I had a medical appointment Friday in a part of Manhattan that you can’t really get to easily by subway. Someday there will be a 2nd Avenue line, but until then? You take a cab.
I don’t take cabs all that often, so even after seven years in New York, it still almost always feels like an original experience: You get into a car with someone you do not know, you tell him where to take you, and then: You are a passenger.
There are so many ways you can spend that time: look out the window, look at your phone, text people, read emails, make a call, close your eyes, talk to the cabbie.
Sometimes I have to work up a little nerve, but I usually talk to the cabbie, see how that goes. Sometimes it goes nowhere.
On Friday, the cabbie was listening to talk radio: some back-and-forth about Trump.
“So, what’s gonna happen with this campaign?” I said.
No response. I thought he hadn’t heard me but then realized he was formulating his answer.
“I don’t know, I haven’t voted since Jimmy Carter–that was the end for me.”
It was such a good answer.
“Jimmy Carter!” I responded, crouching forward. “Wow, man, that is commitment right there. I gave up for a while after Bill Clinton, all that impeachment bullshit. I hardly remember the Bush years, to be honest, I really don’t–”
He shot me a glance.
“–But then, Obama came along,” I added, “and I was smitten.”
He nodded, but not in agreement: “They’re all the same, always will be; it’s a militarized economy, the U.S.” He went on to cite statistics from every war America has been involved in since WWII–Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, other military operations; he knew what he was talking about. “Thousands and thousands of people slaughtered,” he continued, his voice rising. “Millions of dollars spent–millions! For what? For what..? For money. Money.”
I sat back. “Yeah,” I murmured.
I didn’t mention this yet, but the cabbie was very dark-skinned, around 65, and had a pretty heavy accent–beautiful, French somehow; I couldn’t place it. “Where are you from originally?”
He looked in the rear view. “West Africa.”
“Where in West Africa? Ivory Coast?”
I nodded, looking for it on a mental map.
“Been here forty years,” he added. “Forty years ago, got to New York, got my citizenship.”
So: I thought to myself, he moved here in 1976, voted for Carter, saw how that went, then he gave up. Oh, America.
Traffic was terrible, and I was already late for my appointment. I called the office and told them I was five minutes away–ever the optimist. We were close, but it was going to take way more than five minutes; cars weren’t even moving anymore; it’d be faster to walk the last couple blocks. The cabbie agreed: “…New York…” he said sort of under his breath but chuckling at the same time. He had a sense of humor about all of this.
“Listen, I’ll get out here, you can just pull over.”
He did so. I paid the fare, tipped him, told him my name, and he told me his. We shook hands through the window between driver and passenger.
“Take it easy, boss, nice to talk to you,” he said.