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After a ride went viral, a London cabbie offers some life lessons for the road

Michael Son sits behind the wheel in his London cab, a job he's had since 1965.
Dan Barker
Michael Son sits behind the wheel in his London cab, a job he's had since 1965.

After almost six decades on the road in one of London's famous black cabs, this driver provides some priceless life lessons.

Who is he? Michael Son, 80, lives in Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex, England, and has driven one of London's ubiquitous black cabs since 1965.

  • His encounter with passenger Dan Barker recently led to minor internet virality. The attention from this ride led the public to discover just some of the remarkable things Son has experienced in his years on the road.
  • In Barker's memory, Son said it was his last-ever ride as a cab driver and it was tradition that drivers give their first and last ride for free, so he wasn't going to be charged.
  • In Son's recollection, he had made a wrong turn and offered to give the ride for free. Barker said he was touched, regardless. Before getting out, he grabbed a photo of Son and shared his experience on X, formerly known as Twitter.
  • Son has mostly retired, for the record, and did say it's a 300-some-year-old tradition for cab drivers to give their first ever ride for free, at least.

What's the big deal?

  • Barker's post received more than 3.4 million views, according to X. Though their versions of the interaction differ, both men were wholly unbothered by it and marveled at how a simple, nice interaction took off.
  • What's even more odd, though, is that when Barker posted this, a person responded and suggested that he donate to a cab charity. When Barker clicked on one called the London Taxi Drivers' Charity for Children, Son was in one of the photos on the website, standing next to the U.K.'s Queen Camilla.
  • "It's such an odd coincidence to get into somebody's cab in the first place, when they tell you that this is probably going to be their last-ever ride, let alone to then suddenly Google a charity and have them appear on your computer screen," Barker told NPR.
  • Son has been involved in the London Taxi Drivers' Charity for Children since the 1980s. The group brings special-needs and disadvantaged children to events like circuses and parades, and raises money to buy medical equipment. Son has served as the group's honorary chairman and as a member of the board.
Queen Camilla steps out of a London taxi as she arrives to visit Barnardo's Nursery in November, 2022.
Arthur Edwards / POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Queen Camilla steps out of a London taxi as she arrives to visit Barnardo's Nursery in November, 2022.

  • The work with his charity has led Son to rub shoulders with the British royal family on several occasions. Queen Camilla is one of the organization's patrons. For his decades of work with the charity, Son received theBritish Empire Medalin 2019.
  • Becoming a London cabbie is no small feat. To be certified, Son had to pass a test called "the Knowledge,"referring to a driver's familiarity with London's streets and buildings. When he started training to be a cab driver, London was much smaller. Even back then it was incredibly difficult and took months, Son told NPR. "Now it's just grown exponentially and to try and learn it must be awful," he said.


Here's what Son told NPR about his years on the road:

1. Driving a London cab is a gift.

2. He's gathered some life lessons.

3. He's got more than a few strange stories.

You never know who you will meet in a London cab.
Justin Tallis / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
You never know who you will meet in a London cab.

So what now?

  • Son said he will continue working with his charity even as his cab driving career nears an end.


Learn more:

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz