#1 – Cabbie Diaries

My goal with these essays is to write a 1000 word essay on topics near and dear to my heart. The goal is to publish an essay every two weeks. So I can get to at least 25  essays this year, that can be knotted together into a collection of essays I can call “mine”.

#1 – Cabbie Diaries

My first cab ride was a decade ago. Little did I know then that I will one day end up writing an essay inspired by my conversations with the many cab drivers that I have met in the last decade.

I was using cabs almost every week for the first few years of my career. I was a technology consultant who hopped on a plane every Monday and came back home on Friday. I did not have a car back then. I did not even have a driving license, and hence I used to depend on cabs to take me from place to place. I preferred to keep the same cab drivers while I was in the city for a long project. Some times it worked out and some times it didn’t.

I remember a lot of my cabbie friends. They were from all over the world. Armenians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Russians, some times even Indians and only once, an American. I have had cabbies that told me that I remind them of their Indian girl friend, their mother, and even their grand mother. There was one who burnt a CD of a song that I really loved in his car and dropped it at my client’s office without a name or number. Laptops had inbuilt CD players back then.

I have had cabbies explain to me the meaning of death and how to reconcile with it. I have also had cabbies tell me that that they came to the US to follow their dream and it landed them in this cab, driving me to the airport.

  I once met a cabbie who was a Math major from Russia. Such a sharp guy. And once I met someone who was an illustrator for children’s books. My primary cabbie in Denver was an elderly man with two wives and four sons. He always complained about his sons and even asked me to speak to them, so they could find a purpose in life and start to make a living for themselves. I never spoke to them. I told him to start charging them rent instead. It helped.

I am a natural when it comes to striking conversations with strangers. And most of the cabbies I have met have been really easy to chat with. They are reflective, contemplative and they open up rather easily. A common theme that unites me and my cabbies is that they are also usually immigrants. We immigrants, we always have such rich stories.

I just remembered, I once had a cabbie in LA who saw me struggling while trying to untangle my necklace, from his rear view mirror, and when we reached the office, he offered to untangle it for me, with patience, sparing good ten minutes of his very busy morning.

Although in reality I am a very chatty person, to my cabbies I always prefer to be the listener. I feel a sense of obligation to hear them out. As if I was the chosen one to listen to their struggles and their journeys from far away lands. They needed someone who would listen without judging them. I played my part. Sometimes I even saw them wipe their tears as they shared their stories. And sometimes I wiped my own.

Our relationship is so transactional, and yet so intimate. We meet and part, with no expectations of ever meeting again.

The cabbie we hired in San Diego, when my parents were visiting me, was another special character. The conversation started when we found Swami Vivekananda’s books in his front seat and the boot of his car. He was an avid reader, and an ex professor from a small town in Arizona. He came to California for his kids’ education, and loved it so much that he decided to never go back. That’s when he started driving cabs to make money. His family shrunk their expenses, and lived in San Diego on his meagre income. His kids went on to get their education from Princeton and MIT on 100% aide. He still drives the cab, because of his love for people.

The cabbie who drove me from to Jessica’s funeral was another one that I can never forget. I was leaving Tara at home for the first time ever since she was born. I was worried about her since I was putting her to sleep way before her normal bed time. I was struggling to balance the two personas within me – the mother and the friend. I wanted to meet Jess’s parents and tell them what a wonderful daughter they had raised, and how much she was loved by everyone. They deserved to know much she loved her parents and how apparent it was in her conversations that she was raised in a wonderful family.

Of course Tara slept early without any issues. But the cabbie was able to tap in to my nervousness. Little did he know where I was going, when he said, “Probably as a mother one has to learn to smile when you grieve, for the child can catch every sliver of emotion and can internalize it without understanding the context.” The entire journey he told me about his mother’s strength of character, her sense of duty and her righteousness. And as we approached the city, he shared that he had lost her to cancer, little over a month ago. He was grieving too. We shared our grief together for the rest of the journey, in silence, and prayer.

Recently there was the cabbie who dropped me at SJC, who told me to go follow my dream. It was after he shared how he went on to become a rock band lyricist after running a construction business for twenty years. I was going to Vegas for a work related conference. His parting words crushed me. I was speechless and found it hard to recover from his innocent blow. My dream does not require me to travel to Las Vegas. But my work does. And the work I do, is not my dream. It will never be. The light pat on my shoulder, that might as well have been of my own father still shakes me up. Reminding me in subtle ways that my life is drifting in a direction I set the sails for, and yet, the mind is not certain of its willingness to follow the wind. I might as well have written an anthology of my cabbie experiences and published them. But here I am, following my dream, in some way. 

I feel so fortunate to have met so many amazing people, and have carried a part of them with me wherever I go. Be it the Gurbani in a desi cabbie’s car in LA that is still in my music library, or the image of the Christ’s cross hanging in the car I went to Jess’s funeral in. Be it the trick the cabbie taught me on how to untangle my necklace, that I still use, or the whiff of Addis Ababa coffee that I recall, when I think of the Eritrean cabbie who I met in Vegas who told me that coffee is roasted in sand in some parts of Africa.

I carry these stories in my heart, the words of these cabbies reverberate in my mind and their kindness and wisdom continues to inspire me.

Cabbie Diaries will resume…there’s more travel to be done, many more memories to be made, and a lot more stories to be told.

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