Kenneth Persad

Amidst the fear and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world, there is so much about the virus that scientists and medical professionals still do not know about.

With no known vaccine developed to date, and some COVID-19 patients testing positive after recovering, the very best elements of human nature come to the fore such as frontline workers, healthcare and medical workers, farmers, from bus drivers, supermarket workers to police officers, good news stories like 78-year-old red band maxi taxi driver Kenneth Persad who gives free rides to senior citizens are like a breath of fresh air among the face-masked doom and gloom coronavirus reporting.

He may not be like the Most Interesting Man in the World in the Dos Equis beer commercial, however, the Tunapuna native is a colourful character and his maxi taxi reflects his character.

A photograph of his beautiful mother Rita Persad, his father Ralph Sonny Persad, who died at 94 years, pictures of Persad at 40 and 19 in full regalia suit reveal that he was a longtime saga boy and a newspaper article of his favourite actor Paul Newman who people say resemble him adorn his maxi taxi.

Speaking to Guardian Media at City Gate Persad said “When I’m coming down the road and I see people at a bus stop and I have a few seats available, I’ll stop and ask them if they were waiting on a bus, to come in and I’ll give them a free ride; they don’t have to pay me any money.

“At their stop, they tell me thanks after I give them a drop, some give me a little blessing and tell me God bless you.

“I’ve been doing this before this coronavirus, and giving drops for my neighbours too, even before maxi taxis were introduced in Trinidad in 1978, when I took kids to school I was 26 years and had a minibus back then.

“I used to take children to school for ten and 15 cents from Arima to Hillview College and St Joseph College. I had four minibuses to take kids from their home to school and back for $10 a month.”

He showed Guardian Media a photograph of some of his charges from St Charles Kindergarden School in Tunapuna who were between the ages of three to five years.

Persad said he went back to the children’s homes, who were now middle-aged, and only found one, a Mrs Guiseppi was still living there, the others had either moved or migrated.

He said he sold his four minibuses when the maxi taxi service came into being in the late 70s and bought his first maxi taxi when he was 40 years old.

Persad said he got burned when he bought a maxi taxi for a friend who was a preacher, he put out $18,000 cash and mortgaged his house, purchased under his friend’s name, he found out he was conned within three months, but he will leave all robbers to God to take care of them.

He said after that incident, he bought a maxi taxi for his brother and son, when they reached the age of 22 years to be eligible to be maxi taxi drivers.

Persad said he ended up with the best maxi taxi in Trinidad, a Hino model HAH 6798 and he also gave out almanacs.

He said he was a Boy Scout since he was 13 years with the Third Tunapuna Scout Troop, he became a Queen Scout at 15, attaining the Queen’s Scout Award, which is the highest youth award achievable in the scouting movement in the Commonwealth and he fashioned his own personalised woggle out of cow bone.

Persad said he could swim half a mile at 13 years and could swim from Tyrico to Maracas Bay and back.

Among his exploits, he saved three children from drowning, rescued a child from a car going downhill and broke up a fight between two men with one armed with a pitchfork and at 15, he was awarded four Joe D’Arcy Awards, the highest award for gallantry granted for special heroism or extraordinary action involving risk of life.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and public transport mandate that vehicles operate at 50 per cent capacity in a bid to slow down the spread of the virus, Persad said that it was very difficult for him as well as other maxi taxi drivers.

He said sometimes he waited for four hours to get the maximum limit passengers he was allowed to carry and made at least two trips, also line up for fuel at the gas station and after that, he would only have time to go home.

Despite the hardships, however, Persad said he loved the maxi taxi driver life and helping the needy.