A lot of people have left things in Raymond “Buzzy” MacCausland’s cab over his 50 years of driving in and around Boston — keys, wallets, cellphones. A guy once left a briefcase with $10,000.
MacCausland gave it all back.
So when a homeless man abandoned his backpack on the back seat early Saturday afternoon, MacCausland, 72, headed over to the hotel where the man had said he was staying. At the front desk, he unzipped the bag in search of the owner’s name. Instead, spilling out of the top were three thick stacks of cash — the tip of a $187,786.75 iceberg.
“I said, ‘Is it drug money? Is it stolen money? Is it Whitey Bulger money?’” MacCausland said. “I made a U-turn and went right to the police station.” There, a sergeant turned over the bag. Onto the table spilled tattered clothes and papers, a few prescription bottles — and pile after pile of $20, $50, and $100 bills.
Within hours, police found the owner at the hotel — a homeless man who had cashed a sizable inheritance check and tucked it away in his backpack. Police reviewed documents that proved the man’s story — his sudden wealth was not ill-gotten — and just like that, MacCausland had given back almost two hundred grand.
“He didn’t look like he had 75 cents,” MacCausland marveled.
The 47-year-old heir, who asked that his name not be printed because he is embarrassed about the incident, described leaving the cab to run a quick errand and promising to return, but then losing track of time.
Recovering from drug addiction and living at the Pine Street Inn for the last six months, the man had learned just days earlier that his recently deceased parents had unexpectedly left him hundreds of thousands of dollars. No bank would cash the check, he said, so he went to a check-cashing store and stuffed the money into his backpack.
Outside, on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Tremont Street, he waved to the first cab he saw, a late-model Toyota Camry hybrid with MacCausland behind the wheel.
Not every cab driver would have picked up the fare — a tall, tattooed character with one leg in a cast in an area thick with homeless people.
But MacCausland said he always picks up homeless people, and remembered being invited to the wake of a man he often drove. He said he doesn’t pay much mind to the occasional fare jumper.
After a few blocks and a quick chat, the man asked the driver to pull over and wait a minute while he ran an errand. MacCausland said he waited several minutes for the man to come back, even turning away another fare, before finally driving off — only to discover the backpack.
But while MacCausland was driving around Back Bay with a small fortune in a tattered backpack, the man to whom the money belonged wasn’t worried.
“I knew he’d find me,” the man said. “I didn’t panic at all.”
He said he could tell from his brief talk with MacCausland that he was a good man — an “old soul” like himself.
MacCausland admitted that the thought of keeping the money had indeed crossed his mind. He grew up in Waltham and lived on the North Shore for a while, but now lives with his girlfriend in a place they can afford in New Hampshire. He takes the bus down to Boston to drive the cab on weekends, sleeping at a friend’s house and taking the bus back on Sunday morning. Otherwise, he makes do on Social Security checks.
“That money would have changed my life,” he said, joking that his girlfriend has been giving him a hard time about doing the right thing.
Larry Meister, president of Independent Taxi, said that passengers leave belongings — usually keys, cell phones, or the occasional wallet — in cabs two or three times a week. While the drivers are required by regulation to return lost items, Meister said he imagined it was “difficult” for MacCausland to hand back almost $200,000 in cash.
“But in the end, he made the right decision,” he said.
Good deeds aren’t done for monetary gain, but it’s worth noting that the sum total of MacCausland’s reward for his honesty was considerably less than the check cashing place made off with. He got a hundred dollar bill, which the heir peeled off one of the stacks on the police station table. And his boss is letting him drive the cab rent-free this weekend — he usually has to make $150 in fares just to break even.
He also has a commendation from Boston Police Commissioner William Evans coming, a spokeswoman said.
“This hackney driver exhibited exemplary behavior and his honest deed should be recognized,” Evans said in a statement. “His actions represent the high standards that our department has for our drivers.”
Standing outside his hotel on Tuesday, the heir said he was going to take a year to recover from many months of homelessness and decades of hard living. He checked into a hotel and was still getting used to not having to hide his meager things from overnight thieves.
After that, he wasn’t sure: He’d been trying to find an apartment, but his credit is disastrous. He says he has more inheritance money coming in the years ahead, but was unsure of the terms.
Eventually, he said, “I’m going to do what I always said I’m going to do: Die in Prague.”
Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.