Atta Ikede

February 8, 2009

Taxi Drivers

Filed under: Uncategorized — attaikede @ 11:50 am

1. The ex-pro soccer player

One time last year when I was playing soccer, I grabbed a cab so I could make the game in time.  The driver was an African guy probably in his 40s or so. He and I chatted a bit, and when I told him I was on my way to a soccer game, he smirked and after I asked him about it a bit, he told me he had been semi pro in England 20 years ago.  I asked him how he ended up here doing this, and he said he basically just wasted his money and his talent and now he drives a taxi.

2. The old American intellectual guy with the young Eastern European wife

I met this guy on the way to the airport so we had a long time to talk.  He was old – white hair, the works – but somehow through the course of the conversation I learned that he was on his 3rd wife, a young woman, and from her name I assumed she was Eastern European.  Somehow me and this guy got on the topic of literature and we started discussing Anna Karenina. We talked about that book for the entire 40 minute ride to the airport. What it means, why it’s sad, what it says about love, etc. It was a great conversation.. the best conversation I’ve ever had about a book.

3. The guy who told me the truth about Sudan

Another airport ride, this one taking me home from the Oakland airport. There had been a bunch of taxi drivers out chatting when I went to the taxi area at the airport. As I’d walked up to them, they’d been glancing at me and I felt like there was some “joke” going on. Later, the Sudanese guy told me the joke had been that after observing my Indian complexion, the taxi drivers had bet that I’d be asking to go to Fremont (a city in the east bay that is totally full of Indians), and they’d gone on to make jokes about Fremont. My announcement that I was going to San Francisco had surprised them, apparently.

Anyway, like I said, this guy was from Sudan. We ended up chatting about Sudan, darfur, etc., and he went on to tell me a long story about oil, China, North vs South Sudan, etc. At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate what he said and thought some of it was a little far fetched. A few months later, the Economist had a detailed briefing on Sudan that corroborated everything the taxi driver had told me. Amazing.

4. “What do you think I’m capable of”

I met this middle aged African taxi driver on my way home from SFO fairly recently. From his speech and some of the things he talked about, it was clear he was well educated or well read (or both). He was also noticeably egotistical.

He started talking about his son who was doing a masters at a prestigious university in the UK , and started telling me about his philosophy on higher education and his own previous career in a law firm. I asked him what he did at the law firm, to which he responded “What do you think I’m capable of?”

Ouch! What a question! Considering his egotistical manner, I’d mentally had one eyebrow raised when he talked about working at the law firm because he’s obviously a taxi cab driver now and even though it’s harsh to say this, it’s true that even a janitor could introduce himself as working at a law firm.

I hadn’t said very much to him on the trip and had mostly been just listening to and becoming a little irritated by his pompous talk about his son and the law firm and all that stuff. I think on some level, I’d only piped up and asked about what he did at the law firm to be snarky. Looking back on it, I feel like it was pretty rude question for me to ask. What if he had admitted he was a janitor at the law firm? Was I hoping to get satisfaction from that kind of answer? Like if he was a lawyer then his ending up as a taxi driver is a lesson in life choices but if he was a janitor ending up as a taxi driver then it’s … just a boring story of a guy moving from one random unskilled job to another? Sure, his answer was pretty snarky as well, but in retrospect it was well put and well deserved.

5. The woman

Remember I told you I stayed at a hotel for a few days when my suitcase/laptop/airmattress living got me a little depressed last year? Ah .. that the hotel was pretty nice!

I decided to take a cab back to my apartment after I checked out. It was raining outside. The hotel door guy offered to help get me a cab, and I agreed and waited passively by the door, but he ended up not helping me at all! He got distracted by a business man and totally ignored me! Fine, I agree that the business man was more likely to tip than I was (he was better dressed, older, etc. Had all the markers for being a good tipper whereas I had none), but I’m a girl and I was first in line! Shouldn’t that count for something?? Apparently not!

I gave up on the door guy and went to the corner to try to flag my own taxi. Sometimes it’s really hard to get a taxi in San Fran and that day I had no luck. Until … a female taxi driver parked across the street suddenly peeled over and came to pick me up! We chatted and she told me she’d been on break and waiting for an airport trip or something to come up on the radio but after watching me struggle to get my own taxi in the rain and the doorman ignoring me, she decided that sometimes women need to help women and that’s why she came over. She informed me:  “That doorman was doing you no good!”. I gave her a big tip. She’s still the only female taxi driver I’ve ever met.

6. The German

I met this taxi driver in Vegas when I got a cab to take me to the airport there. This guy was conspicuously Germanic – blonde, fit, wearing a severly ironed short sleeved dress shirt, driving very safely and precisely, speaking with a slight accent.

When I told him I was going home to San Francisco and worked in tech, he revealed that he was a retired tech worker too. Turned out he was German and had immigrated to the states 30 years ago. He had a career in software working in silicon valley as a project manager, then a few years ago he retired and his family cashed out on their property and moved to Vegas because it’s cheap and it was warmer there. Then he got a job driving a taxi to keep busy and presumably also to supplement his income.

He didn’t mention it, but I got the impression he was gay.


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