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Going off-duty 

Taxi Driver

Driving west from Barnes and Peterson roads, or north on Milton Proby Parkway from the airport, the view of the southern Front Range at dawn is spectacular. The changing colors as the sun rises, from pink and orange to a bluish haze over the broken brown rock faces, never fail to stun and impress me.

What a privilege to live here, I think, and have that to look at every day. No matter how unwilling or disheartened I've been about the long hours ahead in the taxi, the scenery has always brought me out of it.

But now I have to move on and leave Colorado Springs. Whether or not I return is a question I can't even begin to answer, so much is happening at once. For now, I'm trying to just focus on the road after heading east on Highway 24 out of Falcon, for Chicago.

After a day and a half of driving I've come as far as Pittsfield, Illinois, where I've been resting for the night. Five miles off the interstate, in a region known for its abundance of red maples, they say that Pittsfield was a frequent stop for Abraham Lincoln as a young attorney out of Springfield, the Illinois state capital, which is about an hour northeast.

Apparently, he'd give the wagon horse one giddy-up in Springfield and the horse would do the rest, knowing the way, one plodding hoof after another, so Lincoln could read the entire trip. Riding with his back to the horse, his legs stretched out in the wagon bed, he'd arrive at a Pittsfield rooming house eight hours later.

Taxi riders today are often much the same, their thoughts distant and faces aglow with illuminated smartphones.

But briefly: What are my parting thoughts on Colorado Springs from a Pittsfield motel room, of having driven a taxi there? They're sure not about the scenery. They're random, haphazard things like:

• Look at any gathering of three or four younger people, age 30 and under, standing around talking in a parking lot or outside a Springs nightclub, slightly tense, feigning casualness, with sly glances over their shoulders at nothing in particular, and chances are they're talking about drugs. The safe possession, use, and sale of expensive addictive substances in Colorado Springs is without question their first order of business. Users and traffickers are everywhere, 24/7, and there's almost no point in trying to stop or control them. Forget about it.

• Colorado Springs, like many sizable communities, is arrayed with competing convenience stores. Cab drivers stop at them sometimes twice or three times a day for gas and other sundry items. By my estimate and judgment, 90 percent of the packaged food sold in these stores should not be consumed by humans or animals.

But perhaps you could have guessed these things yourself. So I think back to specific passengers, and what they taught me.

• From an Army investigator, I learned that some young troopers on Fort Carson allegedly are putting cellphones in their underwear at night to vibrate and wake them, so they can trick sleep lab attendants into thinking they suffer from insomnia and therefore qualify for PTSD benefits.

• From a former, long-term Colorado prison inmate I was informed that most guys on Death Row in U.S. prisons are Christians. Atheists, he insisted, with a few exceptions, simply don't perform the violent acts, such as first-degree murder, necessary for conviction of a capital crime.

• From the distressed woman returning to Moscow, for instance, after a disastrous four months of abuse from an Internet-acquired Colorado man she thought marriageable, I learned that Russia, because of its immense size, has 11 time zones.

• And finally, someone told me that the southern Front Range that I enjoy so much represents the westernmost border of the Louisiana Purchase. That is, the land I've been driving a taxi on for the last year or so was acquired from Napoleon Bonaparte for $15 million by Thomas Jefferson in 1803.

Turns out those last two claims are verifiably true.

I've got about 20 minutes to vacate the room and move on. I'm not sure when I'll get to see the Front Range at dawn again. But within a matter of hours, I'll get to see my mother for the first time in two years.

And after many hours on the road, it feels good to be coming home.

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