Photograph by Thomas Simonson
Just found this in my “files” and still like the message/memory. Originally written 11/2/09 coming back from a work trip in DC.
I had the best cab driver today. I walked out of the Washington Court Hotel in Washington DC and there were two cabs on the curb. The first cab pulled forward and the trunk popped open. The cab driver didn’t emerge, so I figured he wanted me to put my own bags in the trunk. When I opened the trunk there were plastic bags full of papers and stuffed animals. Finally the cab driver did appear. He was an old man, probably in his seventies, with a brown, patterned sweater and blue baseball hat on. He had a scraggly mustache and kind, weathered eyes.
I hesitated with my bags for a second, not wanting to accidentally deprive an old man of his honorable work.
He looked at me and asked, “Are they heavy?”
I took the cue and returned, “Can I just set my bags on top of your stuff?”
And he responded, “Oh yes, they won’t hurt a thing.”
So I laid my suitcase and messenger bag on top of his full, plastic grocery bags, crushing the papers and stuffed animals.
I was in the cab before him and buckled my seatbelt. Not to be an agist, but based on his agility outside the cab, I prepared myself for a narrow escape from Capitol Hill inside the cab. I soon discovered I had nothing to fear.
He drove so slow that at first, I checked our blind-spot thinking that he must be waiting to merge…no cars in sight. Not once did he go above 20 mph. Even though the airport was just a few miles away, I was actually concerned that I might miss my flight.
I soon let my worries go as our conversation developed.
“Traffic very bad today.” he said.
I replied, “Oh, is that because of the Cherry Blossom Festival?”
“I don’t know,” he says, “I don’t understand why all these peoples come to see the cherry blossom. You know where these trees come from?”
I shrug as he looks in his rearview mirror.
“Oh! You should know this!” he teases, “They come from Japan and you know, dropped the bombs on Pearl Harbor?”
“Right,” I said not needing a history lesson on that particular subject.
“Many people were killed. And then America dropped a bomb on Hiroshima and many people were killed. So Japan gave the cherry blossom to America as an act of friendship.”
Turns out this guy wasn’t totally correct, but still, he knew more than me about this subject.
“Oh yes. But you know? The blossoms come and go in a matter of days so we don’t even get to enjoy them. They have no fragrance. They have no fruit. I don’t even know if the insects come to drinks the juice from the flowers.” He laughs.
“The only thing the Cherry Blossom does is make someones some money.” He segues.
“All these peoples come from everywhere,” pointing to the squadrons of pedestrians he slowly cuts off in the crosswalk on their green walk signal, “just to see these powerful men practicing their politricks.” He laughs again.
“That’s right, not politics, POLITRICKS.”
To assure him I understood, I chimed in, “Oh, I hear you.” with a chuckle of my own.
Just then, a girl tries to flag down our cab as we creep by. I didn’t blame her for thinking the cab was empty because we were going so slow she probably thought we’d stop.
“You know, I nevers stop for people who raise their left hand. In MY country we never shake someone’s left hand or take moneys from peoples left hand—none of that. You know why?”
I’m pretty sure I do but just shrug.
“Well…okay, I just have to say it. It’s because peoples clean their ass with their left hand!” He laughs.
I reply, “I was going to say that but didn’t want to be offensive.” This time we both laugh.
“You’re a gentlemen and a scholar!” he replies. More laughter.
We drive by the Jefferson Memorial and look down on the crowds of people by the water enjoying the cherry blossoms.
“I don’t understand why all these peoples come all this way just to see that tree!” reiterating his point and laughing, “Somebody’s foolin’ somebodys.”
I had to ask, “So what’s your favorite tree?” I was curious to see what he would say and he didn’t disappoint.
“I would have to say a woman because you know a woman is the tree of life.” He continues, “You know where there are good trees? Africa! There are huge forests with trees that are strong that produce many things. They shelter you and feed you and they are beautiful!”
I wondered if he was still actually talking about women.
“What part of Africa are you from?” I ask.
“West Africa…Togo. It is very beautiful.”
A pause and then out of nowhere, “See, America has no culture! It takes 500 years to develop a culture so America is just beginning. And these men with their politricks go to other countries and impose our beliefs about society on them when those cultures have been developing for thousands of years.”
“If little Bush doesn’t get paid we go to war! Thousands of young peoples go off to die for what? So somebodys can get paid. And we impose this underdeveloped culture over in Iraq.”
He then gave me his shortened version of the hypocracies that exist in Arab countries.
“You know when Arab women go to the store and they go to pay a man and they can’t even look him in the eye because it’s considered eye rape!”
I take his word for it and we move on.
“How can America go into countries like this to defend democracy when we won’t even elect women in this country? And we are going all the way over there to defend America? I say get these young peoples here and defend America in America, not over there.”
He’s on a roll now.
“And then Bush won’t even support the medicine and science that saves lives. He just sends his peoples off to die and he doesn’t pay a thing. He doesn’t want women to have abortions; he wants these babies to get older so he can have them killed somewhere else.”
The statement is powerful and sends my mind unraveling all over. I find I cannot disagree.
I think he senses me unraveling and with a glance in his rearview mirror he says, “And so concludes my thesis,” then laughs.
And the timing is perfect because just then we pull up to the departure terminal.
I get out of the car, this time taking my time, and wait for him by the trunk. For some reason I also let him get the bags out, and as he sets down the last bag he says, “Now the cab ride is free,” and with a big smile and a very present gleam in his eye, “but since you insist on paying me, it will be $15.”
I gladly pay saying with a smile, “I’ll be sure to present your thesis to the west coast.”
We both laugh and say goodbye.