been in the accident, assuring myself, even as I asked the question, that the likelihood was infinitesimal. But I was wrong. Lots of staff members at the Center use taxis, and one of the vehicles crushed by the tanker was a cab. Here is the tribute written by Terri Uttermohlen, wife of NFB Assistant Director of Governmental Affairs Jim McCarthy, about her friend and driver, Marc Baladi:

Baltimore lost its most reliable method of public transportation in a fiery crash on Tuesday afternoon, January 13.  That form of transportation was a Red Ball Cab driven by a sixty-three-year-old French-Turkish cab driver. Many Baltimore residents also lost a rich thread in the fabric of our lives.

Although at this writing Marc Baladihas not yet been officially declared a victim of that terrible accident caused by an unstable tanker descending onto I-95, I have known since Tuesday night that I have lost a friend.

Marc was referred to us about two years ago as a good cab driver. He was. In fact, his incredible reliability was the reason I knew he had been involved in the accident and later became aware of his death.Marccalled me from Columbia shortly before the accident to say he would be at our North Baltimore house in a half hour. I had asked him to come by so that I could run some quick errands.

I travel and telecommute for my job with Virginia Commonwealth University. My days are very busy. Because of this I am often late gathering things together for hurried errands. In the past, when my husband or I wasn't ready or was scurrying to pack before a trip, Marc waited patiently in his cab. On Tuesday I decided to surprise Marcby having everything in hand and sat on the porch waiting for him. Dry-cleaning resting expectantly on the ground near my feet, I listened to each car as it approached to see if it would stop in front of my house.

Marc didn't show. Eventually I became cold and went back into the house to call him. There was no answer to that call nor to the increasingly worried calls I placed to his cell phone over the next few hours.

Marc was one of the most reliable people I have ever known about being where he said he would be and about letting his friends and clients know if he might be late.  He was obsessive about calling to let us know where he was and would return calls in seconds if he missed us. When I heard about the crash hours later, I knew Marchad been involved. Otherwise he would have called. Later that evening I contacted the police.

"I think I know one of the victims of the crash. Was one of the vehicles a Red Ball cab?" I asked.

The officer on duty responded that the vehicles involved were beyond easy recognition. At that moment I knew our friend and driver was dead. Since then the police have found his license plate, and they have determined that the car was a cab. Eventually they will be able to establish definitively what with great sadness I realized Tuesday.

In addition to being one of the most reliable cab drivers I have ever met, Marc was also one of my first friends in Baltimore. I met him on a cold December day in 2001. Reeling from the suddenness of our move east because of a wonderful job opportunity for my husband as assistant director of governmental affairs for the National Federation of the Blind, I was feeling very lonely.  While my husband settled into his new professional life, I was looking for a job and a place for us to live. I entered Marc's cab to run errands and began to talk to Marc, but had trouble hearing his softly accented English. I moved to the front of the cab and began a friendly, interesting conversation that lasted, on and off, until his death Tuesday.

Marc was a character. He was patriotic and fiercely proud of the U.S., his adopted country. Though he was originally from France, he grew up in Egypt and moved to Baltimore as a young adult in the early 1960's.  His taste in food and language, however, was wonderfully French. Passionate about food, he would drive for hours for a particular culinary delight. Generous, he would bring those delicacies back to share with his friends and customers. Intelligent and an avid Republican, he would discuss current and past events. He graduated from Swarthmore College; had a master's in education; and demonstrated a tremendous memory for names, places, and events. He read three newspapers daily and was happiest driving when he could engage his passenger in lively intellectual conversation. He would go out of his way for a friend or client, worrying about us like family.  The line between client and friend, slim to begin with, often blurred to friendship in time. He was passionately loyal and preferred to think well of people. Horns in traffic usually elicited a wave and a “Hi” from Marc—even if the honker's intent seemed angry to other listeners.

Knowing Marc enriched my life. He knew Baltimore extremely well and loved D.C. with intensity. He followed a steady pattern. He dined on Sundays in Wheaton, and on Mondays he picnicked on delicacies from his favorite Italian deli. On Tuesdays he went food shopping and to Borders for coffee and people-watching. On Fridays he would maintain his cab with fastidiousness, making sure that all of the necessary fluids, pads, and other parts were up-to-date and clean.  On Saturday mornings he stopped in his favorite French bakery for his weekly indulgence of wonderful brioches and coffee. Then he spent time delivering pastries from that same shop to his friends.

He belonged to several public radio stations, cultural organizations, and museums, attending the social events and fundraisers with enthusiasm. Each September he would take a couple of days off from his hard, long hours in the cab to vacation in the hills of West Virginia. That's where he was, in fact, on September 11, 2001, and when Hurricane Isabelle came to visit last fall.

I will miss Marc as a friend and as a resource. He was a valuable part of the fabric of my daily life and of the lives of many of my friends. Like me, many of his other clients were blind professionals who would share his name with others like the name of a fabulous wine.

Marc was a hard-working, reliable cab driver who gave a damn. The death of this vital, caring, unusual man was a shocking reminder of the fragility of life. It was also a compelling reminder to let others in the fabric of our daily lives know their value before they are tragically torn from us.

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