The last time Thomas Murphy tried to retire, his love for driving deterred him. But not now.
The 78-year-old man is finally going to park his maroon Chevrolet Impala - for good.``Every time I tell somebody I'm going to retire in September, they say, 'Oh, I've heard that before. I'll believe it when I see it.' Even my wife says it,' remarked Murphy, who has been a taxi driver and delivery man in Eden for 45 years.
Owner of Eastside Cab and Delivery Co. located at 105 Fieldcrest Road, Murphy figures he has logged more miles on the road than any other driver in Eden.
``In this business, if you don't work hard, you don't make much of anything,' he said fidgeting with the cap on his head.
Well, ``hardworking' is Murphy's middle name, according to some of his regular fares.
``He's the most dependable man I know. He got me to work on time for 25 years, and for 24 of those years I didn't miss a day,' said Johnnie Barber of Eden.
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Barber solicited Murphy's services for 43 years, including all of the time Barber was employed as a technician at Fieldcrest Cannon Mills.
Now that Murphy is pulling over to the curb permanently, Barber, 66, has bought a car and is learning to drive.
``I decided to strike out on my own,' explained Barber, who retired last year.
Who else knows more about Murphy's reliability and punctuality than his other half?
``I don't drive, and I have to make an appointment with him,' said his wife, Gladys Murphy, smiling.
The couple met for the first time in Murphy's taxi 31 years ago. They married in April 1967 and have three children.
A former Fieldcrest Cannon employee, Murphy operated Moonlight's, a cab company named in honor of his nickname, for 35 years before he decided he'd had enough of hitting the streets at the crack of dawn. So in 1980, he sold the business and tried to retire.
A few restless days later, Murphy became a taxi driver with Red Top Cab, a new service that had just opened on Meadow Greens Road. When the company started to go bankrupt, Murphy reopened his business, renaming it Eastside Cab and Delivery.
``It's funny, in cabbing there isn't much to buy to start up - except a car. And when it runs out, you just get another,' said Murphy.
It's easy to see Eastside is no ordinary cab service. Inside the small white building on Fieldrest Road are a stove and several beds.
``A lot goes on at that stand. If people don't have a place to stay, they just go by there. They know they're welcome,' said Gladys Murphy.
The cab service opens around 6 a.m. and closes late in the evening. But Thomas Murphy sometimes lets wayward people stay all night. Overnight guests have included newlywed men who run into domestic troubles or people down on their luck who just need a place to rest for a few days.
``I remember one elderly man, his son moved him out west but he didn't like it. So he came back here on the bus. He got him a recliner and stayed at the stand for two days until he found a place,' said Thomas Murphy.
His taxi company also serves as a community ``hot line.'
``If people want to know something, they'll call us before they call the police. If an ambulance goes by or a wreck occurs, you can bet that phone's going to ring with the caller asking what happened,' he said.
The majority of Murphy's customers are teenagers and older adults, ``people I've been hauling for years to work, the doctor's office, the grocery store and to school.'
He has had as many as four or five carloads of school children in one day waiting for his Chevy to take them home.
``On a busy day I might send another cab to pick some up. But it's funny because some of those children won't ride with nobody but me,' Murphy said, chuckling.
Elderly women read off their grocery lists to Murphy over the telephone, then wait for him to deliver their goods, according to Gladys Murphy.
``He goes weeks before he sees a new face. People in Eden really depend on him, and they look out for him,' she said.
Several years ago, Murphy had an operation on his foot that left him walking with a cane. For a while after the operation, he wore shoes with a small piece cut out near the toes. Several young passengers offered to buy him a new pair of shoes.
``They didn't understand he had cut them out himself. They just figured those were all he had. One girl told her mother, 'He needs some so bad,' ' Gladys Murphy recalled.
When Thomas Murphy became a taxi driver 45 years ago, local cab fare was only 25 cents. Today, a round trip downtown is $2.
Eugene Dickerson of Eden will keep Eastside Cab Co. going when Murphy retires in September. Dickerson has worked as driver with the company for four years.
During his many years of driving, Murphy, fortunately, has never run into trouble with robbers. However, he has ``gotten snowed' out of his fare on occasion.
``I had one guy tell me, 'Wait right here, I need to go inside this restaurant where I work to get your money.' When he didn't come right back, I looked carefully and saw that the restaurant was closed.' Murphy never saw the man again.
It's easy for a taxi driver to become cynical, but surprises have forced the Rockingham County man to keep an open mind when it comes to his riders.
One example is a woman passenger who paid him 17 years after she used his services.
``She had a daughter who was mentally retarded, and she needed to get her to the doctor in Chapel Hill. I took her even though she said she didn't have the money. She said she would pay me later. I wasn't expecting it when she came back and handed me the money after all those years.
``I must say, the people you meet in this business are remarkable. That's why I've enjoyed it for so long,' he said.