(continued from front page) One such letter came from another Bensonhurst resident, whom Harold the Cabbie spotted leaning against a fence, sweating profusely and holding his chest. Harold pulled the cab curbside and when informed by the elderly gentleman that he might be having a heart attack, Harold helped the man into the back of his cab and rushed him to Victory Memorial.

He never intended to collect a fare and refused money when the gentleman offered. This was the type of man Harold the Cabbie was and it was incidents such as these that led to his appearance on Manhattan Cable Television and WPIX radio.

His wife, now deceased, fondly described her husband's fleeting fame as a low point in their 25 years of marriage:

"Harold carried an envelope full of 8x10 glossies and if someone so much as glanced at the cab, Harold was certain they recognized him and was sure to hand them a pre-autographed photo of himself. It was disgusting."

"A lot of people probably thought I was nuts," Harold says, smiling. "But I was just enjoying myself."

The fun ended some ten years ago, when Harold the Cabbie was forced to retire. Diabetes had been a part of his life for so long, the insulin needles were as natural as dressing in the morning and undressing for bed. He never knew what having diabetes meant until his eyes stopped cooperating with him. It was a difficult admission.

"I hit a kid on a bicycle," he told me. "I never even saw him."

Actually, he hit the back wheel of a bicycle. The kid was walking the bicycle across a street in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. He had a flat tire and was looking for a gas station when he entered the crosswalk. Harold the Cabbie was making a left turn and destroyed the back wheel of the bike. Harold didn't just replace the back wheel. He bought the kid a brand new ten speed. The incident, however, did age him. He realized he wasn't some 30 year old kid in a 70 year old body anymore. " It was time to park the car and lose the keys," he says, sadly.

Harold went from pushing a cab to pushing a snack-time cart in a senior citizen center. One afternoon he injured his foot. Diabetics never heal like the rest of us. He lost one toe, and then another and finally surrendered his right leg from the knee down, to a surgeon in Kingsbrook Medical Center.

"My gas pedal foot," Harold the Cabbie would say and then add with a sly grin, "Do you suppose I can get 50 percent off on my next pair of shoes?"

He went from the hospital to the rehab center where he would be assessed for a prosthetic leg. After four months, however, Harold the Cabbie was released because he wasn't progressing fast enough to receive a prosthesis. Of course, no one ever explained what the proper rate of progress is for a 79 year old man with an irregular heartbeat. Harold left Kingsbrook and because he could no longer take care of himself, he moved in with his son and daughter-in-law.

"I didn't want to go into a nursing home," Harold explained. "I didn't want to be that old."

His son and daughter-in-law endured six months of feeding, diapering, clothing and draining the bag with the tube running into his bladder, three times a day. Harold the Cabbie was confined to a wheelchair which he drove with reckless abandon. He was a burden and after four months, his self-esteem was so far gone he had begun to suggest a nursing home.

"A man shouldn't live so long that he has to go back to diapers."

At 80 years old, Harold entered a nursing home. His roommate turned out to be an old public school chum. His son and daughter-in-law were referred to a Medicaid office and a caseworker was assigned.

Before being approved by Medicaid, Harold the Cabbie had three different caseworkers. Each one asked for documents going back some 36 months. They wanted a complete background investigation on this man who drove a cab all of his life -- and wanted the family to do the investigating.

I find this hard to fathom. In this day and age of computer technology and shared information, how is it a government employed investigator with a government employed salary and fully government employed medical benefits can sit around sipping coffee while demanding family members of elderly patients run around and do all the leg work before an elder person can qualify for any type of assistance.

This is a nightmarish process that can take a long time to achieve. In the months it took to assure Medicaid that Harold the Cabbie was not hiding any of the millions of dollars one makes from driving a cab, the nursing home called in a doctor who scribbled Dementia across a piece of paper and had Harold the Cabbie dumped in a mental institution. Three months later Medicaid approved and another nursing home -- hungry for the $4,000 a month they would require for Harold -- bailed him out.

"Pot holes," Harold told me. "Just a couple of bumps in the road."

It isn't the bumps that scare me. It's Harold the Cabbie. I'm stuck in the back seat of his cab and I can hear the meter ticking off the minutes one second at a time. I see him staring at me from the rear-view mirror.

"Remember," he says and this time he isn't grinning anymore. "Someday, this seat will be yours."

Jon Simonds