The next Bill Gates - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

The next Bill Gates

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I NEVER DID ask his name, although I could have seen it if I'd looked harder through the darkness at the plastic identity card he produced.

"Look, you see?" he said, still rummaging in a black bag beneath a discarded sweater between us in the front seats of the taxi. He drove one-handed along concrete-walled roadways that swayed and merged and separated. It all made sense on a map on Montreal but to a stranger the only sign of progress was that the low, flat-topped buildings of the airport area turned to cornstalks of high-rise blocks with international names in blue neon.

"There!" he said as his exploring hand finally liberated the sort of lapel clip without which modern city life is untenable. "École technique," he said, although he pronounced it with accents that don't exist on a North American keyboard. "I study there by day and I drive a taxi at weekends."

He is going to change the world, our taxi driver. He is in his 20s, I'd say, round-faced, not newly arrived from Mars in a space ship as he tediously insisted but from Lebanon. I wondered whether to tell him about a lovely gentle man, a retired schoolteacher called Arthur Marshall, who delighted a radio audience one night with how he had mistaken a news report about "Fighting in Lebanon" for "fighting in Debeham's", which is a genteel shop in London in which equally genteel ladies buy towels, pillow cases and embroidered tablecloths. I decided against.

My man is married to a Moroccan girl and they have "fabricated a baby". I don't think I understood the explanation of how they met. It was three in the morning for us and we were tired after many hours of travel and a scare that British Airways had lost our bikes.

"And what do you do?" he asked.

"Nothing. Not now."

"And what did you do?"

I said I used to be a journalist.

"Then you can answer a question for me," he said.

I groaned because the question people usually ask is why the local paper spelled their name wrong. But instead he said: "I am going to change the world", and he started rummaging again, this time to produce an envelope headed "Canadian Patent Office". "I've invented this software which will..." He explained in the way that a man explains being visited by angels, with a look of both astonishment and craziness.

"And how can I help, someone who used to work in radio?"

"By giving me your advice. You see, I don't trust taking out a patent. Your ideas get stolen, I reckon. I've invented this software which will..." He went off in a dreamy explanation which I didn't understand but the drift of which was that it would turn primitive computers and their internet connections into lion-sized operations and bring the modern world inexpensively to the African bush and Indian plain.

"What do you think?"

I said I was impressed. I always am I when I haven't understood a word and don't care to have it explained all over again.

"So what I was going to do was e-mail the head man in the biggest computer companies in the world and tell them what I've created and start a panic. They will all realise they absolutely have to have it, that they can't let it fall into the hands of the competition, and they will start a bidding war."

I said it sounded a striking proposition. I had chosen my words carefully. After all, Bill Gates had to start somewhere. I may be able to say one day: "Well, of course, I knew him back in the days when he drove a taxi. He, asked my advice, you know." I have never been slow to take undeserved credit.

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