Meet Howard Hansen, Former Cabbie, Vet and Jack of All Trades at Carillon Assisted Living of Hillsborough
While old movie fans are familiar with the phrase, “Follow that car!”, Howard Hansen heard it in real life.
It happened during the 1970s, when he drove a taxi cab in New York City. One day a mysterious gentleman hopped in and barked that command. For the next three and a half hours, Hansen raced through Manhattan, crossed the Queensboro Bridge into Queens, and then headed back into Manhattan.
“At one point the party he was following got out and went inside a home and came back out,” Hansen recalls. “We took off again. I had to cross through yellow lights and there were extra 10s and 20s coming across the seat.”
Finally, when the party his mystery fare was pursuing stopped and went into a house, Hansen’s passenger thanked him, paid the fare and added a tip. Then he vanished without explaining his actions.
“I was expecting to see someone with cameras around,” says Hansen, who moved into Carillon’s Hillsborough facility in July of 2015. “It was a ‘for real’ thing. You should have seen the reaction when I came into the office. They wanted to know why there weren’t any entries in my log for all that time.”
New York cabbie is only one of a series of jobs the Army veteran held over the years before retiring in 2012 at the age of 70. Among his many occupations were a machinist at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, working at a flower shop prior to his cab career, tending to deceased animals at a pet cemetery, and overseeing a gated community of million-dollar homes as a security guard.
His first job was in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Hansen enlisted fresh out of high school after his father—a World War I officer in the Danish army before emigrating to the United States—advised it would help him to “stand up straight.”
After learning to operate electronic equipment in basic training, Hansen reported in Arizona for advanced training. In the desert he tested and evaluated a prototype that modulated communication signals and transmitted them via an antenna to other units.
He excelled, leading to his next assignment in Hawaii—training soldiers in jungle warfare and survival techniques. Five times over two months a lieutenant colonel stopped by to encourage him to re-enlist and go to sniper school. Instead, he chose Europe, where he served in three cities in France.
While that assignment kept him out of action in the Vietnam War, it almost cost him his life. One night some buddies tried to get him to go out nightclubbing, but he begged off, saying he wasn’t feeling well. Later that night, all five occupants in the driver’s car died in a fatal accident.
“They were going about 120 miles around a curve and he ended up sliding into a huge train,” Hansen says. “The car completely disintegrated. A farmer who owned the plot adjacent to the road called the police and told them, ‘I think a plane just came down in my field.’ I’ve got a strong guardian angel.”
After his discharge from the U.S. Army Signal Corps, Hansen moved back to Massachusetts operating equipment for various machine shops, until he landed a job as a machinist at Pratt & Whitney’s East Hartford, Connecticut plant. Three years later a layoff came, which precipitated his move to New York.
When the city changed its mode of taxi operations to leased cabs, he quit because increasing costs kept cutting into his income. Hanson then decided to follow his then girlfriend, a veterinarian, across the county to Fullerton, California. At first he worked as a gardener and later found work with a company that manufactured helicopter shafts.
One of his most interesting jobs came after he moved to the Los Angeles area. The pet cemetery where he spent nearly 10 years had 20,000 animals in its plots, including “Pete the Pup,” the dog in the Little Rascal comedies that had a circle around one eye.
“Near the end of my employment at the pet cemetery my boss asked me what all those cards were on my desk,” Hansen says. “I had a stack three or four inches high. I said, ‘They’re from people thanking me for taking care of their pets.’”
Howard ended his diverse and successful career with 19 years as a security guard, and can take credit for being part of a successful unionization drive that led to the security force earning an extra $3.50 an hour.
“I’ve been told I had more jobs and did more than Forrest Gump,” says Hansen, who enjoys the ongoing activities at Carillon Assisted Living in Hillsborough. “I just have a ‘Well, let’s try this!’ attitude.”
It is easy to see why Howard Hansen had such an interesting, eventful and full life!
Posted in Assisted Living, Resident and Community Life, Resident Stories, Sage Stories Tagged cabbie, Carillon, hawaii, Hillsborough, life stories, New York, North Carolina, Queens, resident life, stories, US Army, veteran on November 17, 2016