U.S. Grant and Crushing Debt

A story from a friend of mine from his law school days – just another reminder that your financial condition today neither defines you or your future.

December 1991, I came out of New York Law School at 11:30 pm after a five hour Constitutional Law final. Cold, windy, raw, the World Trade Tower looming a few blocks away- I thought it ugly then, miss it now – the Commerce Clause ricocheting around my head like shrapnel in a tank (to the same effect), I did not have it in me to hike over to City Hall and the Lexington Avenue Express to Grand Central. Alone on the corner of Church and Worth, I flagged down a cab, jumped in, skipped eye contact with the driver, an average looking black guy who gave me a surprising, pleasant ‘Hello, where to?’

I responded with a mumbled, “Grand Central, don’t take Park”, nestled into the corner, eschewed the seatbelt, pulled my bag tight to my side, closed one eye, kept the other half opened to insure he did indeed stay away from Park. Took a bump on Sixth that forced me to open both eyes, I scanned the glass divider, taped to it behind the driver was this picture of Grant.

grantI looked at it, stared at it, held my curiosity for half a block before asking, “Why do you have a picture of Ulysses S. Grant on the glass.”

“Ah, you know him,” he sounded surprised – which, if you dwell on it, is perhaps a bit disturbing.

“Of course,” I answered, but not in that tone reserved for cab drivers who insist on engaging in conversation at exactly the moment you are in no mood to talk to anyone, never mind the stranger driving you the long way to your destination, “so why his picture?”

“I just turned forty,” he announced, and I knew at once where this was going, sat up, “and I’m driving a cab, trying to finish school, kinda’ the loser’s track, you know? So, I put that photo there to remind me that when Grant was forty he was bankrupt, lived with his wife and kids in his father-in-law’s house, worked as a clerk in a feed store . . . . talk about losers. . . eight years later he was President of the United States . . . . that’s it, man, nothing’s ever over.”

Just saying …

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