I get a call at our own garage, which is almost always from another cab driver. Imagine my shock at finding a Buddhist monk, albeit an American, in saffron and scarlet robes. He has just returned from India and runs a Buddhist center here.

We talk about how it may be impossible for most Americans to really accept Buddhism, having been raised in a culture that is so centered on the self, while not defining that as a necessarily bad thing. It just makes it very hard to see yourself as a transient being.

He says he once felt the same way, and discusses his own transformation. He lost his spouse, his dog and his job, all in a very short period of time. "That was a serious lesson in transience," he says. "So I left the country." He traveled, he studied, he found peace.

"Has it been hard to integrate back into American life after all that?"

"In some ways it has." Running the Buddhist center here helps him tremendously.

I ask if he has another job, and he says he's an oral historian. Oh man, I want that job. I'm a far better storyteller in person.

I finally get him home, which is an extraordinary place, up in the hills, with the grounds cultivated in just the right way to make them lovely and overgrown but not impossibly wild. Prayer flags hang overhead; wind chimes softly ring. The smile he gives me is worth more than the fare. Jesus and Mohammed probably had smiles like that.